On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures
by Charles Babbage
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

295. If the liquefied gases are used, the form of the iron furnace must probably be changed, and perhaps it may be necessary to direct the flame from the ignited fuel upon the ore to be fused, instead of mixing that ore with the fuel itself: by a proper regulation of the blast, an oxygenating or a deoxygenating flame might be procured; and from the intensity of the flame, combined with its chemical agency, we might expect the most refractory ore to be smelted, and that ultimately the metals at present almost infusible, such as platinum, titanium, and others, might be brought into common use, and thus effect a revolution in the arts.

296. Supposing, on the occurrence of a glut, that new and cheaper modes of producing are not discovered, and that the production continues to exceed the demand, then it is apparent that too much capital is employed in the trade; and after a time, the diminished rate of profit will drive some of the manufacturers to other occupations. What particular individuals will leave it must depend on a variety of circumstances. Superior industry and attention will enable some factories to make a profit rather beyond the rest; superior capital in others will enable them, without these advantages, to support competition longer, even at a loss, with the hope of driving the smaller capitalists out of the market, and then reimbursing themselves by an advanced price. It is, however, better for all parties, that this contest should not last long; and it is important, that no artificial restraint should interfere to prevent it. An instance of such restriction, and of its injurious effect, occurs at the port of Newcastle, where a particular Act of Parliament requires that every ship shall be loaded in its turn. The Committee of the House of Commons, in their Report on the Coal Trade, state that,

'Under the regulations contained in this Act, if more ships enter into the trade than can be profitablv employed in it, the loss produced by detention in port, and waiting for a cargo. which must consequently take place, instead of falling, as it naturally would, upon particular ships, and forcing them from the trade, is now divided evenly amongst them; and the loss thus created is shared by the whole number.' Report, p. 6.

297. It is not pretended, in this short view, to trace out all the effects or remedies of over-manufacturing; the subject is difficult, and, unlike some of the questions already treated, requires a combined view of the relative influence of many concurring causes.


1. The average price per ton of pig iron, bar iron, and coal, together with the price paid for labour at the works, for a long series of years, would be very valuable, and I shall feel much indebted to anyone who will favour me with it for any, even short, period.

2. The accurate proportions are, by measure, oxygen 21, azote 79.

3. A similar reasoning may be applied to lamps. An Argand burner, whether used for consuming oil or gas, admits almost an unlimited quantity of air. It would deserve enquiry, whether a smaller quantity might not produce greater light; and, possibly, a different supply furnish more heat with the same expenditure of fuel.

4. Deutoxide of hydrogen, the oxygenated water of Thenard.

Chapter 25

Enquiries Previous to Commencing any Manufactory

298. There are many enquiries which ought always to be made previous to the commencement of the manufacture of any new article. These chiefly relate to the expense of tools, machinery, raw materials, and all the outgoings necessary for its production; to the extent of demand which is likely to arise; to the time in which the circulating capital will be replaced; and to the quickness or slowness with which the new article will supersede those already in use.

299. The expense of tools and of new machines will be more difficult to ascertain, in proportion as they differ from those already employed; but the variety in constant use in our various manufactories, is such, that few inventions now occur in which considerable resemblance may not be traced to others already constructed. The cost of the raw material is usually less difficult to determine; but cases occasionally arise in which it becomes important to examine whether the supply, at the given price, can be depended upon: for, in the case of a small consumption, the additional demand arising from a factory may produce a considerable temporary rise, though it may ultimately reduce the price.

300. The quantity of any new article likely to be consumed is a most important subject for the consideration of the projector of a new manufacture. As these pages are not intended for the instruction of the manufacturer, but rather for the purpose of giving a general view of the subject, an illustration of the way in which such questions are regarded by practical men, will, perhaps, be most instructive. The following extract from the evidence given before a Committee of the House of Commons, in the Report on Artizans and Machinery, shews the extent to which articles apparently the most insignificant, are consumed, and the view which the manufacturer takes of them.

The person examined on this occasion was Mr Ostler, a manufacturer of glass beads and other toys of the same substance, from Birmingham. Several of the articles made by him were placed upon the table, for the inspection of the Committee of the House of Commons, which held its meetings in one of the committee-rooms.

Question. Is there any thing else you have to state upon this subject? Answer. Gentlemen may consider the articles on the table as extremely insignificant: but perhaps I may surprise them a little, by mentioning the following fact. Eighteen years ago, on my first journey to London, a respectable-looking man, in the city, asked me if I could supply him with dolls' eyes; and I was foolish enough to feel half offended; I thought it derogatory to my new dignity as a manufacturer, to make dolls' eyes. He took me into a room quite as wide, and perhaps twice the length of this, and we had just room to walk between stacks, from the loor to the ceiling, of parts of dolls. He said, 'These are only the legs and arms; the trunks are below., But I saw enough to convince me, that he wanted a great many eyes; and, as the article appeared quite in my own line of business, I said I would take an order by way of experiment; and he shewed me several specimens. I copied the order. He ordered various quantities, and of various sizes and qualities. On returning to the Tavistock Hotel, I found that the order amounted to upwards of 500l. I went into the country, and endeavoured to make them. I had some of the most ingenious glass toymakers in the kingdom in my service; but when I shewed it to them, they shook their heads, and said they had often seen the article before, but could not make it. I engaged them by presents to use their best exertions; but after trying and wasting a great deal of time for three or four weeks, I was obliged to relinquish the attempt. Soon afterwards I engaged in another branch of business (chandelier furniture), and took no more notice of it. About eighteen months ago I resumed the trinket trade, and then determined to think of the dolls' eyes; and about eight months since, I accidentally met with a poor fellow who had impoverished himself by drinking, and who was dying in a consumption, in a state of great want. I showed him ten sovereigns: and he said he would instruct me in the process. He was in such a state that he could not bear the effluvia of his own lamp, but though I was very conversant with the manual part of the business, and it related to things I was daily in the habit of seeing, I felt I could do nothing from his description. (I mention this to show how difficult it is to convey, by description, the mode of working.) He took me into his garret, where the poor fellow had economized to such a degree, that he actually used the entrails and fat of poultry from Leadenhall market to save oil (the price of the article having been lately so much reduced by competition at home). In an instant, before I had seen him make three, I felt competent to make a gross; and the difference between his mode and that of my own workmen was so trifling, that I felt the utmost astonishment.

Question. You can now make dolls' eyes? Answer. I can. As it was eighteen years ago that I received the order I have mentioned, and feeling doubtful of my own recollection, though very strong, and suspecting that it could [not] have been to the amount stated, I last night took the present very reduced price of that article (less than half now of what it was then), and calculating that every child in this country not using a doll till two years old, and throwing it aside at seven, and having a new one annually, I satisfied myself that the eyes alone would produce a circulation of a great many thousand pounds. I mention this merely to shew the importance of trifles; and to assign one reason, amongst many, for my conviction that nothing but personal communication can enable our manufactures to be transplanted.

301. In many instances it is exceedingly difficult to estimate beforehand the sale of an article, or the effects of a machine; a case, however, occurred during a recent enquiry, which although not quite appropriate as an illustration of probable demand, is highly instructive as to the mode of conducting investigations of this nature. A committee of the House of Commons was appointed to enquire into the tolls proper to be placed on steam-carriages; a question, apparently, of difficult solution, and upon which widely different opinions had been formed, if we may judge by the very different rate of tolls imposed upon such carriages by different 'turnpike trusts'. The principles on which the committee conducted the enquiry were, that 'The only ground on which a fair claim to toll can be made on any public road, is to raise a fund, which, with the strictest economy, shall be just sufficient—first, to repay the expense of its original formation; secondly, to maintain it in good and sufficient repair.' They first endeavoured to ascertain, from competent persons, the effect of the atmosphere alone in deteriorating a well-constructed road. The next step was, to determine the proportion in which the road was injured, by the effect of the horses' feet compared with that of the wheels. Mr Macneill, the superintendent, under Mr Telford, of the Holyhead roads, was examined, and proposed to estimate the relative injury, from the comparative quantities of iron worn off from the shoes of the horses, and from the tire of the wheels. From the data he possessed, respecting the consumption of iron for the tire of the wheels, and for the shoes of the horses, of one of the Birmingham day-coaches, he estimated the wear and tear of roads, arising from the feet of the horses, to be three times as great as that arising from the wheels. Supposing repairs amounting to a hundred pounds to be required on a road travelled over by a fast coach at the rate of ten miles an hour, and the same amount of injury to occur on another road, used only by waggons, moving at the rate of three miles an hour, Mr Macneill divides the injuries in the following proportions:

Injuries arising from; Fast coach; Heavy waggon Atmospheric changes 20 20 Wheels 20 35.5 Horses' feet drawing 60 44.5 Total injury 100 100

Supposing it, therefore, to be ascertained that the wheels of steam carriages do no more injury to roads than other carriages of equal weight travelling with the same velocity, the committee now possessed the means of approximating to a just rate of toll for steam carriages.(1*)

302. As connected with this subject, and as affording most valuable information upon points in which, previous to experiment, widely different opinions have been entertained; the following extract is inserted from Mr Telford's Report on the State of the Holyhead and Liverpool Roads. The instrument employed for the comparison was invented by Mr Macneill; and the road between London and Shrewsbury was selected for the place of experiment.

