Low Cost, Mass Use: American Engineers and the Metrics of Progress

TitleLow Cost, Mass Use: American Engineers and the Metrics of Progress
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsDowney, G. Lee
Secondary TitleHistory and Technology
ISBN Number0734-1512

This paper examines initiatives in engineering formation in the USA as, in part, responses to dominant territorial identities defining what counts as progress. The absence of a primary method of engineering formation during the antebellum period suggests that no metric of progress had yet scaled up to a level of dominance. Robert Thurston’s efforts in the 1890s to scale up school-based formation without liberal education did not fit a country that emphasized high-volume production at low costs. The attempts of the Wickenden study in the 1920s to achieve coordination did not fit a country highlighting self-realization through consumption. The 1955 Grinter Report achieved great success when the sudden appearance of Sputnik scaled up a new territorial identity for the USA. Overall, by responding to the evolving metric of low cost, mass use, advocates of engineering formation have designed engineers to serve the country.