Offering an empirical study of the rush to promote a new technology of its time, which is a significant phenomenon in its own right, the paper's purpose is to offer a reminder that new technologies often generate speculative and unstable business conditions.
The paper uses Henry English's A Complete View of the Joint Stock Companies Formed during the Years 1824 and 1825 to identify companies (n=70), and follows up cases with record and archive study.
The development of steamship services was an important push of transportation and communication technology. The establishment of steam shipping services in coastal waters and near country trade is an analogy of later technologies such as the telegraph, telephone and latterly computer‐mediated digital communication over the internet with global reach. Unlike the canal and railway manias the outcome was minimal.
As in the Dotcom boom of the early 2000s the study highlights the dangers of speculative business ventures (over‐ambitious promotion and fraud) which lacked a strong link to markets, the pull of significant demand and were weak in terms of business acumen and organization.
As a piece of original business historical research it is not only the findings which are of value, but the paper represents an exemplar of the continued use of archival and record material and information resources to support scholarly activity. Historians of today who wish to study the emerging digital economy may yet encounter problems in an ability to draw on bodies of contemporary evidence. The current issues of digital archiving and digital curation are only just beginning to be appreciated.
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