The general results, when a waggon weighing 21 cwt was used on different sorts of roads, are as follows:

lbs 1. On well-made pavement, the draught is 33

2. On a broken stone surface, or old flint road 65

3. On a gravel road 147

4. On a broken stone road, upon a rough pavement foundation 46

5. On a broken stone surface, upon a bottoming of concrete, formed of Parker's cement and gravel 46

The following statement relates to the force required to draw a coach weighing 18 cwt. exclusive of seven passengers, up roads of various inclinations:

Inclination; Force required at six miles per hour; Force at eight miles per hour; Force at ten miles per hour

lbs lbs lbs 1 in 20 268 296 318 1 in 26 213 219 225 1 in 30 165 196 200 1 in 40 160 166 172 1 in 600 111 120 128

303. In establishing a new manufactory, the time in which the goods produced can be brought to market and the returns be realized, should be thoroughly considered, as well as the time the new article will take to supersede those already in use. If it is destroyed in using, the new produce will be much more easily introduced. Steel pens readily took the place of quills; and a new form of pen would, if it possessed any advantage, as easily supersede the present one. A new lock, however secure, and however cheap, would not so readily make its way. If less expensive than the old, it would be employed in new work: but old locks would rarely be removed to make way for it; and even if perfectly secure, its advance would be slow.

304. Another element in this question which should not be altogether omitted, is the opposition which the new manufacture may create by its real or apparent injury to other interests, and the probable effect of that opposition. This is not always foreseen; and when anticipated is often inaccurately estimated. On the first establishment of steamboats from London to Margate, the proprietors of the coaches running on that line of road petitioned the House of Commons against them, as likely to lead to the ruin of the coach proprietors. It was, however, found that the fear was imaginary; and in a very few years, the number of coaches on that road was considerably increased, apparently through the very means which were thought to be adverse to it. The fear, which is now entertained, that steampower and railroads may drive out of employment a large proportion of the horses at present in use, is probably not less unfounded. On some particular lines such an effect might be produced; but in all probability the number of horses employed in conveying goods and passengers to the great lines of railroad, would exceed that which is at present used.


1. One of the results of these enquiries is, that every coach which travels from London to Birmingham distributes about eleven pounds of wrought iron, along with the line of road between the two places.

Chapter 26

On a New System of Manufacturing

305. A most erroneous and unfortunate opinion prevails amongst workmen in many manufacturing countries, that their own interest and that of their employers are at variance. The consequences are that valuable machinery is sometimes neglected, and even privately injured—that new improvements, introduced by the masters, do not receive a fair trial—and that the talents and observations of the workmen are not directed to the improvement of the processes in which they are employed. This error is, perhaps, most prevalent where the establishment of manufactories has been of recent origin, and where the number of persons employed in them is not very large: thus, in some of the Prussian provinces on the Rhine it prevails to a much greater extent than in Lancashire. Perhaps its diminished prevalence in our own manufacturing districts, arises partly from the superior information spread amongst the workmen; and partly from the frequent example of persons, who by good conduct and an attention to the interests of their employers for a series of years, have become foremen, or who have ultimately been admitted into advantageous partnerships. Convinced as I am, from my own observation, that the prosperity and success of the master manufacturer is essential to the welfare of the workman, I am yet compelled to admit that this connection is, in many cases, too remote to be always understood by the latter, and whilst it is perfectly true that workmen, as a class, derive advantage from the prosperity of their employers, I do not think that each individual partakes of that advantage exactly in proportion to the extent to which he contributes towards it; nor do I perceive that the resulting advantage is as immediate as it might become under a different system.

306. It would be of great importance, if, in every large establishment the mode of payment could be so arranged, that every person employed should derive advantage from the success of the whole; and that the profits of each individual should advance, as the factory itself produced profit, without the necessity of making any change in the wages. This is by no means easy to effect, particularly amongst that class whose daily labour procures for them their daily food. The system which has long been pursued in working the Cornish mines, although not exactly fulfilling these conditions, yet possesses advantages which make it worthy of attention, as having nearly approached towards them, and as tending to render fully effective the faculties of all who are engaged in it. I am the more strongly induced to place before the reader a short sketch of this system, because its similarity to that which I shall afterwards recommend for trial, will perhaps remove some objections to the latter, and may also furnish some valuable hints for conducting any experiment which might be undertaken.

307. In the mines of Cornwall, almost the whole of the operations, both above and below ground, are contracted for. The manner of making the contract is nearly as follows. At the end of every two months, the work which it is proposed to carry on during the next period is marked out. It is of three kinds. 1. Tutwork, which consists in sinking shafts, driving levels, and making excavations: this is paid for by the fathom in depth, or in length, or by the cubic fathom. 2. Tribute, which is payment for raising and dressing the ore, by means of a certain part of its v alue when rendered merchantable. It is this mode of payment which produces such admirable effects. The miners, who are to be paid in proportion to the richness of the vein, and the quantity of metal extracted from it, naturally become quicksighted in the discovery of ore, and in estimating its value; and it is their interest to avail themselves of every improvement that can bring it more cheaply to market. 3. Dressing. The 'Tributors', who dig and dress the ore, can seldom afford to dress the coarser parts of what they raise, at their contract price; this portion, therefore, is again let out to other persons, who agree to dress it at an advanced price.

The lots of ore to be dressed, and the works to be carried on, having been marked out some days before, and having been examined by the men, a kind of auction is held by the captains of the mine, in which each lot is put up, and bid for by different gangs of men. The work is then offered, at a price usually below that bid at the auction, to the lowest bidder, who rarely declines it at the rate proposed. The tribute is a certain sum out of every twenty shillings' worth of ore raised, and may vary from threepence to fourteen or fifteen shillings. The rate of earnings in tribute is very uncertain: if a vein, which was poor when taken, becomes rich, the men earn money rapidly; and instances have occurred in which each miner of a gang has gained a hundred pounds in the two months. These extraordinary cases, are, perhaps, of more advantage to the owners of the mine than even to the men; for whilst the skill and industry of the workmen are greatly stimulated, the owner himself always derives still greater advantage from the improvement of the vein.(1*) This system has been introduced, by Mr Taylor, into the lead mines of Flintshire, into those at Skipton in Yorkshire, and into some of the copper mines of Cumberland; and it is desirable that it should become general, because no other mode of payment affords to the workmen a measure of success so directly proportioned to the industry, the integrity, and the talent, which they exert.

308. I shall now present the outline of a system which appears to me to be pregnant with the most important results, both to the class of workmen and to the country at large; and which, if acted upon, would, in my opinion, permanently raise the working classes, and greatly extend the manufacturing system.

The general principles on which the proposed system is founded, are

1. That a considerable part of the wages received by each person employed should depend on the profits made by the establishment; and,

2. That every person connected with it should derive more advantage from applying any improvement he might discover, to the factory in which he is employed, than he could by any other course.

