If you played a word-association game with the expression “Silicon Valley”, you would be not likely to come up with the expression “tinned food”.
Silicon Valley stands for advanced innovation, strong concepts that alter the world. Nobody would say the tin can was innovative innovation, although the more literal-minded might make that claim for the tin-opener.
Yet, in its day, tinned food was as innovative as anything now being pitched by Bay Area start-ups.
And its story reveals how surprisingly bit some deep predicaments around innovation have altered in the past 200 years approximately.
50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the developments, concepts and innovations that helped develop the financial world.
First, how do we incentivise good ideas?
There’s the lure of a patent, of course, or first-mover benefit. However if you really want to encourage fresh thinking, use a reward. Self-driving vehicles are a good example.
In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Company (Darpa) provided $1m (₤600,000 at the time) to the first car to find its method throughout a course in the Mojave Desert
The outcome was pure Wacky Races – lorries ignited, turned over, crashed through fences and ground to a halt since they were confused by tumbleweed The prize was unclaimed.
Nevertheless, a year later on, the Stanford Group successfully finished the second round of the Grand Obstacle, winning $2m (₤ 1.6 m) for its efforts, and within a years, autonomous vehicles were dependable enough to let loose on public roadways.
The Darpa reward was barely the first competitors to motivate innovation.
In 1795, the federal government of France provided a prize of 12,000 francs for creating a method of maintaining food. It was eventually claimed by Nicolas Appert, a Parisian grocer and confectioner credited with the advancement of the bouillon or stock cube and – less plausibly – the recipe for chicken Kiev.
Through experimentation, Appert discovered if you put cooked food in a glass container, plunged the jar into boiling water and after that sealed it with wax, the food would not go off.
Why was the French government thinking about maintaining food? For the exact same reason Darpa had an interest in vehicles that might browse themselves across deserts – with a view to winning wars.
Napoleon Bonaparte was an enthusiastic general when the reward was announced. By the time it was granted, he was France’s emperor, ready to release his disastrous intrusion of Russia. Napoleon may or may not have said: “An army marches on its stomach,” but he was clearly keen to expand his soldiers’ provisions from smoked and salted meat.
Appert’s lab was an early example of a typical phenomenon – military requirements stimulating innovations that change the economy.
However even when concepts come from the public sector, it sometimes takes a culture of entrepreneurship to explore what they can do.
Appert composed up his culinary experiments in a book later on released in English as The Art of Preserving All Sort Of Animal and Vegetable Compounds for Numerous Years.
Meanwhile another Frenchman, Philippe de Girard, began using the techniques to containers made of tin, not glass. However when he desired to commercialise his concept, he decided to cruise throughout the English Channel
Why? Too much French administration, according to Norman Cowell, former speaker in food science at Reading University.
He argues Britain’s monetary system of the time was entrepreneurial, with plenty of investor prepared to take risks.
Food drink More things that made the modern-day economy:
Girard used an English merchant to patent the concept on his behalf – a needed subterfuge, as Britain was at war with Napoleon – and an engineer and serial business owner, Bryan Donkin, purchased the patent for the neat amount of ₤ 1,000
A modern-day Girard, looking for a place with endeavor capital and risk-taking attitudes today, would surely head for Silicon Valley.
For decades, others have actually attempted to replicate its propensity for generating concepts and growing businesses – to create an “development community”, in the current parlance But none has actually yet quite determined up.
Economic experts can with confidence inform you some ingredients for an innovation ecosystem, such as making services simple to establish and motivating links with scholastic research study. But no one has yet improved the dish.
One ingredient that’s much discussed is how finest to manage. Absence of bureaucracy might have helped bring in Girard to England however tinned food will demonstrate why rules and evaluations do serve a function.
By 1845, with Donkin’s patent now ended, Britain’s navy chose to save cash by finding a cheaper provider. This proved ill-advised.
After grievances from sailors, naval inspectors began checking the products. On one celebration, they checked 306 tins and discovered only 42 to be edible. The rest included such specials as putrid kidneys, unhealthy organs and canine tongues.
As Sue Shephard notes in her history of food preservation, Pickled, Potted and Canned, the scandal struck the newspapers at an unfortunate time.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 had just presented common Londoners to tinned delights hitherto stocked by luxury grocery store just.
There were sardines and truffles, artichokes and turtle soup. Putrid kidneys were not expected to be part of the story. With quality improving and costs coming down, tinned food had appeared set for the mass market – however it took years to restore public confidence.
That mass market appeared self-evidently preferable. With refrigeration yet to be created, safe tinned food would expand people’s diet plans and enhance nutrition.
But it’s not always so simple to expect how brand-new technologies will play out and whether regulators must attempt to speed them up or hold them back, nudge them in a particular instructions or leave well alone.
Will synthetic intelligence hugely widen inequality? Should federal governments action in? How?
These are arguable concerns but some Silicon Valley types are sufficiently worried about where their developments may be taking us they’re seriously imagining apocalyptic circumstances.
We’re “skating on actually thin cultural ice today”, one previous Facebook supervisor informed the New Yorker magazine, explaining why he’s purchased arrive at an island and stockpiled on ammunition. Others have actually purchased underground bunkers and have aircrafts on continuous standby in case society implodes.
These “preppers”, by one quote, include a minimum of half the billionaires in Silicon Valley.
Development can definitely be delicate, as Nicolas Appert found to his expense.
He invested his 12,000 francs reward cash in expanding his canning operation, just to see it ruined by invading Prussian and Austrian armies as Napoleon’s guideline collapsed.
The world looks more stable now and the Silicon Valley preppers are probably fretting too much – but if their worst worries are understood, among the world’s most valuable commodities might yet be … tinned food.
The author composes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more info about the programme’s sources and listen to all the episodes online or register for the programme podcast