Businesses–much like nation-states, empires and even people–are born in a particular environment in a particular moment in time. The economy of the US had made a significant shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial one between the 1870s to 1940s; making it possible for the technology industry to spring to life.
When we speak of the birth of a company, we usually speak of it in the context of its institutional behaviours and the role that key individuals, such as the CEO, played in its near-mythical founding story. A more wholistic approach, however, would be to look at its development in the context of the environmental factors that shaped its early beginnings, its development, its plateau, its downfall… and its reinvention.
In the US, economic growth which took place between the 1870s to the 1930s was largely due to the explosion of inventions that were either discovered or created during that period. Patent applications saw an exponential rise during those decades and innovations in technology was what paved the path for the economic prosperity of the nation.
During that half of the century, many so-called ‘basic inventions’ such as: the refrigerator, the telephone, the radio, the typewriter and so on were born. Many of these technologies have seen a steady or sudden decline–and even complete death–since they first sprang into existence. But the transformational impact that they had on our daily lives continues to reverberate through later inventions.
It could be argued that these technologies is what made it possible for large companies to function more effectively and efficiently. To translate incredible inventions into a profitable enterprise requires more than that brilliant lightbulb. It requires economies of scale, an understanding of the resources the founders had under their care as well as a sensitivity to market trends.
Enterprises are in business to generate revenue and to turn a profit. But it doesn’t end there. They then have to protect it as well as expand their market share. Competition quickly sets in and emerging firms are always eager to know how others did it before them. The world has never had any shortage of copycats.
While it could be said that it all started with a solitary person working away by moonlight till they got their invention right–it would be unwise to say that the journey ended there. That was only the beginning.
The early forefathers of tech and their torchbearers fundamentally altered human existence to the point that its impossible to ever go back.
But then again, was it ever possible to go back?