Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 May 2010
Skilled engineers who had sufficient technical know-how to construct the antebellum canals and railroads were viewed by their contemporaries as a key input in the transportation revolution, and a number of modern scholars have concurred in this judgment. Yet very little is known about the economics of the antebellum engineering profession. This article is a modest attempt to help remedy that deficiency. We shall present and describe three original salary series that chart the course of earnings for three distinct grades of antebellum civil engineers from 1820 through 1859. In addition, we shall argue that our data clearly indicate that a highly competitive market of broad geographical scope for high-ranking engineers was coming into being during the decade of the 1820's. This trend toward competition which these data reveal persisted until about 1835, but was then swamped by the rapid economic changes which occurred in the fifteen years from 1835 to 1850, only to reappear again in the last antebellum decade. As we shall argue below, the economic changes that temporarily overrode the earlier pattern of competition reflect a significant structural change in the antebellum engineer market.