Title Reviewed:
A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780–1930. Volume II, Steam Power

Author Reviewed:
Louis C. Hunter

William H. Mulligan, Jr.


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 84-85

Article Type:
Book Review

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A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780–1930. Volume II, Steam Power. By Louis C. Hunter. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, for the Hagley Museum and Library, 1985. Pp. xxii, 732. Notes, figures, illustrations, tables, maps, graphs, appendixes, index. $50.00.)

The death of Louis C. Hunter brought his projected trilogy on the history of industrial power in the United States to premature end with this, the second volume. The first volume, Water Power (1979), was widely hailed as the master work of a mature scholar. Similar words can, and doubtless will, be applied to the volume under review here.

Hunter's scholarly cachet, exhaustive research in a wide variety of primary sources imaginatively synthesized with a dazzling range of secondary sources, is evident here. Steam Power is the culmination of a lifetime of research and reflection; together with Water Power it will form a lasting monument to the achievement of a great scholar.

The breadth of Hunter's topic poses tremendous problems not only for research but for presentation as well. The development and maturation of steam power in a variety of industries over a century and a half involves many individuals, several types of engines, and a multitude of technical problems. Hunter chose a thematic approach with ten chapters each dealing with a specific topic. Given the complexity of the subject, this is a logical and appropriate solution. While the first chapter, "The Beginning of Steam Power in the United States," serves reasonably well as an introduction to the book, there is no attempt to pull the various subjects discussed together in a synthetic conclusion. Such an essay would have been very useful, given the richness of Hunter's research. Similarly, some explicit linkage of this volume with that on water power and the projected third on electrical power would have been desirable. These essays, of course, may have been planned since for all the richness of the scholarship displayed in the two volumes they are only part of the work he projected. The separate chapters are excellent, richly embroidered essays by a mature scholar reflecting the insights of a lifetime.

Praise is due to the University Press of Virginia and the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation for publishing the book in such a magnificent form. The history of technology requires illustration, and this volume is amply illustrated with period engravings that complement the text beautifully and add to the book's power. Both organizations deserve thanks for a job well done. Their care and commitment to publish this work in its present form has given readers a great scholarly work that is also a beautiful book.

William H. Mulligan, Jr. Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.