Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century Nadine Smith
Paul Jr. Independent Charter Public School
Washington, D. C.
Around 1750, the world began to see an ever increasing number of inventions by Europe's scientists, mechanics, and engineers. It was these "creations of the mind" that would ultimately lead to the end of the agricultural age and the beginning of an industrial one. The major European nations were in a race with each other to widen their vast trading networks and to keep and administer their colonial empires. Inventions like more accurate navigational instruments could help them do that. To encourage new technological inventions countries would offer prizes to their citizens, desperate to stay ahead of their rivals. One country, however, overshadowed all other nations in the technological race of the eighteenth century Great Britain. Several factors were in place in Britain and only there, which fostered and encouraged the development of new inventions.
First of all, Britain enjoyed the internal security of a stable nation. Also Britain was agriculturally very productive, could have coal fuel technologies, had available credit, ready investors in new businesses and an absence of internal tariffs. Britain also possessed an active trade network as well as oversees colonies that could provide raw materials for new products. But beyond these formidable assets lay Britain's most important advantage its ample supply of skilled inventors, mechanics, and engineers. It was this precious resource and their numerous inventions which ultimately would lead Britain to being known as "the workshop of the world." With Britain clearly in the lead in technological invention and innovation, it was natural that other nations would attempt to acquire, by any means possible, these new technological secrets, rather than take the time to reinvent them on their own.
What Is Technology Transfer? What Kinds of Transfer Exist?
Technology transfer is a process whereby the newer technologies are spread throughout the world and replace the older ways of producing things. This can be done in a variety of ways. One of the simplest ways of spreading technical knowledge is to picture a mother who is spinning in her cottage industry home and, while at her task, teaching her daughter this same method of skillfully producing a thread or yam. The information is transferred to a new person and a new generation and done willingly, Often new technological information is shared with other scientists and engineers. In the eighteenth century this might have been with a scientific organization like the Lunar Society, or the Society of Arts founded in London in 1754 or the Royal Institution founded in 1799. It was at London's Royal Institution that Humphry Davy shared information about his Davy Safety Lamp. His invention replaced the live flame in a miner's lamp with gauze around the flame, which prevented explosions from occurring when close to methane gas deep in a coal mine. The Davy Lamp's flame would even change color and could warn the miner of his nearness to methane gas. Davy, as a humanitarian, did not choose to patent his invention or make money from it. The Davy lamp symbolized the application of science to technology in a humanitarian way. Another inventor in this sharing category is the Englishman Charles Babbage whose Difference Engine is considered to be the world's first design for an automatic calculating machine. When the Swedish father and son team George and Edward Scheutz constructed a calculator based on Babbage's invention, he applauded their work and encouraged them to move on to perfect it.
Often similar inventions, called "stimulus effect inventions" just appear simultaneously. This is because a close rival is often stimulated and spurred on to complete the final steps in a
Sometimes new technology, instead of being stolen, is imposed upon other countries. An example of this is when a powerful nation like the United States pressures a country into installing new water pumps or sewage systems as has happened in certain African nations or new medical technologies are imposed as a way of controlling population growth. These imposed technological transfers interfere with people's habits and culture and usually do not function well or have lasting effects.
A fourth kind of technology transfer occurs when new technical information is stolen. A classic example of this is the story of Samuel Slater, the mechanical genius from Belper, England who was lured to emigrate to the United States by a prize of five hundred dollars. Slater did not risk being caught by custom officials at leaving the country with the valuable new machines or parts. Instead he boarded the boat for America on September 1, 1789, having memorized the plans for Arkwright's cloth making machine. Dressed as a farmer and playing that role on the ship, he avoided being suspected as an emigrating tradesman. Once settled in New England and after much trial and error, Slater did finally succeed in duplicating Richard Arkwright's water frame machinery. Shortly after that a new cotton mill, Slater's Mill, was erected on the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Great Britain, with the barrage of inventions that were being developed within the country, realized that it was necessary to guard carefully all of its new technical secrets. To do this Parliament passed laws attempting to impede the flow of technical information to other nations, and also laws to keep its skilled British mechanics and engineers in Great Britain.
