Cemented tungsten carbide cutting tools—virtually unknown to historians—came on the market in the late 1920s. Although existing literature alleges that their adoption was rapid and universal, contemporary data indicate that the rate of adoption in fact took many decades and varied greatly between the world’s three leading industrialized economies of the time: Germany, England, and the United States. This article suggests that the explanation lies in differing national environments for innovation in the interwar period. It looks at many features that influence adoption by users and argues that the feature emphasized in the literature, increased cutting speed, was not the primary consideration behind adoption, but rather metal shortages. It thereby casts doubt on what measures of national productivity show. The case raises important questions about the use of production efficiency to make international comparisons and about the role of patent monopolies in introducing production innovations.


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pp. 895-927
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