The firearms industry is a really important case for looking at how war drove the Industrial Revolution. The fact that Britain was at war almost continuously during the long 18th century may have had something to do with this enormous economic transformation that takes place in exactly the same period. With respect to the firearms industry itself, you see an industrial revolution within that industry. At the beginning of the 18th century, British gunmakers can only make about tens of thousands of guns per year. But by the end of the century in 1815, they can make millions. And they did that in various different ways. The Office of Ordinance starts playing with price mechanisms.
They’re playing with design. When there’s a bottleneck in the production of a particular part of the gun, they intervene and provide incentives to train more workers to be able to make that particular part. So they’re experimenting with industrial organization constantly. We can imagine how state purchasing could have had a similar effect in so many other related industries, everything from finance to buckle making to woolens and so on and so forth because the government needed so many things to prosecute these wars that were huge logistical challenges.
I mean, the wars in the 18th century just get bigger and bigger, and they’re fought all over the world. By looking at the Industrial Revolution again and seeing that there was a huge role for this state, and not only the state but for war, I think that really forces us to rethink our assumptions about what really drives economic growth. And I think we also need to appreciate more the central place of war and manufacturing related to the war in creating the modern industrial life that is now the norm for all of us.