Some English Laws Concerning Technology Transfer
European nations, especially France, concentrated their industrial espionage on Great Britain, the acknowledged leader in the newest technologies. Britain, determined to stay in the lead, found it necessary to pass laws to keep its technical secrets within the country. A major protection law was passed as early as 1719.This law was aimed at stopping the enticement or "suborning" of Britain's skilled workers abroad. The new law was also to affect the enticers. From then on, activities which we call industrial espionage became illegal. Sometime the laws were enforced, sometimes they were ignored. When enforced they carried punishments of fines and imprisonment. When a large number of cutlery workers shipped out from Newcastle and London to mostly France and Russia the trade organization, the Company of Cutlers petitioned the House of Commons to take action against those who would threaten valuable national industries.
In addition to the suborning of skilled workers, foreign nations would also attempt to learn Britain's newest technologies by simply placing their own workers in the British industries as apprentices. Once the foreign workers were trained, they would return to their homelands and train others. The House of Commons' records show that petitions were submitted by the industrial shires of Yorkshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Middlesex, Northumberland, and Warwickshire concerning this practice.
What were the penalties imposed upon those British workers who were enticed, whose actions were ultimately disrupting Britain's foreign trade and industrial growth? Those who broke the laws could be disbarred from their trades for set periods of time. Fines of up to 100
Pounds were imposed as well as terms of imprisonment. Emitters who ignored these laws would be unable to inherit their property in Britain and property that was owned could be forfeited to the Crown. (Britain would occasionally relent on its harsh treatment to its former emitters and recall them for repatriation so desperate was the nation to hold on to its inventors and skilled labor force.) Those who were the enticers were required to provide bail until their trial or be held in prison.
What Kinds of Industrial Information was Transferred from Britain to France in the Eighteenth Century?
British government papers show a great variety of skilled apprentices, tradesmen, and masters emigrated from Great Britain, usually being enticed by the rival nation of France. The records show that watchmakers, glassmakers, metalworkers, and skilled master tradesmen in lock making, steel making, and hinge making along with relatives and apprentices left Britain with their superior mechanical knowledge and skills. The French were eager to learn the secrets of better and cheaper shipbuilding methods also, To improve the French navy, British naval engineers were recruited who then passed on to France drawings of some of Britain's best sailing vessels. The French were particularly eager to learn the British methods of mechanical pulleys and how to bend timbers with the superior English steam bending processes. Finally, industrial secrets in the textile field were taken across the English Channel. The British had learned about textiles earlier from their colony India. Evidence of India's early cotton industries can be traced and acknowledged today by the recognition that we have of the names of Indian cities from which the different types developed. We know the fabric names madras, paisley, gingham, muslim, and calico, which were all named for the Indian cities of their origins. The secrets that had earlier been discovered by the Indian craftsmen, the best ways of spinning to produce the finest yams, weaving methods to produce the most delicate fabrics, and finally Indian dyeing methods, which resulted in some of the most beautiful and fast colors then known, were copied by and known by the British. This successfully transferred textile information had led Britain to become the leading nation in the production of textiles, France, in order to compete with Britain in the textile trade sought British workers who possessed some of these secrets.
The Age Old Rivalry France and Britain
Rivaling each other for first place in the industrial and commercial race of the eighteenth century, were the old rivals Britain and France. Both countries enjoyed high levels of productivity at home. Both had governments that were well organized and eager to advance the interests of their merchants and capitalists. Both were also aware of how much more productive their businesses would be if they switched from their old methods of manufacturing to the newest inventions and technical innovations available at the time. The British Parliament and the British aristocracy, however, were more politically competent and astute than the nobles of France were therefore more likely to participate in the conduct of public business which gave Britain yet another commercial advantage.
Both countries had a long held animosity toward the other, given the centuries of warfare and colonies lost, that had ensued between them usually with Britain the victor. The nations' political lives had also become intertwined with monarchs such England's James 11 and James III residing in France in close proximity to the homeland should the opportunity occur for a restoration of the Stuart throne. These supporters of the English Catholic monarchs, James II and III, were known in England and France as the Jacobites and they played a major and willing role in industrial espionage for France. (The Jacobites remained a disturbing political force in England for generations.) The excellent resources of the French industrial archives in France's Bureau of Commerce reveal many incidences of English citizens and agents willing to risk their lives to take across the English Channel stolen British mechanical plans, machines, and even workmen to assist France. (The "brain drain" also worked the other way as well, with such significant figures as the famous French engineer émigrés Marc 1. Brunel later Sir Brunel fleeing France for England in 1793 because of this royalist sympathies. His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born 1806, also an inventor and engineer, was responsible for constructing vast networks of railroads in Britain, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and India. The father and son's prodigious range of engineering accomplishments included not only railroads, but bridges, underwater tunnels, and transatlantic steamships.)