309. It would be difficult to prevail on the large capitalist to enter upon any system, which would change the division of the profits arising from the employment of his capital in setting skill and labour in action; any alteration, therefore, must be expected rather from the small capitalist, or from the higher class of workmen, who combine the two characters; and to these latter classes, whose welfare will be first affected, the change is most important. I shall therefore first point out the course to be pursued in making the experiment; and then, taking a particular branch of trade as an illustration, I shall examine the merits and defects of the proposed system as applied to it.

310. Let us suppose, in some large manufacturing town, ten or twelve of the most intelligent and skilful workmen to unite, whose characters for sobriety and steadiness are good, and are well known among their own class. Such persons will each possess some small portion of capital; and let them join with one or two others who have raised themselves into the class of small master manufacturers, and, therefore possess rather a larger portion of capital. Let these persons, after well considering the subject, agree to establish a manufactory of fire-irons and fenders; and let us suppose that each of the ten workmen can command forty pounds, and each of the small capitalists possesses two hundred pounds: thus they have a capital of L800 with which to commence business; and, for the sake of simplifying, let us further suppose the labour of each of these twelve persons to be worth two pounds a week. One portion of their capital will be expended in procuring the tools necessary for their trade, which we shall take at L400, and this must be considered as their fixed capital. The remaining L400 must be employed as circulating capital, in purchasing the iron with which their articles are made, in paying the rent of their workshops, and in supporting themselves and their families until some portion of it is replaced by the sale of the goods produced.

311. Now the first question to be settled is, what proportion of the profit should be allowed for the use of capital, and what for skill and labour? It does not seem possible to decide this question by any abstract reasoning: if the capital supplied by each partner is equal, all difficulty will be removed; if otherwise, the proportion must be left to find its level, and will be discovered by experience; and it is probable that it will not fluctuate much. Let us suppose it to be agreed that the capital of L800 shall receive the wages of one workman. At the end of each week every workman is to receive one pound as wages, and one pound is to be divided amongst the owners of the capital. After a few weeks the returns will begin to come in; and they will soon become nearly uniform. Accurate accounts should be kept of every expense and of all the sales; and at the end of each week the profit should be divided. A certain portion should be laid aside as a reserved fund, another portion for repair of the tools, and the remainder being divided into thirteen parts, one of these parts would be divided amongst the capitalists and one belong to each workman. Thus each man would, in ordinary circumstances, make up his usual wages of two pounds weekly. If the factory went on prosperously, the wages of the men would increase; if the sales fell off they would be diminished. It is important that every person employed in the establishment, whatever might be the amount paid for his services, whether he act as labourer or porter, as the clerk who keeps the accounts, or as bookkeeper employed for a few hours once a week to superintend them, should receive one half of what his service is worth in fixed salary, the other part varying with the success of the undertaking.

312. In such a factory, of course, division of labour would be introduced: some of the workmen would be constantly employed in forging the fire-irons, others in polishing them, others in piercing and forming the fenders. It would be essential that the time occupied in each process, and also its expense, should be well ascertained; information which would soon be obtained very precisely. Now, if a workman should find a mode of shortening any of the processes, he would confer a benefit on the whole party, even if they received but a small part of the resulting profit. For the promotion of such discoveries, it would be desirable that those who make them should either receive some reward, to be determined after a sufficient trial by a committee assembling periodically; or if they be of high importance, that the discoverer should receive one-half, or twothirds, of the profit resulting from them during the next year, or some other determinate period, as might be found expedient. As the advantages of such improvements would be clear gain to the factory, it is obvious that such a share might be allowed to the inventor, that it would be for his interest rather to give the benefit of them to his partners, than to dispose of them in any other way.

313. The result of such arrangements in a factory would be,

1. That every person engaged in it would have a direct interest in its prosperity; since the effect of any success, or falling off, would almost immediately produce a corresponding change in his own weekly receipts.

2. Every person concerned in the factory would have an immediate interest in preventing any waste or mismanagement in all the departments.

3. The talents of all connected with it would be strongly directed to its improvement in every department.

4. None but workmen of high character and qualifications could obtain admission into such establishments; because when any additional hands were required, it would be the common interest of all to admit only the most respectable and skilful; and it would be far less easy to impose upon a dozen workmen than upon the single proprietor of a factory.

5. When any circumstance produced a glut in the market, more skill would be directed to diminishing the cost of production; and a portion of the time of the men might then be occupied in repairing and improving their tools, for which a reserved fund would pay, thus checking present, and at the same time facilitating future production.

6. Another advantage, of no small importance, would be the total removal of all real or imaginary causes for combinations. The workmen and the capitalist would so shade into each other— would so evidently have a common interest, and their difficulties and distresses would be mutually so well understood that, instead of combining to oppress one another, the only combination which could exist would be a most powerful union between both parties to overcome their common difficulties.

314. One of the difficulties attending such a system is, that capitalists would at first fear to embark in it, imagining that the workmen would receive too large a share of the profits: and it is quite true that the workmen would have a larger share than at present: but, at the same time, it is presumed the effect of the whole system would be, that the total profits of the establishment being much increased, the smaller proportion allowed to capital under this system would yet be greater in actual amount, than that which results to it from the larger share in the system now existing.

315. It is possible that the present laws relating to partnerships might interfere with factories so conducted. If this interference could not be obviated by confining their purchases under the proposed system to ready money, it would be desirable to consider what changes in the law would be necessary to its existence: and this furnishes another reason for entering into the question of limited partnerships.

316. A difficulty would occur also in discharging workmen who behaved ill, or who were not competent to their work; this would arise from their having a certain interest in the reserved fund, and, perhaps, from their possessing a certain portion of the capital employed; but without entering into detail, it may be observed, that such cases might be determined on by meetings of the whole establishment; and that if the policy of the laws favoured such establishments, it would scarcely be more difficult to enforce just regulations, than it now is to enforce some which are unjust, by means of combinations either amongst the masters or the men.

317. Some approach to this system is already practised in several trades: the mode of conducting the Cornish mines has already been alluded to; the payment to the crew of whaling ships is governed by this principle; the profits arising from fishing with nets on the south coast of England are thus divided: one-half the produce belongs to the owner of the boat and net; the other half is divided in equal portions between the persons using it, who are also bound to assist in repairing the net when injured.


1. For a detailed account of the method of working the Cornish mines, see a paper of Mr John Taylor's Transactions of the Geological Society, vol. ii, p. 309.

Chapter 27

On Contriving Machinery

318. The power of inventing mechanical contrivances, and of combining machinery, does not appear, if we may judge from the frequency of its occurrence, to be a difficult or a rare gift. Of the vast multitude of inventions which have been produced almost daily for a series of years, a large part has failed from the imperfect nature of the first trials; whilst a still larger portion, which had escaped the mechanical difficulties, failed only because the economy of their operations was not sufficiently attended to.

The commissioners appointed to examine into the methods proposed for preventing the forgery of bank-notes, state in their report, that out of one hundred and seventy-eight projects communicated to the bank and to the commissioners, there were only twelve of superior skill, and nine which it was necessary more particularly to examine.

319. It is however a curious circumstance, that although the power of combining machinery is so common, yet the more beautiful combinations are exceedingly rare. Those which command our admiration equally by the perfection of their effects and the simplicity of their means, are found only amongst the happiest productions of genius.

To produce movements even of a complicated kind is not difficult. There exist a great multitude of known contrivances for all the more usual purposes, and if the exertion of moderate power is the end of the mechanism to be contrived, it is possible to construct the whole machine upon paper, and to judge of the proper strength to be given to each part as well as to the framework which supports it, and also of its ultimate effect, long before a single part of it has been executed. In fact, all the contrivance, and all the improvements, ought first to be represented in the drawings.

