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One Nation, under Steam: Technopolitics, Steam Navigation, and the Rise of American Industrial Power


“One Nation, under Steam” examines the relationship between industrial infrastructure and state power through the nineteenth-century steam navigation industry. During the 1820s and 1830s, Congress took up the problem of steamboat disasters, and responded by turning the federal bureaucracy into a clearinghouse of technical knowledge and the Navy Department in particular into the producer and tester of cutting-edge steam machinery. In the 1840s, however, setbacks within naval technology programs led Congress to incentivize private entities to develop the vessels and shore facilities deemed essential to American interests. “One Nation, under Steam” traces a trajectory, from the 1820s and 1830s when the state first sought to control the risks and reward of steam technology, to the 1850s and beyond, when it was as likely to offset that work onto private developers. This is a history that is told across time and across organizations, but ultimately across space as it tracks how various institutional players fit marine steam technologies to their regional, national, and imperial objectives. Thus, it begins on the coastal and interior waterways with jurists, legislators, and practical mechanics each trying to make steam navigation a routine part of American life; follows the Navy to sea as it seeks to harness steam power to meet its strategic ends; and ends up in the Pacific via transportation infrastructure owned and operated by private corporations but no less inflected by the expansive aims of the United States. Surveying novel federal regulation, postal and naval procurement strategies, and the subsidized steamship lines that integrated the Pacific into American political and economic life, “One Nation, under Steam” shows how the U.S. came to be a maritime industrial power, and how U.S. state power came to depend so heavily on material systems designed, produced, and in some cases operated by private entities. Ultimately, this project seeks to link the political project of U.S. state formation with the capitalist enterprises and machine technologies that are collectively referred to as industrialization.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Brown University, 2019

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Maggard, Alicia, "One Nation, under Steam: Technopolitics, Steam Navigation, and the Rise of American Industrial Power" (2019). History Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.