Three 18th Century Industrial Adventurers
Throughout the eighteenth century there were a great variety of individuals royal advisors to skilled tradesmen who were willing to take British technological secrets across the English Channel. Each person had his own set of personal circumstances which led him to be seduced into betraying critical national industrial information. A common reason for flight from Britain and then disclosure was the fear of imprisonment and being confined for months or even years to one of England's numerous debtors' prisons. Some English industrial émigrés were simply tempted by the lure of free travel and the security of employment in a new land. In the case of John Kay, inventor of the flying shuttle, it was said to be riots against him and his invention. Another account stresses Kay's failure to gain from his English patent on the shuttle. Another category is that of the industrial adventurers who were exhilarated by the "cloak and dagger" adventures of the world of industrial espionage.
One of the earliest and well documented individuals in technological transfer is the infamous economist and Scotsman, John Law. (1671 1729). Exiled from England because of murder (in a duel), Law soon ingratiated himself with the Duke of Orleans, Prince Regent of France, who was attracted to Law's amazing mathematical system in gambling with cards. It was not long afterwards before Law was consulting with French economists who were then desperate to get the country's finances onto a sound footing. The French government adopted and instituted his "Real Bills Doctrine" and also his enterprising venture to develop the French colony of Louisiana in North America.
As early as 1703, Law had made proposals to the French government regarding a grand technological transfer scheme to encompass several of the then newest British industrial processes. Law used his brother William as his English intermediary and went on to lure hundreds, perhaps thousands, of knowledgeable English tradesmen to the shores of France. (So impressed were the French by the Law brothers that for a long time after, to be referred to as a Scotsman or a Jacobites was to immediately gain favor with the French government.) John Law's many schemes eventually collapsed and he was forced to flee from France. His brother William Law was arrested and imprisoned there and other English artisans who had formerly enjoyed privilege and status in France were forced to leave France and emigrate to Mississippi or Canada.
Another Englishman who transmitted valuable secrets to the French government was the Lancashire Jacobite, John Holker. Holker, an extremely courageous man, had masterminded a daring escape from Newgate prison. He had served as a Jacobite officer in the French army. As a young man he embarked upon dangerous espionage missions for the French government bringing into France prohibited English models and plans. Holker, himself, possessed a vast knowledge about textiles. He had made his reputation with his hot calendering process and possessed textile secrets about the importance of certain preparatory and critical finishing processes. He also knew secrets related to the bleaching and dyeing of fabrics. Some of the English practices that he recommended to the French included oiling wool slightly, to improve its handling in the carding, spinning, and weaving phases and also using large spinning wheels to get a more uniform thread (He also recommended that spinners be paid according to the fineness of their yam). Holker 's vast knowledge about textile also included the care and rearing of sheep, even going so far as to recommend inspecting sheep pens to be certain that the wool would be clean and not tangled or discolored. Holker, like John Law, worked closely with the French government. In 1767 he was appointed to the position of Inspector General of Foreign Manufacturers which simply meant being the head of a French scheme to spy on England’s skilled artisans and bring them across the Channel. Holker was paid 8,000 livres annually and was also given a 600 livre army pension by the French government. Assisting John Holker in spying on the newest inventions was his son who had observed the new cotton spinning machines in Derbyshire. When the young Holker heard disparaging remarks about his father as he traveled through Yorkshire and the North Country, he worked out a code to keep his operations from being discovered. Although of simple English origins, nobility was conferred upon John Holker in 1774 by Louis XV. Holker and his son went on to become deeply involved in the affairs of the infant United States, with the son traveling to Philadelphia in 1778 as an agent of the French government. The Holkers were both devoted to aiding the commercial and financial activities of the American rebels and even housed Benjamin Franklin when he was in France and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson as well. John Holker throughout his four decades in France remains one of the most effective and impressive figures in industrial espionage.
