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Dionysius Lardner, the Denigrated Sage of Early Railways

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Document pages: 22 pages

Abstract: Dionysius Lardner has a very poor reputation in the railway history literature. In most other fields he also tends to be remembered either for a few of his occasionally spectacular mistakes or at most as a minor science and technology popularizer. He has not received proper credit for his striking 1846 survey of the railway industry, "Railways at home and abroad. " Published at the peak of the Railway Mania, it provided an excellent overview of that rapidly developing industry. Further, although in an inconspicuous way, it punctured several important misconceptions that motivated investors. Had proper heed been paid to Lardner s warnings, much of the investment disaster of the Mania could have been averted. This episode of financial exuberance can be shown to have been doomed to fail, and among contemporary observers Lardner provided the most convincing and comprehensive arguments to demonstrate this. However, little attention was paid to his warnings. This episode provides another illustration of the difficulty in persuading the public as well as policy makers that a dangerous bubble is in progress and bound to fail.

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