320. On the other hand, there are effects dependent upon physical or chemical properties for the determination of which no drawings will be of any use. These are the legitimate objects of direct trial. For example; if the ultimate result of an engine is to be that it shall impress letters on a copperplate by means of steel punches forced into it, all the mechanism by which the punches and the copper are to be moved at stated intervals, and brought into contact, is within the province of drawing, and the machinery may be arranged entirely upon paper. But a doubt may reasonably spring up, whether the bur that will be raised round the letter, which has been already punched upon the copper, may not interfere with the proper action of the punch for the letter which is to be punched next adjacent to it. It may also be feared that the effect of punching the second letter, if it be sufficiently near to the first, may distort the form of that first figure. If neither of these evils should arise, still the bur produced by the punching might be expected to interfere with the goodness of the impression produced by the copperplate; and the plate itself, after having all but its edge covered with figures, might change its form, from the unequal condensation which it must suffer in this process, so as to render it very difficult to take impressions from it at all. It is impossible by any drawings to solve difficulties such as these, experiment alone can determine their effect. Such experiments having been made, it is found that if the sides of the steel punch are nearly at right angles to the face of the letter, the bur produced is very inconsiderable; that at the depth which is sufficient for copperplate printing, no distortion of the adjacent letters takes place, although those letters are placed very close to each other; that the small bur which arises may easily be scraped off; and that the copperplate is not distorted by the condensation of the metal in punching, but is perfectly fit to print from, after it has undergone that process.

321. The next stage in the progress of an invention, after the drawings are finished and the preliminary experiments have been made, if any such should be requisite, is the execution of the machine itself. It can never be too strongly impressed upon the minds of those who are devising new machines, that to make the most perfect drawings of every part tends essentially both to the success of the trial, and to economy in arriving at the result. The actual execution from working drawings is comparatively an easy task; provided always that good tools are employed, and that methods of working are adopted, in which the perfection of the part constructed depends less on the personal skill of the workman, than upon the certainty of the method employed.

322. The causes of failure in this stage most frequently derive their origin from errors in the preceding one; and it is sufficient merely to indicate a few of their sources. They frequently arise from having neglected to take into consideration that metals are not perfectly rigid but elastic. A steel cylinder of small diameter must not be regarded as an inflexible rod; but in order to ensure its perfect action as an axis, it must be supported at proper intervals.

Again, the strength and stiffness of the framing which supports the mechanism must be carefully attended to. It should always be recollected, that the addition of superfluous matter to the immovable parts of a machine produces no additional momentum, and therefore is not accompanied with the same evil that arises when the moving parts are increased in weight. The stiffness of the framing in a machine produces an important advantage. If the bearings of the axis (those places at which they are supported) are once placed in a straight line, they will remain so, if the framing be immovable; whereas if the framework changes its form, though ever so slightly, considerable friction is immediately produced. This effect is so well understood in the districts where spinning factories are numerous, that, in estimating the expense of working a new factory, it is allowed that five per cent on the power of the steam-engine will be saved if the building is fireproof: for the greater strength and rigidity of a fireproof building prevents the movement of the long shafts or axes which drive the machinery, from being impeded by the friction that would arise from the slightest deviation in any of the bearings.

323. In conducting experiments upon machinery, it is quite a mistake to suppose that any imperfect mechanical work is good enough for such a purpose. If the experiment is worth making, it ought to be tried with all the advantages of which the state of mechanical art admits; for an imperfect trial may cause an idea to be given up, which better workmanship might have proved to be practicable. On the other hand, when once the efficiency of a contrivance has been established, with good workmanship it will be easy afterwards to ascertain the degree of perfection which will suffice for its due action.

324. It is partly owing to the imperfection of the original trials, and partly to the gradual improvements in the art of making machinery, that many inventions which have been tried, and given up in one state of art, have at another period been eminently successful. The idea of printing by means of moveable types had probably suggested itself to the imagination of many persons conversant with impressions taken either from blocks or seals. We find amongst the instruments discovered in the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum, stamps for words formed out of one piece of metal, and including several letters. The idea of separating these letters, and of recombining them into other words, for the purpose of stamping a book, could scarcely have failed to occur to many: but it would almost certainly have been rejected by those best acquainted with the mechanical arts of that time; for the workmen of those days must have instantly perceived the impossibility of producing many thousand pieces of wood or metal, fitting so perfectly and ranging so uniformly, as the types or blocks of wood now used in the art of printing.

The principle of the press which bears the name of Bramah, was known about a century and a half before the machine, to which it gave rise, existed; but the imperfect state of mechanical art in the time of the discoverer, would have effectually deterred him, if the application of it had occurred to his mind, from attempting to employ it in practice as an instrument for exerting force.

These considerations prove the propriety of repeating, at the termination of intervals during which the art of making machinery has received any great improvement, the trails of methods which, although founded upon just principles, had previously failed.

325. When the drawings of a machine have been properly made, and the parts have been well executed, and even when the work it produces possesses all the qualities which were anticipated, still the invention may fail; that is, it may fail of being brought into general practice. This will most frequently arise from the circumstance of its producing its work at a greater expense than that at which it can be made by other methods.

326. Whenever the new, or improved machine, is intended to become the basis of a manufacture, it is essentially requisite that the whole expense attending its operations should be fully considered before its construction is undertaken. It is almost always very difficult to make this estimate of the expense: the more complicated the mechanism, the less easy is the task; and in cases of great complexity and extent of machinery it is almost impossible. It has been estimated roughly, that the first individual of any newly invented machine, will cost about five times as much as the construction of the second, an estimate which is, perhaps, sufficiently near the truth. If the second machine is to be precisely like the first, the same drawings, and the same patterns will answer for it; but if, as usually happens, some improvements have been suggested by the experience of the first, these must be more or less altered. When, however, two or three machines have been completed, and many more are wanted, they can usually be produced at much less than one-fifth of the expense of the original invention.

327. The arts of contriving, of drawing, and of executing, do not usually reside in their greatest perfection in one individual; and in this, as in other arts, the division of labour must be applied. The best advice which can be offered to a projector of any mechanical invention, is to employ a respectable draughtsman; who, if he has had a large experience in his profession, will assist in finding out whether the contrivance is new, and can then make working drawings of it. The first step, however, the ascertaining whether the contrivance has the merit of novelty, is most important; for it is a maxim equally just in all the arts, and in every science, that the man who aspires to fortune or to fame by new discoveries, must be content to examine with care the knowledge of his contemporaries, or to exhaust his efforts in inventing again, what he will most probably find has been better executed before.

328. This, nevertheless, is a subject upon which even ingenious men are often singularly negligent. There is, perhaps, no trade or profession existing in which there is so much quackery, so much ignorance of the scientific principles, and of the history of their own art, with respect to its resources and extent, as are to be met with amongst mechanical projectors. The self-constituted engineer, dazzled with the beauty of some, perhaps, really original contrivance, assumes his new profession with as little suspicion that previous instruction, that thought and painful labour, are necessary to its successful exercise, as does the statesman or the senator. Much of this false confidence arises from the improper estimate which is entertained of the difficulty of invention in mechanics. It is, therefore, of great importance to the individuals and to the families of those who are too often led away from more suitable pursuits, the dupes of their own ingenuity and of the popular voice, to convince both them and the public that the power of making new mechanical combinations is a possession common to a multitude of minds, and that the talents which it requires are by no means of the highest order. It is still more important that they should be impressed with the conviction that the great merit, and the great success of those who have attained to eminence in such matters, was almost entirely due to the unremitted perseverance with which they concentrated upon their successful inventions the skill and knowledge which years of study had matured.

Chapter 28

Proper Circumstances for the Application of Machinery

329. The first object of machinery, the chief cause of its extensive utility, is the perfection and the cheap production of the articles which it is intended to make. Whenever it is required to produce a great multitude of things, all of exactly the same kind, the proper time has arrived for the construction of tools or machines by which they may be manufactured. If only a few pairs of cotton stockings should be required, it would be an absurd waste of time, and of capital, to construct a stocking-frame to weave them, when, for a few pence, four steel wires can be procured by which they may be knit. If, on the other hand, many thousand pairs were wanted, the time employed, and the expense incurred in constructing a stocking-frame, would be more than repaid by the saving of time in making that large number of stockings. The same principle is applicable to the copying of letters: if three or four copies only are required, the pen and the human hand furnish the cheapest means of obtaining them; if hundreds are called for, lithography may be brought to our assistance; but if hundreds of thousands are wanted, the machinery of a printing establishment supplies the most economical method of accomplishing the object.

