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  An English Operative in an American Factory, Scientific American, 1865  

A Sheffield cutler, working in one of our Eastern factories, wrote to his comrades at home stating his views of our workshops, etc.  We make an extract from his letter.

The remark about the division of labor indicates a lack of knowledge.  It is practiced more extensively here than elsewhere, and our manufacturers were the first to institute regularly organized plans for accomplishing specific objects.

"The great number of large works - cotton, woolen, edge-tools, files, table knives, indeed all kinds of trade - carried on, and in a first rate style, too, will soon enable them to compete with England for the markets of the world.  Look out, you at home; go ahead, or the Yankees will trip you up in trade matters.

I don't think they could compete with you yet in their own markets but for their tariff. They have not got the division of labor amongst the materials, as you have; they have not the iron and coal, and the material trades so concentrated as you have, and then, from the demand for labor, don't work for so little as you do.

Steel comes from one distant town; tip handles from another; coals and bone handles, wire tools, etc., etc., from others.  Ivory in tusk is six dollars a pound.  They do far more with machinery in all kinds of trades than you.  Men never learn to do a knife through, as they do in Sheffield.  The knives go through thirty or forty hands.  One matches and resins all; another pins all; another bores all handles; another glazes all blades, and another buffs all handles.

I myself glaze and chill all the better knives they make at Hanover Works, and nothing else, from day to day.  If a Yankee can resin a knife on, they call him a cutler; and by doing one thing all the time they become very expert, and make some very good knives.  Not the variety you make, but such patterns as are done easiest by machinery, and there is a large quantity made, I assure you.

The Englishmen get the best wages, because they can go to any part of a knife, and the Yankee don't like it. 

The system of managing here is for one man to be responsible for the forging of blades.  All are made by trip hammers.  He is a practical man, able to mend tools and see all the machinery is in order; he is called the boss blacksmith.  Another attends to the grinders and sees that the blades are properly done, and the orders attended to.

Another attends to all the steel forks.  The last came from Sanderson's, Carver Street, Sheffield; [the former, doubtless; not the forks, certainly;] he attends to all the hands engaged on forks. 

Then the work we call halting is let to a job hand who employs all the men he needs to put the work through. He takes the job at so much the hundred.  All are reckoned by the hundred here, and are taken, carvers, tables and desserts, at one price, in most cases; but grinding and less carvers get the better above all these bosses.

There is what you call a table knife manager who gives out the materials as toe come in to those they belong to, sees they are finished right, and to whom the superintendent refers all letters and information as to what is wanted, and he sees that the things wanted are attended to and put through.

The superintendent is the head 'boss' over the men, lets the jobs, sets the price, turns off and sets on, and keeps a few hands always at liberty to go from job to job when needed; and these are called 'company hands.'  All are Englishmen, who know how to go at any part of a knife; for the Yankees are brought up to one or two jobs and cannot shift about.  Men who have jobs, matching and resining, for instances, set on and turn off their extra hands as they like, and if any of them are stuck with their work, the 'company's hands’ are sent to help them out, and he has to pay them after the rate the company pays.  They work by the hour.  I am a 'company hand,' so is Joseph H, and H. B.

The superintendent is responsible to a board of directors, elected by the company, who are shareholders.  Nearly all the works here are share-holding concerns, and there is such smashing up amongst these companies!

The shareholders differ from the managers.  The managers get experience and set up for themselves, or demand nearly all the profits. The orders are not sent direct to the works, but they have agents or sale-shops at New York and other places, who send the orders and keep, if possible, their shelves fully supplied with trashy articles.

The people here are far more steady than in Sheffield.  Men seldom go off drinking here.  There are no ‘ball weeks’ and no holiday at the Christmas time unless you take it.  The works were not stopped one hour this Christmas.

There are no beggars here; all seem very well off, and far better dressed than working men in Sheffield, and far cleaner.  The methods of working are far easier; indeed, the Yankees will not do hard work, if possible.  There are not as many files used among 200 men as you could put in your pocket."

from Scientific American, March 11, 1865, p.161
WK, 08/2012


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