Factories in a New World

The Baltimore Sun

Nov 7, 1815

Jonathan Beckerman

We live an ever changing world. Our country is still young and is constantly reshaping its very structure. Within the span of less than 50 years we have become a free nation, created government and started building a new country, all of which are achievements that should not be dismissed. However we have not made a nation without flaws. Recently, as within the last twenty to thirty years we have been experiencing a sort of “industrial revolution”. As a nation we have been pushing ourselves to advancements in technologies and new innovative systems of work. I speak, of course, about our new interest in the “factory system”. I have decided to look in depth into the repercussions and over all influences of this new style of manufacturing. With our country becoming ever more industrialized I wanted examine the roots of its growth and the people upon whose labor that growth has occurred. When I started out in the beginning of my search for information, I was not sure what I would find, however at the end I was astonished and just a little bit appalled.

Since the creation of our great nation, we have been working in a single style of manufacturing, this being the domestic or home system, which has been employed for years. It is a much less complex way of working that involves fewer people, less machinery but much more time. The domestic system is a much less mechanized version of creating goods, and relies on contracting out work form a central agent to workers on off site locations, such as their homes or workshops with a few other craftsmen (or women).  This system allowed workers involved in it to balance household and farm work with the services they performed in their jobs. This organization of labor was best suited for pre-urban times, because there was no need to travel to work, which,  in a reasonably non developed country could be quite difficult sometimes. It was easiest for this system to have workers making shoes, gun parts and clothes because no machinery was needed. This was a quite effective system and is used even now in modern times. However,  with the recent “industrial revolution” we are seeing a new system taking over manufacturing of the United States.

“A depiction of a household employed through the Domestic system”

Advancements in technologies and the move of the population to start living in more metropolitan areas helped birth the factory system. I was interested in the very roots of its development so I decided to travel the country looking for the conditions of its creation.

One incredibly influential man was John Lombes. An Englishman, he starting a water powered silk mill in the 1720’s. This was one of the first with a factory manufacturing line, utilized more machinery and less manpower to do work that otherwise would have needed many more workers. He was then followed by Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood, both from England both of whom followed a very similar work style, with brass factories and mills. These men helped start the use of the system, but a man credited with spreading and perfecting the factory system was Richard Arkwright.  He organized machinery too large to be in homes, so it required factories along with his workers. This made it easier for him to extend working hours as long as possible (dawn till dusk). This made it almost impossible for workers to go home between work shifts, so he had them stay at the factories. That is not the only thing they have to endure, they also received incredibly low wages. The combination of labor and machinery let him reduce skilled and unskilled workers to disposable commodities. On top of these The products these factories produced, because of their low manufacturing costs, could under cut the price of the products already on the marked, making this a hugely profitable business model. This development of factories was all to maximize profit, yet still I could not believe the lengths to which owners want to ensure not a cent was spent in excess. After finding this in England I was curious what the standards of work would be in our fair land, so I went to Rhode Island where an early factory was set up by Samuel Slater in the 1790’s. He sees the effectiveness of the system, and he wanted to try a slightly different method. Instead of having the men work, he decided to try to have the children and the women work instead. This was not a completely flawed idea, however, because of the close knit families in the time period, it did not work. Slater then slightly adjusted his workforce to include whole families working in unison at the factory. This lead to town- like housing systems around the mills and factories. He made it look more appealing to prospective workers by offering school for the children.

I was curious just how tolerable these conditions were in a factory like Slater’s, so I went looking for workers to interview on their jobs. This sounds like a simple task, however I was surprised to find very few people willing to talk about their job and its conditions. They were afraid of being fired or fined by their employer. I was disappointed by this, so I travelled to Waltham, Massachusetts in search of another factory I had heard of.

The Waltham Factory is a cotton mill in Massachusetts, made possible by the mechanization the manufacturing of string, fibers and yarn such as the “spinning jenny”. It is known for being one of the first that has raw material go into the plant and finished cloths come out. This factory employs only women instead of the convention male work force, or what has become know as the “Slater family style”. These are often farm girls, because there is little other use for them back on the farm. They board at the factories and are supervised by older women payed by the factory. The more research I did the more taken aback I was. These young girls are put in horrible conditions without good food or adequate rest. I found two girls willing to be interviewed, both had been working at the factory for years and described to me the extent of the conditions. The older of the two girls Anne Bethhold described the lifestyle. “We wake up at 4:40 and have to be a’working by 5 o’clock, then we have a half an hours break at 7 for breakfast and that is just the morning. Then it is back to work till midday, where we have the same length break and then we are working back until 7”. Anne’s long term friend, Janette Field seemed to be resigned to the fact, “we be working like this six days a week, you get used to it”. I could not understand how they functioned in such a terrible environment.

“Anne Bethhold and Janette Field”

My research into the factory system in our country has shown a small light on the beast that is this system. I can’t imagine trying to work there as a man let alone as a young child.  have yet to be blessed with children of my own but I am not quite sure I would be able to let them toil under such conditions and be treated this way. I have done this piece for the understanding of a nation. We must at the very least understand the enemy before we can defeat it.

Sources

  1. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1846-10-07/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1836&index=15&rows=20&words=factory+system&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1850&proxtext=factory+system+&y=11&x=19&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

  2. Brinkley, Alan. Unfinished Nation. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print, ch. 10.

  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_system

  4. Imiage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2_Young_Women.jpg

  5. Imiage: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/domestic_system.htm

  6. http://www.uni.edu/schneidj/webquests/adayinthelife/factorysystem.html

  7. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/689674/factory-system/

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One thought on “Factories in a New World

  1. Hi Gabe,
    Great post! I really liked reading the perspective of a man at the time, after the homework reading on factories I was curious as to how men felt about this during this time. The backing of your points with evidence, like the quote, helped build your piece. I was surprised to learn that even the children worked from sun up to sundown, that must have been awful. Other than a couple grammatical issues this piece of writing is quite complete, Nice Job!

    -Will

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