330. There are, however, many cases in which machines or tools must be made, in which economical production is not the most important object. Whenever it is required to produce a few articles parts of machinery, for instance, which must be executed with the most rigid accuracy or be perfectly alike—it is nearly impossible to fulfil this condition, even with the aid of the most skilful hands: and it becomes necessary to make tools expressly for the purpose, although those tools should, as frequently happens, cost more in constructing than the things they are destined to make.

331. Another instance of the just application of machinery, even at an increased expense, arises where the shortness of time in which the article is produced, has an important influence on its value. In the publication of our daily newspapers, it frequently happens that the debates in the Houses of Parliament are carried on to three and four o'clock in the morning, that is. to within a very few hours of the time for the publication of the paper. The speeches must be taken down by reporters, conveyed by them to the establishment of the newspaper, perhaps at the distance of one or two miles, transcribed by them in the office, set up by the compositor, the press corrected, and the paper be printed off and distributed, before the public can read them. Some of these journals have a circulation of from five to ten thousand daily. Supposing four thousand to be wanted, and that they could be printed only at the rate of five hundred per hour upon one side of the paper, (which was the greatest number two journeymen and a boy could take off by the old hand presses), sixteen hours would be required for printing the complete edition; and the news conveyed to the purchasers of the latest portion of the impression, would be out of date before they could receive it. To obviate this difficulty, it was often necessary to set up the paper in duplicate, and sometimes, when late, in triplicate: but the improvements in the printing machines have been so great, that four thousand copies are now printed on one side in an hour.

332. The establishment of 'The Times' newspaper is an example, on a large scale, of a manufactory in which the division of labour, both mental and bodily, is admirably illustrated, and in which also the effect of domestic economy is well exemplified. It is scarcely imagined by the thousands who read that paper in various quarters of the globe, what a scene of organized activity the factory presents during the whole night, or what a quantity of talent and mechanical skill is put in action for their amusement and information. (1*) Nearly a hundred persons are employed in this establishment; and, during the session of Parliament, at least twelve reporters are constantly attending the Houses of Commons and Lords; each in his turn retiring, after about an hour's work, to translate into ordinary writing, the speech he has just heard and noted in shorthand. In the meantime fifty compositors are constantly at work, some of whom have already set up the beginning, whilst others are committing to type the yet undried manuscript of the continuation of a speech, whose middle portion is travelling to the office in the pocket of the hasty reporter, and whose eloquent conclusion is, perhaps, at that very moment, making the walls of St Stephen's vibrate with the applause of its hearers. These congregated types, as fast as they are composed, are passed in portions to other hands; till at last the scattered fragments of the debate, forming, when united with the ordinary matter, eight-and-forty columns, reappear in regular order on the platform of the printing-press. The hand of man is now too slow for the demands of his curiosity, but the power of steam comes to his assistance. Ink is rapidly supplied to the moving types, by the most perfect mechanism; four attendants incessantly introduce the edges of large sheets of white paper to the junction of two great rollers, which seem to devour them with unsated appetite; other rollers convey them to the type already inked, and having brought them into rapid and successive contact, redeliver them to four other assistants, completely printed by the almost momentary touch. Thus, in one hour, four thousand sheets of paper are printed on one side; and an impression of twelve thousand copies, from above three hundred thousand moveable pieces of metal, is produced for the public in six hours.

333. The effect of machinery in printing other periodical publications, and of due economy in distributing them, is so important for the interests of knowledge, that it is worth examining by what means it is possible to produce them at the small price at which they are sold. 'Chambers' Journal', which is published at Edinburgh, and sold at three halfpence a number, will furnish an example. Soon after its commencement in 1832, the sale in Scotland reached 30,000, and in order to supply the demand in London it was reprinted; but on account of the expense of 'composition' it was found that this plan would not produce any profit, and the London edition was about to be given up, when it occurred to the proprietor to stereotype it at Edinburgh, and cast two copies of the plates. This is now done about three weeks before the day of publication—one set of plates being sent up to London by the mail, an impression is printed off by steam: the London agent has then time to send packages by the cheapest conveyances to several of the large towns, and other copies go through the booksellers' parcels to all the smaller towns. Thus a great saving is effected in the outlay of capital, and 20,000 copies are conveyed from London, as a centre, to all parts of England, whilst there is no difficulty in completing imperfect sets, nor any waste from printing more than the public demand.

334. The conveyance of letters is another case, in which the importance of saving time would allow of great expense in any new machinery for its accomplishment. There is a natural limit to the speed of horses, which even the greatest improvements in the breed, aided by an increased perfection in our roads, can never surpass; and from which, perhaps, we are at present not very remote. When we reflect upon the great expense of time and money which the last refinements of a theory or an art usually require, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the period has arrived in which the substitution of machinery for such purposes ought to be tried.

335. The post bag despatched every evening by the mail to one of our largest cities, Bristol, usually weighs less than a hundred pounds. Now, the first reflection which naturally presents itself is, that, in order to transport these letters a hundred and twenty miles, a coach and apparatus, weighing above thirty hundredweight, are put in motion, and also conveyed over the same space. (2*)

It is obvious that, amongst the conditions of machinery for accomplishing such an object, it would be desirable to reduce the weight of matter to be conveyed along with the letters: it would also be desirable to reduce the velocity of the animal power employed; because the faster a horse is driven, the less weight he can draw. Amongst the variety of contrivances which might be imagined for this purpose, we will mention one, which, although by no means free from objections, fulfils some of the prescribed conditions; and it is not a purely theoretical speculation, since some few experiments have been made upon it, though on an extremely limited scale.

336. Let us imagine a series of high pillars erected at frequent intervals, perhaps every hundred feet, and as nearly as possible in a straight line between two post towns. An iron or steel wire must be stretched over proper supports, fixed on each of these pillars, and terminating at the end of every three or five miles, as may be found expedient, in a very strong support, by which it may be stretched. At each of these latter points a man ought to reside in a small stationhouse. A narrow cylindrical tin case, to contain the letters, might be suspended by two wheels rolling upon this wire; the cases being so constructed as to enable the wheels to pass unimpeded by the fixed supports of the wire. An endless wire of much smaller size must pass over two drums, one at each end of the station. This wire should be supported on rollers, fixed to the supports of the great wire, and at a short distance below it. There would thus be two branches of the smaller wire always accompanying the larger one; and the attendant at either station, by turning the drum, might cause them to move with great velocity in opposite directions. In order to convey the cylinder which contains the letters, it would only be necessary to attach it by a string, or by a catch, to either of the branches of the endless wire. Thus it would be conveyed speedily to the next station, where it would be removed by the attendant to the commencement of the next wire, and so forwarded. It is unnecessary to enter into the details which this, or any similar plan, would require. The difficulties are obvious; but if: these could be overcome, it would present many advantages besides velocity; for if an attendant resided at each station, the additional expense of having two or three deliveries of letters every day, and even of sending expresses at any moment, would be comparatively trifling; nor is it impossible that the stretched wire might itself be available for a species of telegraphic communication yet more rapid.

Perhaps if the steeples of churches, properly selected, were made use of, connecting them by a few intermediate stations with some great central building, as, for instance, with the top of St Paul's; and if a similar apparatus were placed on the top of each steeple, with a man to work it during the day, it might be possible to diminish the expense of the two-penny post, and make deliveries every half hour over the greater part of the metropolis.

337. The power of steam, however, bids fair almost to rival the velocity of these contrivances; and the fitness of its application to the purposes of conveyance, particularly where great rapidity is required, begins now to be generally admitted. The following extract from the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on steamcarriages, explains clearly its various advantages:

Perhaps one of the principal advantages resulting from the use of steam, will be, that it may be employed as cheaply at a quick as at a slow rate; 'this is one of the advantages over horse labour. which becomes more and more expensive as the speed is increased. There is every reason to expect, that in the end the rate of travelling by steam will be much quicker than the utmost speed of travelling by horses; in short, the safety to travellers will become the limit to speed.' In horse-draught the opposite result takes place; 'in all cases horses lose power of draught in a much greater proportion than they gain speed, and hence the work they do becomes more expensive as they go quicker.'

Without increase of cost, then, we shall obtain a power which will insure a rapidity of internal communication far beyond the utmost speed of horses in draught; and although the performance of these carriages may not have hitherto attained this point, when once it has been established, that at equal speed we can use steam more cheaply in draught than horses, we may fairly anticipate that every day's increased experience in the management of the engines, will induce greater skill, greater confidence, and greater speed.

