Seeking a Balance: Government Roles and Private Markets
From the report:
Rarely did they do it alone. Throughout the history of the United States, entrepreneurs launching businesses based on new technologies invariably have received government assistance. The assistance has taken many forms, but its provisions has been essentially constant.
When the Wright brothers, local inventors of seemingly independent means, set out to construct a powered flying machine, they asked for government help. In the Spring of 1899, Wilbur Wright requested that experts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., provide him with a list of current publications on the problem of flight. The Smithsonian Institution had been established by the U.S. Congress some fifty years earlier for the purpose of increasing and distributing knowledge. The Smithsonian Secretary, Samuel Pierpont Langley, was himself engaged in experiments with flight. Using a U.S. War Department contribution of $50,000, matched by an equal allocation of Smithsonian funds, Langley had constructed his own flying machine. He launched his powered Aerodrome eight days before the Wright Brothers successful ascent at Kitty Hawk. His effort collapsed into the Potomac River, prompting one congressman to complain that "the only thing he ever made fly was government money."
This report outlines the means of government support historically available to commercial activities such as road building, canals, airplanes, shipping, agriculture, and overseas investment.