J. B. Le Turc's exploits in the arena of industrial espionage contrast sharply with that of agents of Law and Holker. With Le Turc we are entering into the dangerous world of a patriotic and dedicated French spy. From his childhood in Flanders, Le Turc had been fascinated with the lace making of his own industrial district. By the age of 25, in the year 1773, he succeeded in building a lace making stocking machine which he offered to the French Academy of Science for evaluation. Never given full support for this or his numerous other inventions, he determined to help his country, instead, by bringing the English inventors' advanced technologies into France.
With the competing governments of France and England in a commercial race for the newest industrial technologies, travelers going back and forth between the two countries were encouraged to return to the homeland with any useful technological ideas they had observed. Better still would be to bring back the newest machines and knowledgeable tradesmen.
In the month of August of 1785, LeTurc, encouraged by the French government, went on a mission to smuggle out of England five stocking frames of the kind designed by Jedediah Strutt and used in Derby and Nottingham. To purchase these the French government had supplied him with 10,00 livres. By October, LeTurc was back in Paris claiming to have succeeded with the stocking frame venture.
One year later, in 1786, he was working successfully on both sides of the English Channel and would wait at the French docks to check for arrival of the boxes he had carefully packed in England. To ensure their safe passage through customs, boxes would be packed up with the smuggled inventions wrapped and lying in the bottom and then covered over with tourist souvenirs and items of a sightseeing traveler. To avoid any interference from a particularly thorough customs agent Le Turc always had a ready supply of English luxury goods like Wedgwood china to give out as a bribe.
Emboldened by his initial successes, LeTurc expanded from the stocking frames and branched out into a wide range of other industrial technologies. Other English inventions and innovations that that he succeeded in transferring to France were the Sheffield silver plating process, information about the lead shot production, a loom for making horsehair cloth, a loom for large gauze shawls, and designs for Walter Taylor's naval pulleys for the Bureau of French Marine Ministries.
After these successes he then went on to recruit, or "suborn" skilled factory workers, along with their families He found willing émigrés, succeeded in getting them into France, and even housed the skilled "operatives" at his own expense for long periods.
With no other income, and constantly spending vast sums, LeTurc needed to benefit personally from his dangerous endeavors. His life as an industrial espionage agent put him constantly on the run between the two countries and he lived in fear that his activities were known. In an effort to protect himself, he worked out codes. He signed his correspondence as No. 64 and used his name as little as possible. (The number 64 was simply his house number on Berwick Street in Soho) He became haunted by the feeling that he could be caught at his activities and surprised at any time. Facing financial ruin and determined to make his dangerous life worth the effort, he requested compensation from the French government. Some French officials were sympathetic and made him promises but usually money, which he desperately needed, was not forthcoming. Looking to his future he asked that he be permitted to keep one of each of the machines he that he managed to get into France and be given a large factory size room for his own use. His ultimate goal was to set up his own factory with the pirated machines, pay off his debts, be a financial success, and leave a legacy for his family.
It was regarding the request for the room and machines that he had a major clash with the particular French government he was dealing with. The city of Paris and the French nation were in great turmoil in the year 1788. The large room that the government had promised him for his very own industrial enterprises was denied him. Around 1790 his creditors moved in for seizure due to debts and unpaid rents. His premises were commandeered by the French Commission des Armes Portatives, his precious tools were thrown out into the courtyard to rust, other inventions were seized and put under seal. Le Turc was so focused on his own activities and survival at this time that he seemed barely aware of the national turmoil the French nation was undergoing, although at one point he had fifty workers making tricolor cockades on his looms.
His clashes with the French government increased and he even risked the guillotine when he refused to allow the taking over of his premises for arms manufacture. So focused was he on his own enterprises that his mind became unstable and his actions increasingly paranoid. He became obsessed with thoughts that a host of spies and agents were after him and his family.
With the French government more concerned about the ongoing Revolution than in making industrial technological progress, the promises made to Le Turc for all his patriotic efforts were never kept. Eventually the precious English inventions that he had so carefully smuggled into France, uncared for, became rusty and useless. Other valuable inventions that he had put into storage were seized by the government and other profiteers.
A broken man, LeTurc appealed to successive regimes for compensation for himself and his family and had begged that he at least be granted the Cordon of St. Michael state pension. Occasionally he would find some sympathy for his case with particular ministers from a regime who valued his efforts to the French nation, but no real appreciation or reward was accorded to him. With failing mind and body he died penniless in the Hospice de la Chante in the year 1809.