The History of Innovation and Agreements

From contracts to offer letters to purchase orders, agreements are the foundation of doing business. Innovation and agreements are intrinsically connected. Both fuel each other and create that opportunity where ideas collide and intellectual capital starts to flow.

Had it not been for the innovative thinking of certain businesses, industries and luminaries, opportunities to change the world would have been lost. Throughout history, agreements helped some of the most important innovations come to life.

Here is a brief sampling of key moments in the history of innovation and agreements.


1798 – Eli Whitney and the machine age


While the inventor of the cotton gin was gaining notoriety for his invention, Eli Whitney was on the brink of bankruptcy. Fortunately, in January 1978, Whitney won a manufacturing contract from the American government where he had agreed to deliver 10,000 muskets in two years. However, it was only once the contract was won that Whitney began his production plans with the introduction of pre-manufactured, interchangeable parts. His introduction of interchangeable parts to the assembly line was the harbinger of “the dawn of the machine age.”

Whitney rightly identified how to use the contractual agreement to drive the business opportunity.


1854 – The birth of the London Underground


In the first half of the 19th century, London’s population boomed and caused roads to be congested with people, horses, and rubbish. Charles Pearson, a solicitor from the City of London, had a bold vision: build a railway network underground.

Pearson helped secure the Royal Assent to the North Metropolitan Railway Act on August 7, 1854. This agreement led to the world’s first underground railway opening in 1863. Charles Pearson’s innovation has set a worldwide standard which urban planners would go on to replicate.


1856 The transatlantic telegraph


Based on an agreement between American Cyrus Field and Englishmen John Watkins Brett and Charles Tilston Bright, the Atlantic Telegraph Company was incorporated in 1856. This agreement was the foundation for creating the first commercial telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1888, the link was established, reducing the communication time between North America and Europe from ten days to mere minutes. This historical agreement heralded in the age of global communication.


1913 – Ford and the mass automobile market


While Henry Ford was making headlines with his Ford factory and its innovative production line, he also faced labor problems. The factory production line work was quite dangerous and monotonous. His workers would often resign on the spot, causing production to halt. Ford realized the cost of recruitment and additional training was unsustainable. Without people on his factory line, Ford’s innovation was at risk.

In 1913, Henry Ford’s Michigan factory struck an agreement that would redraw Ford’s relationship with its employees. This agreement also sent shockwaves throughout the word: factory workers more than doubled their salaries from $2.25 to $5 a day. The newly created workers’ agreement became a defining moment of the 20th century by helping to raise living standards and ushering in an era of automobile consumption. Meanwhile, this agreement also rescued Ford’s innovative production line.


1991- Creation of HMTL, URL, HTTP


In 1991, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee and CERN, a Swiss academic institution, developed the fundamental technologies to give birth to internet standards technology, which includes HTML, URL, and HTTP. Berners-Lee and CERN signed an agreement that was based on the belief that the web should remain free and open. The scientist and CERN relinquished all IP rights to code, which meant that anybody could use it, in support of his belief that the internet is for “everyone.” This agreement helped shape the foundation of the modern digital age.


2003 Docusign founded


From contracts to offer letters to purchase orders, agreements are the foundation of doing business. Yet many organizations still rely on manual, disconnected processes to get agreements done—wasting time and money, increasing errors and risk, and frustrating employees and customers.

In the early 2000s, Seattle-based entrepreneur Tom Gonser started Docusign because he wanted to fundamentally change how business transactions happen. At that time the only available solutions were very complicated.

Working directly with customers to understand their specific challenges and needs, Gonser and his team set out to ensure that signing electronically would be easy, legally binding, and secure.

Today, hundreds of thousands of organizations worldwide have adopted eSignature technology because it lets them do business faster, with less risk, lower costs, and better experiences for customers, partners, and employees.

Overall, the history of agreements is essentially connected with the history of innovation. However, it’s important to also recognize that innovation is constantly in motion – creating new opportunities and solving new problems.

Companies like Docusign are deeply committed to this ongoing innovation.  Since 2003, Docusign has been continually improving the way agreements are done. Learn more about how to transform the entire agreement process with the Docusign Agreement Cloud.