Component innovation: The case of automatic telephone switching, 1891-1920 Article

Lipartito, K. (1994). Component innovation: The case of automatic telephone switching, 1891-1920 . INDUSTRIAL AND CORPORATE CHANGE, 3(2), 325-357. 10.1093/icc/3.2.325

cited authors

  • Lipartito, K


  • What determines form investment strategy, why do these strategies vary across organizations, and what impact do firm investments have on overall technical progress? Evolutionary models generally explain the emergence of electromechanical switches in the telephone industry in terms of differences in firm routines and competences, and argue that businesses tend to develop habitual skills related to existing technologies that may preclude them from responding effectively to alterations in technology. The patterns of evolution in automatic switching technology imply, however, several problems with such evolutionary models. Organizations that moved quickly into this technology and possessed the right traits for innovating did not also enjoy the attributes for long-term survival. It is therefore important to look at how firms evaluated the new technology at an early point before it had been sufficiently improved to show itself either superior or inferior to existing technology. The development of automatic switching reflected firm investments in innovation. The pace and timing of automation was set by these firm-level decisions in both technology and organizations. This paper concludes that the evolution of technical components is a third order effect of selection processes in which the survival of suboptimal components is predictable. The Bell System of 1920 that forms the empirical component of this study was a compromise, providing a highly valued type of service to some customers but responding weakly to the needs of others. It rapidly provided components useful to the parameters defined by the system but proved inflexible to other needs and uses of technology that lay outside those limits. © 1994 Oxford University Press.

publication date

  • December 1, 1994

published in

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • 325

end page

  • 357


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