Concepts, Actors and Practices from the Past to the Present
Edited by Stathis Arapostathis and Graham Dutfield
Chapter 9: Commerce and academe: American universities as hosts of entrepreneurial science, 1880–1920
Today when academic scientists or engineers make a discovery or invention that has commercial potential, their university often shares in any revenues that eventually result. Yet the model of universities having a proprietary interest in academic discoveries – of universities acting as entrepreneurs – has developed relatively recently, mainly over the past 30 years. In the original model of academic entrepreneurship, born in the nineteenth century, universities themselves served as hosts of entrepreneurial faculty, but played no institutional role in commercializing the inventions developed on their campuses. We can still learn from that model, especially given the questions that have recently been raised about academia’s involvement in commerce (Greenberg, 2007; Litan et al., 2007; Mirowski, 2011). This chapter therefore examines the original model of academic entrepreneurship by looking at the inventive activity of three American scientists to see how their pursuit of commercial science fitted in with their university environments. The three scientists are Henry A. Rowland at Johns Hopkins, Edwin F. Northrup at Princeton, and Charles F. Burgess at the University of Wisconsin. Henry Rowland is well known as one of the nineteenth century’s most distinguished physicists, acknowledged not only for his own achievements in physics and astronomy, but also for the achievements he made possible for other scientists through his invention of diffraction gratings of an unprecedented quality. But this chapter focuses on a less well-known aspect of his career: his forays into the commercial possibilities of science, and, especially, his development in the 1890s of a system for multiplex telegraphy.
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