'Machinery Has Completely Taken Over': The Diffusion of the Mechanical Cotton Picker, 1949–1964
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXXIX: 1, (Summer, 2008), pp. 65–96.
Posted: 30 May 2013
Date Written: 2008
An examination of how the mechanical cotton picker spread across the South can illuminate such events as the “collapse” of southern equilibrium, the demise of southern paternalism, and the role of social institutions. The consequences of mechanical cotton harvesting have been widely studied, but the causes of the machine’s diffusion have received less attention. “Institutions” are often blamed for the region’s lagging development, although accounts have not always used a consistent definition of institutions, nor explained how they would have obstructed cotton harvester diffusion. North uses the term institutions to mean, “the humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction — formal constraints, (e.g. rules, laws, constitutions), informal constraints, (e.g. norms of behavior . . .), and their enforcement characteristics". This article, however, calls these phenomena “social institutions"; in the sense of traditions, customs, or mores as embodied in laws and contracts; for the sake of consistency with the historical and political-science literature. The question is, did any of the South’s social institutions have the potential to retard the widespread adoption of the cotton picker?
Keywords: cotton harvest, mechanization, paternalism, push versus pull hypothesis
JEL Classification: N52, N82, J21, J31, J33, J42, D81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation