The present thesis is composed of three papers that are quite diverse, as for inspiration, context, addressed topics, and methodologies, but share two common elements. The first is the study of technology and innovation in a historical perspective, motivated by the belief that such a perspective is crucial to that study. A second fil rouge is the use of data from international exhibitions, the bulk of data originated from which has so far been exploited by economic historians only to a limited extent, in spite of these events being among the most characteristic ones of the second half of the nineteenth and of the early twentieth century. The first paper, "Patents, exhibitions and markets for innovation in the early twentieth century: Evidence from Turin 1911 International Exhibition", discusses the nature of international exhibitions, the role they played in the early twentieth century, the reasons why economic agents attended them, the relationship between exhibition data and patent data, and their suitability for measuring innovation. To do so, it conducts an in-depth analysis of the International Exhibition held in Turin in 1911, matching a new database built from the catalogue of this event with data about patents granted in Italy. The paper finds that exhibiting and patenting did mostly occur separately, as the exhibition mainly worked as a market for products, which attracted firms, while patents were primarily taken out by individuals, most of whom might not be interested in that function. Yet, the presence is observed of a qualified niche of independent inventors, using the exhibition as a market for ideas, i.e. to advertise their findings to a selected public of potential investors, buyers or licensees. The second paper, "Does innovation foster business profits? Evidence from Italy, 1913-1936", investigates whether innovation (proxied by both patent and exhibition data) fostered business profits in Italy in the late Liberal age (i.e. the years preceding the First World War) and in the inter-war period. No evidence is found of a positive short-term effect of innovation on profitability, which contrasts with the findings of previous empirical economic analyses, but is in line with historiographical accounts, pointing out the scarce relevance of innovation in Italian development. However, a possibly more relevant long-run effect is observed, as patenting firms were more likely to survive. This pattern is reversed, if exhibition data is employed to gauge innovation, instead of patent data: indeed, exhibiting entailed a boost in short-term profitability (deriving from publicity and reputation effects), but not a long-run benefit, in terms of survival. In other words, exhibiting, unlike patenting, did not help developing firm capabilities - which questions its validity in effectively representing innovation. Based on the recognition that the products displayed at international exhibitions were not only innovative ones, and that the main motivation for participating in exhibitions was commercial, an alternative interpretation of exhibition data is suggested in the third paper of this thesis, "The specialisation and economic complexity of countries through the lens of universal exhibitions, 1855-1900", as an indicator of what was produced and promoted on international markets by countries that participated to these events. Using data from the five expositions universelles held in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century (1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900), this paper explores potential applications of this view: in particular, it computes specialisation and "economic complexity" indices for a large number of countries over an extended time period, and discusses their implications for economic development.
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