America’s adoption of the electric light

American cities and even smaller towns embraced the new technology with a speed and enthusiasm that Europeans soon found both fascinating and reckless. While the United States was no leader in the science of electricity, inventors such as Brush and Edison had not only developed the most effective working systems but backed them up with an entrepreneurial initiative, even aggressiveness, that was fast making America the world leader in the commercial development and installation of electric light. Electric lighting systems, first arc and then incandescent, became a booming business, a popular enthusiasm, and a reform crusade that swept the country in the 1880s… In one town and city after another, politicians, business leaders, and editors exclaimed, “THE ELECTRIC LIGHT–WE MUST HAVE IT!” …

The market for electric light grew in part because Americans embraced the idea that their town’s standing on the great ladder of civilization could be measured by its ability to provide residents with the latest technological conveniences. Each time one town or city unveiled the light, boosters in neighboring municipalities felt the sting of inferiority and fretted that their town might be doomed to bring up the rear in history’s march.

That is from Ernest Freeberg’s Age of Edison. Would Europeans still say something similar about America? I read Tyler Cowen’s The Complacent Class as arguing No.

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