The systematic organization of research and expertise promoting technological innovation is characteristic of modern industrial societies. But when exactly did Western societies begin to organize technologically relevant sciences? The so-called useful sciences, established in Prussia in the last third of the eighteenth century, are a unique window from which to study early combinations of technological and scientific inquiry. In hindsight, the institutionalization of useful sciences was a major step toward the formation of the more specialized technological and natural sciences in the second half of the nineteenth century. Zeroing in on useful sciences such as mining science, salt-work science, technical chemistry, and scientific civil engineering, the project has studied various types of early techno-scientific institutions ranging from the chemical laboratories of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory and the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences to mining academies, the Industrial Institute (Gewerbeakademie), the Bauakademie, and the Berlin Technical University (Technische Hochschule).
Following the model of combined “theory and practice” previously established at mining academies, the late nineteenth-century technological sciences (Technikwissenschaften) and technical universities profoundly changed Germany’s knowledge economy. Together with the reformed universities and novel types of techno-scientific institutions, such as the Imperial Institute (Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt), the technical universities triggered Germany’s transformation to a science-based industrialized nation. The foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft in 1912 was another major step toward the organization of techno-scientific knowledge and what is now seen as the “great acceleration” in the Anthropocene.