Wings of wood, wings of metal: culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

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Princeton University Press, 1999 - Science - 313 pages
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It is an article of faith that technological change moves steadily and logically, with new technologies taking over when old ones are shown to be inferior. We believe that technological change, despite adjustment pains, always represents progress. Eric Schatzberg shows here that this process is not always so logical; even successful technologies can be shaped in strange ways by culture and ideology. He demonstrates this by revealing the cultural biases behind the shift from wood to metal in American aircraft between the World Wars.Schatzberg shows that American aeronautical engineers and airplane designers were swayed by the symbolism of airplane materials that linked metal with technological progress and wood with preindustrial craft traditions. This symbolism encouraged the aeronautical community to focus research and development on metal airplanes at the expense of promising projects involving wood--despite the fact that other countries continued to produce highly successful aircraft with wood through the end of World War II. According to Schatzberg, technical personnel in the American military played the key role in this proces

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World War I and the Origins
Metal and Its Discontents
Government Support

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About the author (1999)

Schatzberg is Assistant Professor in the Department of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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