The cheapness of the conveyance will probably be, for some time, a secondary consideration. If, at present, it can be used as cheaply as horse power, the competition with the former modes of conveyance will first take place as to speed. When once the superiority of steam-carriages shall have been fully established, competition will induce economy in the cost of working them. The evidence, however, of Mr Macneill, shewing the greater efficiency, with diminished expenditure of fuel, by locomotive engines on railwavs, convinces the committee, that experience will soon teach a better construction of the engines, and a less costly mode of generating the requisite supply of steam.

Nor are the advantages of steam-power confined to the greater velocitv attained, or to its greater cheapness than horse-draught. In the latter, danger is increased, in as large a proportion as expense, by greater speed. In steam-power, on the contrary, 'there is no danger of being run away with, and that of being overturned is greatly diminished. It is difficult to control four such horses as can draw a heavy carriage ten miles per hour, in case they are frightened, or choose to run away; and for quick travelling they must be kept in that state of courage, that they are always inclined for running away, particularly down hills, and at sharp turns of the road. In steam, however, there is little corresponding danger, being perfectly controllable, and capable of exerting its power in reverse in going down hills., Every witness examined has given the fullest and most satisfactory evidence of the perfect control which the conductor has over the movement of the carriage. With the slightest exertion it can be stopped or turned, under circumstances where horses would be totally unmanageable.

338. Another instance may be mentioned in which the object to be obtained is so important, that although it might be rarely wanted, yet machinery for that purpose would justify considerable expense. A vessel to contain men, and to be navigated at some distance below the surface of the sea, would, in many circumstances, be almost invaluable. Such a vessel, evidently, could not be propelled by any engine requiring the aid of fire. If, however, by condensing air into a liquid, and carrying it in that state, a propelling power could be procured sufficient for moving the vessel through a considerable space, the expense would scarcely render its occasional employment impossible.(3*)

339. Slide of Alpnach. Amongst the forests which flank many of the lofty mountains of Switzerland, some of the finest timber is found in positions almost inaccessible. The expense of roads, even if it were possible to make them in such situations, would prevent the inhabitants from deriving any advantages from these almost inexhaustible supplies. Placed by nature at a considerable elevation above the spot at which they can be made use of, they are precisely in fit circumstances for the application of machinery to their removal; and the inhabitants avail themselves of the force of gravity to relieve them from some portion of this labour. The inclined planes which they have established in various forests, by which the timber has been sent down to the water courses, have excited the admiration of every traveller; and in addition to the merit of simplicity, the construction these slides requires scarcely anything beyond the material which grows upon the spot.

Of all these specimens of carpentry, the Slide of Alpnach was the most considerable, from its great length, and from the almost inaccessible position from which it descended. The following account of it is taken from Gilbert's Annalen, 1819, which is translated in the second volume of Brewster's Journal:

For many centuries, the rugged flanks and the deep gorges of Mount Pilatus were covered with impenetrable forests; which were permitted to grow and to perish, without being of the least utility to man, till a foreigner, who had been conducted into their wild recesses in the pursuit of the chamois, directed the attention of several Swiss gentlemen to the extent and superiority of the timber. The most skilful individuals, however, considered it quite impracticable to avail themselves of such inaccessible stores. It was not till the end of 1816, that M. Rupp, and three Swiss gentlemen, entertaining more sanguine hopes, purchased a certain extent of the forests, and began the construction of the slide, which was completed in the spring of 1818.

The Slide of Alpnach is formed entirely of about 25,000 large pine trees, deprived of their bark, and united together in a very ingenious manner, without the aid of iron. It occupied about 160 workmen during eighteen months, and cost nearly 100,000 francs, or L4,250. It is about three leagues, or 44,000 English feet long, and terminates in the Lake of Lucerne. It has the form of a trough, about six feet broad, and from three to six feet deep. Its bottom is formed of three trees, the middle one of which has a groove cut out in the direction of its length, for receiving small rills of water, which are conducted into it from various places, for the purpose of diminishing the friction. The whole of the slide is sustained by about 2,000 supports; and in many places it is attached, in a very ingenious manner, to the rugged precipices of granite.

The direction of the slide is sometimes straight, and sometimes zig-zag, with an inclination of from 10 degrees to 18 degrees. It is often carried along the sides of hills and the flanks of precipitous rocks, and sometimes passes over their summits. Occasionally it goes under ground, and at other times it is conducted over the deep gorges by scaffoldings 120 feet in height.

The boldness which characterizes this work, the sagacity and skill displayed in all its arrangements, have excited the wonder of every person who has seen it. Before any step could be taken in its erection, it was necessary to cut several thousand trees to obtain a passage through the impenetrable thickets. All these difficulties, however, were surmounted, and the engineer had at last the satisfaction of seeing the trees descend from the mountain with the rapidity of lightning. The larger pines, which were about a hundred feet long, and ten inches thick at their smaller extremity, ran through the space of three leagues, or nearly nine miles, in two minutes and a half, and during their descent, they appeared to be only a few feet in length.

The arrangements for this part of the operation were extremely simple. From the lower end of the slide to the upper end, where the trees were introduced, workmen were posted at regular distances, and as soon as everything was ready, the workman at the lower end of the slide cried out to the one above him, 'Lachez' (let go). The cry was repeated from one to another. and reached the top of the slide in three minutes. The workmen at the top of the slide then cried out to the one below him, 'Il vient' (it comes), and the tree was instantly launched down the slide, preceded by the cry which was repeated from post to post. As soon as the tree had reached thebottom, and plunged into the lake, the cry of lachez was repeated as before, and a new tree was launched in a similar manner. By these means a tree descended every five or six minutes, provided no accident happened to the slide, which sometimes took place, but which was instantly repaired when it did.

In order to shew the enormous force which the trees acquired from the great velocity of their descent, M. Rupp made arrangements for causing some of the trees to spring from the slide. They penetrated by their thickest extremities no less than from eighteen to twenty-four feet into the earth; and one of the trees having by accident struck against another, it instantly cleft it through its whole length, as if it had been struck by lightning.

After the trees had descended the slide, they were collected into rafts upon the lake, and conducted to Lucerne. From thence they descended the Reuss, then the Aar to near Brugg, afterwards to Waldshut by the Rhine, then to Basle, and even to the sea when it was necessary.

It is to be regretted that this magnificent structure no longer exists, and that scarcely a trace of it is to be seen upon the flanks of Mount Pilatus. Political circumstances having taken away the principal source of demand for the timber, and no other market having been found, the operation of cutting and transporting the trees necessarily ceased.(4*)

Professor Playfair, who visited this singular work, states, that six minutes was the usual time occupied in the descent of a tree; but that in wet weather, it reached the lake in three minutes.


1. The author of these pages, with one of his friends, was recently induced to visit this most interesting establishment, after midnight, during the progress of a very important debate. The place was illuminated with gas, and was light as the day: there was neither noise nor bustle; and the visitors were received with such calm and polite attention, that they did not, until afterwards, become sensible of the inconvenience which such intruders, at a moment of the greatest pressure, must occasion, nor reflect tha the tranquility which they admired, was the result of intense and regulated occupation. But the effect of such checks in the current of business will appear on recollecting that, as four thousand newspapers are printed off on one side within the hour, every minute is attended with a loss of sixty-six impressions. The quarter of an hour, therefore, which the stranger may think it not unreasonable to claim for the gratification of his curiosity (and to him this time is but a moment), may cause a failure in the delivery of a thousand copies, and disappoint a proportionate number of expectant readers, in some of our distant towns, to which the morning papers are dispatched by the earliest and most rapid conveyances of each day.

This note is inserted with the further and more general purpose of calling the attention of those, especially foreigners, who are desirous of inspecting our larger manufactories, to the chief cause of the difficulty which frequently attends their introduction. When the establishment is very extensive, and its departments skilfully arranged, the exclusion of visitors arises, not from any illiberal jealousy, nor, generally, from any desire of concealment, which would, in most cases, be absurd, but from the substantial inconvenience and loss of time, throughout an entire series of well-combined operations, which must be occasioned even by short and causual interruptions.

