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Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 857-861
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To the editor:
John K. Brown did an excellent job with his article "Design Plans, Working Drawings, National Styles: Engineering Practice in Great Britain and the United States, 1775-1945" (April 2000). By comparing design and drafting in the American and British capital equipment industry, he made an important contribution to our understanding of the development of their respective engineering cultures. He concentrates on the existence of British "design creativity and variety" and an American "production engineering" orientation. Although his explanatory focus is on control and culture, he considers other important factors as well, such as the market and engineering education.
Brown's results correspond with mine, which can be found in my book on design, drafting, and engineering cultures in Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States (Wolfgang König, Künstler und Strichezieher: Konstruktions- und Technikkulturen im deutschen, britischen, amerikanischen und französischen Maschinenbau zwischen 1850 und 1930 [Frankfurt am Main, 1999]). Here I would like to make only a few comments and pose some questions for further research, resulting from the broader comparative perspective of four national cultures.
I hold that Brown's differentiation between American and British engineering cultures can be extended to France and Germany as well. In my book I speak of an American culture of production (Produktionskultur) and a European culture of design (Konstruktionskultur). But there are also considerable differences within the European culture of design, originating mainly in the training of design-engineers. The British possessed broad shop experience; the highly theoretically qualified Germans did not. French design engineers, coming often from the practice-oriented Écoles des arts et metiers, fell between the two extremes. Therefore, for decades, the main theme in the German engineering society was the suitability of design for manufacturing.
My impression is that the semantics of "design" were not the same in Europe and the United States. Whereas in the United States "design" was interpreted more as the result of the development process, taking place in the laboratory and in the workshop, in Europe "design" was understood [End Page 857] rather as the result of office work on paper--that is, design drawings. It would be useful to see whether further research would confirm this impression.
Second, we should direct our attention more toward differentiations in the design and drafting offices. There were chief designers who were more responsible for one machine type, people who specialized in designing a certain part of the machine, the draftsmen and the tracers. It seems to me that, in the United States, the portion of higher-skilled personnel was lower and the division of work was more accentuated than in Europe.
Third, the theme of control must be extended beyond the relationships between engineers and workers. To concentrate on this is adequate for the time period before around 1900. But manufacturing then became more and more organized and directed by the new group of production engineers. At least in Germany, the struggle for control in the engineering firm took place within the engineering community, namely between production and design engineers.
To the editor:
I write to comment on John K. Brown's "Design Plans, Working Drawings, National Styles: Engineering Practice in Great Britain and the United States, 1775-1945" (April 2000) and provide an example of a recent case study on the same topic.
The subject of national styles is near to my heart; while working as a naval architect in the United States Navy's warship design division at Naval Sea Systems Command I spent a year in the United Kingdom learning how Royal Naval Constructors design their warships, and later spent two years in France working on exchange with their navy's warship design bureau. This gave me the opportunity to observe and compare firsthand these three national styles.
One very strong aspect of national styles is that of the nature of the organizations themselves, specifically how organizational trust plays into it. "Trust" is the process by which an organization develops confidence in its personnel, up and down the chain of command and across disciplines, and engenders...