The Proto-industrial factory: Power applied to production
- The low productivity of thecraft system was unable to supply the demand for goods and the emerging merchant class beganto seek other forms of manufacture. The first approach was to reduce the labor intensiveness of craftwork by the judicious application of power to the productive process. Water wheels andwindmills had been known since ancient times but their use was uneconomical given a large andcheap labor supply. Powered workshops became more common toward the end of the 16thcentury. Water wheels up to 30 ft. tall were used by mills in Germany in 1500. In order to use thepower of such a large wheel, a number of workers had to be gathered in the same location.Further, only a limited number of streams could provide sufficient water flow on a reliable basis.
Start of specialization -
Craft work was disassembled into those portions which couldconveniently make use of power in the production process and those which could not. Garmentmaking, for example, divided into fabric making, which could use power in the spinning andweaving process, and the tailoring of clothing, largely a manual craft.
Conditions necessary for the development of the factory system were:
- ready access to capital was required for investment in facilities and machines.2.
- higher productivity required more efficient distribution and ready access tomarkets, either domestic or foreign.3.
- ample supplies of raw materials necessary for conversion. Early industialcountries sought colonies both for their materials and as markets for products.4.
- the factory system required concentrated manpower available only in cities.Protofactories were established in centers of population with good access to transportation andattracted more workers from the surrounding farmland by providing stable employment. Thefactory system was a major contributor to the urbanization of society.
Early factory systems -
Early factories were characterized by:1. Use of indivisible
sources, generally waterwheels.2.
near streams or rivers for both power and transport.3.
Collection of workers
under one roof to make use of machines.4. Simple,
of natural materials. (Flax to linen, wheat to flour,ore to iron)
The 18th century factory -
About the time of the American Revolution, the factory concept hadevolved to incorporate the steam engine and more sophisticated production technology.Craftwork was fragmented into still smaller units which could be adequately performed on themachines of the time. The labor component was high but the skill level was reduced to the pointthat the apprenticeship system was no longer necessary.
Standardized parts concept
- The use of interchangeable parts in manufactured goodsoriginated in France in the late 1700's. It was observed by Thomas Jefferson while he wasAmbassador to France and was recommended for use in America. The basic concept consists of making all related parts of a series of manufactured goods compatible, i.e. all gun barrels of agiven series of rifles, will fit all gun stocks of the same series. In both the craft system and in theearly factory system, each barrel was fitted to its gun stock individually, by skilled workers. If the stock broke in the field, a new one would have to be made to fit the specific barrel. In France,such standardization was achieved by training highly skilled workers to fit largely handmadeparts to a standard pattern.