Modern History Sourcebook:
The Philosophy of the Manufacturers, 1835
Andrew Ure (1778-1857), a professor at the University of Glasgow,
was an enthusiast for the new manufacturing system. Here he represents
the views of a new class: the manufacturers whose wealth derived
from ownership of factories.
This island is pre-eminent among civilized nations for the prodigious
development of its factory wealth, and has been therefore long
viewed with a jealous admiration by foreign powers. This very
pre-eminence, however, has been contemplated in a very different
light by many influential members of our own community, and has
been even denounced by them as the certain origin of innumerable
evils to the people, and of revolutionary convulsions to the state.
If the affairs of the kingdom be wisely administered, I believe
such allegations and fears will prove to be groundless, and to
proceed more from the envy of one ancient and powerful order of
the commonwealth, towards another suddenly grown into political
importance, than from the nature of things....
The blessings which physio-mechanical science has bestowed on
society, and the means it has still in store for ameliorating
the lot of mankind, have been too little dwelt upon; while, on
the other hand, it has been accused of lending itself to the rich
capitalists as an instrument for harassing the poor, and of exacting
from the operative an accelerated rate of work. It has been said,
for example, that the steam-engine now drives the power-looms
with such velocity as to urge on their attendant weavers at the
same rapid pace; but that the hand-weaver, not being subjected
to this restless agent, can throw his shuttle and move his treddles
at his convenience. There is, however, this difference in the
two cases, that in the factory, every member of the loom is so
adjusted, that the driving force leaves the attendant nearly nothing
at all to do, certainly no muscular fatigue to sustain, while
it procures for him good, unfailing wages, besides a healthy workshop gratis: whereas the non-factory weaver, having everything
to execute by muscular exertion, finds the labour irksome, makes
in consequence innumerable short pauses, separately of little
account, but great when added together; earns therefore proportionally
low wages, while he loses his health by poor diet and the dampness
of his hovel....
The constant aim and effect of scientific improvement in manufactures
are philanthropic, as they tend to relieve the workmen either
from niceties of adjustment which exhaust his mind and fatigue
his eyes, or from painful repetition of efforts which distort
or wear out his frame. At every step of each manufacturing process
described in this volume the humanity of science will be manifest....
In its precise acceptation, the Factory system is of recent origin,
and may claim England for its birthplace. The mills for throwing
silk, or making organzine, which were mounted centuries ago in
several of the Italian states, and furtively transferred to this
country by Sir Thomas Lombe in 1718, contained indeed certain
elements of a factory, and probably suggested some hints of those
grander and more complex combinations of self-acting machines,
which were first embodied half a century later in our cotton manufacture
by Richard Arkwright, assisted by gentlemen of Derby, well acquainted
with its celebrated silk establishment. But the spinning of an
entangled flock of fibres into a smooth thread, which constitutes
the main operation with cotton, is in silk superfluous; being
already performed by the unerring instinct of a worm, which leaves
to human art the simple task of doubling and twisting its regular
filaments. The apparatus requisite for this purpose is more elementary,
and calls for few of those gradations of machinery which are needed
in the carding, drawing, roving, and spinning processes of a cotton-mill.
When the first water-frames for spinning cotton were erected at
Cromford, in the romantic valley of the Derwent, about sixty years
ago, mankind were little aware of the mighty revolution which
the new system of labour was destined by Providence to achieve,
not only in the structure of British society, but in the fortunes
of the world at large. Arkwright alone had the sagacity to discern,
and the boldness to predict in glowing language, how vastly productive
human industry would become, when no longer proportioned in its
results to muscular effort, which is by its nature fitful and
capricious, but when made to consist in the task of guiding the
work of mechanical fingers and arms, regularly impelled with great
velocity by some indefatigable physical power. What his judgment
so clearly led him to perceive, his energy of will enabled him
to realize with such rapidity and success, as would have done
honour to the most influential individuals, but were truly wonderful
in that obscure and indigent artisan....
The principle of the factory system then is, to substitute mechanical
science for hand skill, and the partition of a process into its
essential constituents, for the division or graduation of labour
among artisans. On the handicraft plan, labour more or less skilled
was usually the most expensive element of production.... but on
the automatic plan, skilled labour gets progressively superseded,
and will, eventually, be replaced by mere overlookers of machines.
By the infirmity of human nature it happens, that the more skilful
the workman, the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to
become, and, of course, the less fit a component of a mechanical
system, in which, by occasional irregularities, he may do great
damage to the whole. The grand object therefore of the modern
manufacturer is, through the union of capital and science, to
reduce the task of his work-people to the exercise of vigilance
and dexterity, - faculties, when concentred to one process, speedily
brought to perfection in the young. In the infancy of mechanical
engineering, a machine-factory displayed the division of labour
in manifold gradations - the file, the drill, the lathe, having
each its different workmen in the order of skill: but the dextrous
hands of the filer and driller are now superseded by the planing,
the key groove cutting, and the drilling-machines; and those of
the iron and brass turners, by the self-acting slide-lathe....
It is, in fact, the constant aim and tendency of every improvement
in machinery to supersede human labour altogether, or to diminish
its cost, by substituting the industry of women and children for
that of men; or that of ordinary labourers for trained artisans.
In most of the water-twist, or throstle cotton-mills, the spinning
is entirely managed by females of sixteen years and upwards. The
effect of substituting the self-acting mule for the common mule,
is to discharge the greater part of the men spinners, and to retain
adolescents and children. The proprietor of a factory near Stockport
states, in evidence to the commissioners, that, by such substitution,
he would save 501. a week in wages in consequence of dispensing
with nearly forty male spinners, at about 25s. of wages each....
Steam-engines furnish the means not only of their support but
of their multiplication. They create a vast demand for fuel; and,
while they lend their powerful arms to drain the pits and to raise
the coals, they call into employment multitudes of miners, engineers,
shipbuilders, and sailors, and cause the construction of canals
and railways. Thus therefore, in enabling these rich fields of
industry to be cultivated to the utmost, they leave thousands
of fine arable fields free for the production of food to man,
which must have been otherwise allotted to the food of horses.
Steam-engines moreover, by the cheapness and steadiness of their
action, fabricate cheap goods, and procure in their exchange a
liberal supply of the necessaries and comforts of life produced
in foreign lands.
Improvements in the machinery have a three-fold bearing: -
lst. They make it possible to fabricate some articles which, but
for them, could not be fabricated at all.
2nd. They enable an operative to turn out a greater quantity of
work than he could before, - time, labour, and quality of work
3rd. They effect a substitution of labour comparatively unskilled,
for that which is more skilled.
From Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures (London:
Chas. Knight 1835), pp 5-8, 14-15, 20-21, 23, 29-31.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997