Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : The primary aim of this paper is to explore the significance of the emergence and growth of mechanical engineering as a distinct industrial activity in early industrial Britain. The paper provides a survey of the most important interpretations put forward concerning the role of mechanical engineering in the early phases of industrialization. These interpretations are then confronted with data on the growth of the sector and with an analysis of the patterns of innovation carried out by means of a study of patent data. Our results broadly confirm the role of the sector as the main engine of technical progress in this historical phase.