Today, I could use "a technology" to mean a mechanical or industrial development:

The most important transportation technology during that era was the railroad.

According to etymonline.com, "technology" in this usage isn't known to occur before 1859.

What term would someone use in the 1700s for a technology?

For example, Thomas Jefferson might have referred to the printing press, the steam engine, and the thermometer as "three ___s".


5 Answers 5


I think they might have been called inventions

a device, contrivance, or process originated after study and experiment. Merriam Webster


AS many people entertain inaccurate ideas concerning that moſt important and intereſting invention the Teleſcope, permit me briefly to ſtate the facts ...

  • 2
    Why are some s ſ but not all?
    – Neil Kirk
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 3:18
  • 5
    @NeilKirk- Short answer: That's how it was in the book. Longer answer: The long s was used in ligatures in various languages. When a font containing the long s is used, German typographic rules require the common s to be used when it occurs singly at the end of a syllable, while the long s is used at the beginning of a syllable (more detailed rules are given for other cases). -Source: Wikipedia
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 4:40
  • I read that as moft and interefting...
    – ADTC
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 10:03

Perhaps the term device. It appears in a patent signed by Jefferson

Letter of Patent for a Grain Separating Device, Signed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Dec. 21, 1803. DS, 3 Pp. (1 Folio Pc.).

  • 2
    Yes, or "engine"
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:07
  • 2
    @ColinFine: A thermometer, an engine? Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:21
  • 2
    I was confused, initially I thought you were suggesting "patent" The same word is repeated in the quote, but as that didn't make much sense, I read more carefully and saw your suggestion is device which definitely sounds better.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 5:26
  • @Mari-LouA Good point. Adjusted the link. Thanks.
    – bib
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 12:35
  • 2
    @Cerberus: certainly, though maybe not by the 1700's. The OED s.v. engine, meaning 5 ("A tool, implement, or simple mechanical device. Now arch.") has 16th century examples " in the stokkis or sic uther ingine." and "Ropes and other yngynes."
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 12:44

Probably the term mechanisation conveyed the idea of technology development at that time:

  • mechanisation or mechanisation (BE) is the process of doing work with machinery.

  • The Industrial Revolution started mainly with textile machinery, such as the spinning jenny (1764) and water frame (1768).

  • Demand for metal parts used in textile machinery led to the invention of many machine tools in the late 1700s until the mid-1800s.

Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

  • So someone like Jefferson would refer to the printing press as "a mechanisation"?
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 22:47
  • 1
    Certainly not. The earliest attribution for mechanization in the OED is 1839, and that includes the phrase the mechanization of man, so it clearly means "the process of turning man into a machine".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:03
  • 5
    Perhaps you mean mechanism?
    – Robusto
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 0:04

You might not be using the terms technical and technology in the normal meaning. An 'ology' is a science or body of knowledge. There trend in the last few years in marketing to call products technology. Meaning my iPhone is a field of science.

Ie. Technology, the field of science and body of knowledge related to skills and TECHniques was used to create a product which is a device.

  • This is not only a trend in the last few years. Here's an example from 1950 of technologies being used in the way I'm using it.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 5:51
  • @Joe You're not using it wrongly, but the market use of technology usually isn't at the same level as 'dentistry' or 'high pressure steam engine'. The technology in an iPhone is mainly silicon integration, soft core, capacitive sensing, toughened glass, optics, C-family programming languages. The iPhone isn't a technology in the same was as 'high pressure steam engines', nor are most of the things touted as such - the real technologies in the latest iPhone are mostly 20+ years old, it's a device containing refined examples of those technologies. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 9:11

Technical was a word in the mid 1700s, btw. Source: A dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson. It might not be unheard of to be a technical device.

  • 1
    In that source, Johnson considers "technical" to be an adjective. That means Jefferson wouldn't call the printing press, steam engine, and thermometer "three technicals".
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 22:46
  • True, but then it'd not be unreasonable to be a technical device as otherwise proposed.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 23:33
  • 1
    If you're suggesting "technical device", rather than "technical", go ahead and make that your answer.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 20:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.