2. It is true that the transport of letters is not the only object which this apparatus answers; but the transport of passengers, which is a secondary object, does in fact put a limit to the velocity of that of the letters, which is the primary one.

3. A proposal for such a vessel, and description of its construction, by the author of this volume, may be found in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, Art. Diving Bell.

4. The mines of Bolanos in Mexico are supplied with timber from the adjacent mountains by a slide similar to that of Alpnach. It was constructed by M. Floresi, a gentleman well acquainted with Switzerland.

Chapter 29

On the Duration of Machinery

340. The time during which a machine will continue to perform its work effectually, will depend chiefly upon the perfection with which it was originally constructed upon the care taken to keep it in proper repair, particularly to correct every shake or looseness in the axes—and upon the smallness of the mass and of the velocity of its moving parts. Everything approaching to a blow, all sudden change of direction, is injurious. Engines for producing power, such as windmills, water-mills, and steam-engines, usually last a long time.(1*)

341. Many of the improvements which have taken place in steamengines, have arisen from an improved construction of the boiler or the fireplace. The following table of the work done by steam-engines in Cornwall, whilst it proves the importance of constantly measuring the effects of machinery, shows also the gradual advance which has been made in the art of constructing and managing those engines.

A table of the duty performed by steam-engines in Cornwall, shewing the average of the whole for each year, and also the average duty of the best engine in each monthly report

Years; Approximate number of engines reported; Average duty of the whole; Average duty of the best engines

1813; 24; 19,456,000; 26,400,000 1814; 29; 20.534,232; 32,000,000 1815; 35; 20.526,160; 28,700,000 1816; 32; 22,907,110; 32,400,000 1817; 31; 26,502,259; 41,600,000 1818; 32; 25,433,783; 39,300,000 1819; 37; 26,252,620; 40,000,000 1820; 37; 28,736,398; 41,300,000 1821; 39; 28,223,382; 42,800,000 1822; 45; 28,887,216; 42,500.000 1823; 45; 28,156,162; 42,122,000 1824; 45; 28,326,140; 43,500,000 1825; 50; 32,000,741; 45,400,000 1826; 48; 30,486,630; 45,200,000 1827; 47; 32,100,000; 59,700,000 1828; 54; 37,100,000; 76,763,000 1829; 52; 41,220,000; 76,234,307 1830; 55; 43,350,000; 75,885,519 1831; 55(2*); 44,700,000; 74,911,365 1832; 60; 44,400,000; 79,294,114 1833; 58; 46,000,000; 83,306,092

342. The advantage arising from registering the duty done by steamengines in Cornwall has been so great that the proprietors of one of the largest mines, on which there are several engines, find it good economy to employ a man to measure the duty they perform every day. This daily report is fixed up at a particular hour, and the enginemen are always in waiting, anxious to know the state of their engines. As the general reports are made monthly, if accident should cause a partial stoppage in the flue of any of the boilers, it might without this daily check continue two or three weeks before it could be discovered by a falling off of the duty of the engine. In several of the mines a certain amount of duty is assigned to each engine; and if it does more, the proprietors give a premium to the engineers according to its amount. This is called million money, and is a great stimulus to economy in working the engine.

343. Machinery for producing any commodity in great demand, seldom actually wears out; new improvements, by which the same operations can be executed either more quickly or better, generally superseding it long before that period arrives: indeed, to make such an improved machine profitable, it is usually reckoned that in five years it ought to have paid itself, and in ten to be superseded by a better.

'A cotton manufacturer,' says one of the witnesses before a Committee of the House of Commons, 'who left Manchester seven years ago, would be driven out of the market by the men who are now living in it, provided his knowledge had not kept pace with those who have been, during that time, constantly profiting by the progressive improvements that have taken place in that period.'

344. The effect of improvements in machinery, seems incidentally to increase production, through a cause which may be thus explained. A manufacturer making the usual profit upon his capital, invested in looms or other machines in perfect condition, the market price of making each of which is a hundred pounds, invents some improvement. But this is of such a nature, that it cannot be adapted to his present engines. He finds upon calculation, that at the rate at which he can dispose of his manufactured produce, each new engine would repay the cost of its making, together with the ordinary profit of capital, in three years: he also concludes from his experience of the trade, that the improvement he is about to make, will not be generally adopted by other manufacturers before that time. On these considerations, it is clearly his interest to sell his present engines, even at half-price, and construct new ones on the improved principle. But the purchaser who gives only fifty pounds for the old engines, has not so large a fixed capital invested in his factory, as the person from whom he purchased them; and as he produces the same quantity of the manufactured article, his profits will be larger. Hence, the price of the commodity will fall, not only in consequence of the cheaper production by the new machines, but also by the more profitable working of the old, thus purchased at a reduced price. This change, however, can be only transient; for a time will arrive when the old machinery, although in good repair, must become worthless. The improvement which took place not long ago in frames for making patent-net was so great, that a machine, in good repair, which had cost L1200, sold a few years after for L60. During the great speculations in that trade, the improvements succeeded each other so rapidly, that machines which had never been finished were abandoned in the hands of their makers, because new improvements had superseded their utility.

345. The durability of watches, when well made, is very remarkable. One was produced, in going order, before a committee of the House of Commons to enquire into the watch trade, which was made in the year 1660; and there are many of ancient date, in the possession of the Clockmaker's Company, which are still actually kept going. The number of watches manufactured for home consumption was, in the year 1798, about 50,000 annually. If this supply was for Great Britain only, it was consumed by about ten and a half millions of persons.

346. Machines are, in some trades, let out to hire, and a certain sum is paid for their use; in the manner of rent. This is the case amongst the framework knitters: and Mr Henson, in speaking of the rate of payment for the use of their frames, states, that the proprietor receives such a rent that, besides paying the full interest for his capital, he clears the value of his frame in nine years. When the rapidity with which improvements succeed each other is considered, this rent does not appear exorbitant. Some of these frames have been worked for thirteen years with little or no repair. But circumstances occasionally arise which throw them out of employment, either temporarily or permanently. Some years since, an article was introduced called cut-up work, by which the price of stocking-frames was greatly deteriorated. From the evidence of Mr J. Rawson, it appears that, in consequence of this change in the nature of the work, each frame could do the work of two, and many stocking frames were thrown out of employment, and their value reduced full threefourths.(3*)

This information is of great importance, if the numbers here given are nearly correct, and if no other causes intervened to diminish the price of frames; for it shews the numerical connection between the increased production of those machines and their diminished value.

347. The great importance of simplifying all transactions between masters and workmen, and of dispassionately discussing with the latter the influence of any proposed regulations connected with their trade, is well examplified by a mistake into which both parties unintentionally fell, and which was productive of very great misery in the lace trade. Its history is so well told by William Allen, a framework knitter, who was a party to it, that an extract from his evidence, as given before the Framework Knitters' Committee of 1812, will best explain it.

"I beg to say a few words respecting the frame rent; the rent paid for lace frames, until the year 1805, was 1s. 6d. a frame per week; there then was not any very great inducement for persons to buy frames and let them out by the hire, who did not belong to the trade; at that time an attempt was made, by one or two houses, to reduce the prices paid to the workmen, in consequence of a dispute between these two houses and another great house: some little difference being paid in the price amongst the respective houses, I was one chosen by the workmen to try if we could not remedy the impending evil: we consulted the respective parties, and found them inflexible; these two houses that were about to reduce the prices, said that they would either immediately reduce the price of making net, or they would increase the frame rent: the difference to the workmen was considerable, between the one and the other; they would suffer less, in the immediate operation of the thing, by having the rent advanced, than the price of making net reduced. They chose at that time, as they thought, the lesser evil, but it has turned out to be otherwise; for, immediately as the rent was raised upon the percentage laid out in frames, it induced almost every person, who had got a little money, to lay it out in the purchase of frames; these frames were placed in the hands of men who could get work for them at the warehouses; they were generally constrained to pay an enormous rent, and then they were compelled, most likely, to buy of the persons that let them the frames, their butcher's meat, their grocery, or their clothing: the encumbrance of these frames became entailed upon them: if any deadness took place in the work they must take it at a very reduced price, for fear of the consequences that would fall upon them from the person who bought the frame: thus the evil has been daily increasing, till, in conjunction with the other evils crept into the trade, they have almost crushed it to atoms."

