Using a large, individual-level wage data set, we examine the impact of a major technological innovation—the steam engine—on the demand for skills in the merchant shipping industry. We find that the technical change created a new demand for engineers, a skilled occupation. It had a deskilling effect on production work—moderately skilled able-bodied seamen were replaced by unskilled engine room operatives. On the other hand, able-bodied seamen, carpenters, and mates employed on steam vessels earned a premium relative to their counterparts on sail vessels, and this appears partly related to skill.

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