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Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

1. Materials, symbols, and ideologies of progress,   pp. [3]-21

Page 4

Figure 1.1. The wooden airplane in popular culture: a symbolic contradiction.
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for human betterment, but it did not indicate which specific technical
changes would be deemed progress. By linking metal with modernity and
wood with tradition, advocates of metal laid claim to the rhetoric of prog-
ress, constructing a narrative that predicted the inevitable replacement
of wood by metal in airplane structures. These beliefs constituted a spe-
cific form of the ideology of progress, which I term the progress ideology of'
The progress ideology of metal was widely accepted within the culture of
aviation between the world wars. But culture alone cannot explain the ulti-
mate triumph of metal. Metal also benefited from its links to power, most
importantly the power of the military to shape the technical development of
the airplane. In the United States and abroad, air forces doggedly supported
the development of metal airplanes, despite discouraging early results.
Without military support, metal would have never succeeded in dominating

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