In this paper, we argue that economic societies, established during the eighteenth-century, contributed to industrialization through the diffusion of new ideas generated during the Scientific Revolution in Europe. Local societies functioned as catalyst for the translation of scientific knowledge into useful knowledge and the diffusion to interested parties. We test this hypothesis by combining information on more than 3,300 society members from the membership lists of all active economic societies in the German lands with several measures of innovation and upper-tail human capital. We find a robust positive relationship between the local member density and the number of valuable patents, exhibitors at world fairs, and highly-skilled mechanical workers. We further show that grid-cell pairs with members from the same society show a higher technological similarity. We interpret this as evidence that economic societies generated information networks which fostered spatial knowledge diffusion and shaped the geography of innovation.
Contact: David Heller