348. The evil of not assigning fairly to each tool, or each article produced, its proportionate value, or even of not having a perfectly distinct, simple, and definite agreement between a master and his workmen, is very considerable. Workmen find it difficult in such cases to know the probable produce of their labour; and both parties are often led to adopt arrangements, which, had they been well examined, would have been rejected as equally at variance in the results with the true interests of both.

349. At Birmingham, stamps and dies, and presses for a great variety of articles, are let out: they are generally made by men possessing small capital, and are rented by workmen. Power also is rented at the same place. Steam-engines are erected in large buildings containing a variety of rooms, in which each person may hire one, two, or any other amount of horsepower, as his occupation may require. If any mode could be discovered of transmitting power, without much loss from friction, to considerable distances, and at the same time of registering the quantity made use of at any particular point, a considerable change would probably take place in many departments of the present system of manufacturing. A few central engines to produce power, might then be erected in our great towns, and each workman, hiring a quantity of power sufficient for his purpose, might have it conveyed into his own house; and thus a transition might in some instances be effected, if it should be found more profitable, back again from the system of great factories to that of domestic manufacture.

350. The transmission of water through a series of pipes, might be employed for the distribution of power, but the friction would consume a considerable portion. Another method has been employed in some instances, and is practised at the Mint. It consists in exhausting the air from a large vessel by means of a steam-engine. This vessel is connected by pipes, with a small piston which drives each coining press; and, on opening a valve, the pressure of the external air forces in the piston. This air is then admitted to the general reservoir, and pumped out by the engine. The condensation of air might be employed for the same purpose; but there are some unexplained facts relating to elastic fluids, which require further observations and experiment before they can be used for the conveyance of power to any considerable distance. It has been found, for instance, in attempting to blow a furnace by means of a powerful water-wheel driving air through a cast-iron pipe of above a mile in length, that scarcely any sensible effect was produced at the opposite extremity. In one instance, some accidental obstruction being suspected, a cat put in at one end found its way out without injury at the other, thus proving that the phenomenon did not depend on interruption within the pipe.

351. The most portable form in which power can be condensed is, perhaps, by the liquefaction of the gases. It is known that, under considerable pressure, several of these become liquid at ordinary temperatures; carbonic acid, for example, is reduced to a liquid state by a pressure of sixty atmospheres. One of the advantages attending the use of these fluids, would be that the pressure exerted by them would remain constant until the last drop of liquid had assumed the form of gas. If either of the elements of common air should be found to be capable of reduction to a liquid state before it unites into a corrosive fluid with the other ingredient, then we shall possess a ready means of conveying power in any quantity and to any distance. Hydrogen probably will require the strongest compressing force to render it liquid, and may, therefore, possibly be applied where still greater condensation of power is wanted. In all these cases the condensed gases may be looked upon as springs of enormous force, which have been wound up by the exertion of power, and which will deliver the whole of it back again when required. These springs of nature differ in some respects from the steel springs formed by our art; for in the compression of the natural springs a vast quantity of latent heat is forced out, and in their return to the state of gas an equal quantity is absorbed. May not this very property be employed with advantage in their application?

Part of the mechanical difficulty to be overcome in constructing apparatus connected with liquefied gases, will consist in the structure of the valves and packing necessary to retain the fluids under the great pressure to which they must be submitted. The effect of heat on these gases has not yet been sufficiently tried, to lead us to any very precise notions of the additional power which its application to them will supply.

The elasticity of air is sometimes employed as a spring, instead of steel: in one of the large printing-machines in London the momentum of a considerable mass of matter is destroyed by making it condense the air included in a cylinder, by means of a piston against which it impinges.

352. The effect of competition in cheapening articles of manufacture sometimes operates in rendering them less durable. When such articles are conveyed to a distance for consumption, if they are broken, it often happens, from the price of labour being higher where they are used than where they were made, that it is more expensive to mend the old article, than to purchase a new. Such is usually the case, in great cities, with some of the commoner locks, with hinges, and with a variety of articles of hardware.


1. The amount of obstructions arising from the casual fixing of trees in the bottom of the river, may be estimated from the proportion of steamboats destroyed by running upon them, The subjoined statement is taken from the American Almanack for 1832:

'Between the years 1811 and 1831, three hundred and forty-eight steamboats were built on the Mississippi and its tributary streams During that period a hundred and fifty were lost or worn out, 'Of this hundred and fifty: worn out 63 lost by snags 36 burnt 14 lost by collision 3 by accidents not ascertained 34 Thirty-six, or nearly one fourth, being destroyed by accidental obstructions.

Snag is the name given in America to trees which stand nearly upright in the stream, with their roots fixed at the bottom.

It is usual to divide off at the bow of the steamboats a watertight chamber, in order that when a hole is made in it by running against the snags, the water may not enter the rest of the vessel and sink it instantly.

2. This passage is not printed in italics in the original, but it has been thus marked in the above extract, from its importance, and from the conviction that the most extended discussion will afford additional evidence of its truth.

3. Report from the Committee of the House of Commons on the Framework Knitter's Petition, April, 1819.

Chapter 30

On Combinations Amongst Masters or Workmen against Each Other

353. There exist amongst the workmen of almost all classes, certain rules or laws which govern their actions towards each other, and towards their employers. But, besides these general principles, there are frequently others peculiar to each factory, which have derived their origin, in many instances, from the mutual convenience of the parties engaged in them. Such rules are little known except to those actually pursuing the several trades; and, as it is of importance that their advantages and disadvantages should be canvassed, we shall offer a few remarks upon some of them.

354. The principles by which such laws should be tried are,

First. That they conduce to the general benefit of all the persons employed.

Secondly. That they prevent fraud.

Thirdly. That they interfere as little as possible with the free agency of each individual.

355. It is usual in many workshops, that, on the first entrance of a new journeyman, he shall pay a small fine to the rest of the men. It is clearly unjust to insist upon this payment; and when it is spent in drinking, which is, unfortunately, too often the case, it is injurious. The reason assigned for the demand is, that the newcomer will require some instruction in the habits of the shop, and in the places of the different tools, and will thus waste the time of some of his companions until he is instructed. If this fine were added to a fund, managed by the workmen themselves, and either divided at given periods, or reserved for their relief in sickness, it would be less objectionable, since its tendency would be to check the too frequent change of men from one shop to another. But it ought, at all events, not to be compulsory, and the advantages to be derived from the fund to which the workman is invited to subscribe, ought to be his sole inducement to contribute.

356. In many workshops, the workmen, although employed on totally different parts of the objects manufactured, are yet dependent, in some measure, upon each other. Thus a single smith may be able to forge, in one day, work enough to keep four or five turners employed during the next. If, from idleness or intemperance, the smith neglects his work, and does not furnish the usual supply, the turners (supposing them to be paid by the piece), will have their time partly unoccupied, and their gains consequently diminished. It is reasonable, in such circumstances, that a fine should be levied on the delinquent; but it is desirable that the master should have concurred with his workmen in establishing such a rule, and that it should be shown to each individual previously to his engagement; and it is very desirable that such fine should not be spent in drinking.

357. In some establishments, it is customary for the master to give a small gratuity whenever any workman has exercised a remarkable degree of skill, or has economized the material employed. Thus, in splitting horn into layers for lanterns, one horn usually furnishes from five to eight layers; but if a workman split the horn into ten layers or more, he receives a pint of ale from the master. These premiums should not be too high, lest the material should be wasted in unsuccessful attempts: but such regulations, when judiciously made, are beneficial, as they tend to produce skill amongst the workmen, profit to the masters, and diminished cost to the consumers.

358. In some few factories, in which the men are paid by the piece, it is usual, when any portion of work, delivered in by a workman, is rejected by the master on account of its being badly executed, to fine the delinquent. Such a practice tends to remedy one of the evils attendant upon that mode of payment, and greatly assists the master, since his own judgement is thus supported by competent and unprejudiced judges.

359. Societies exist amongst some of the larger bodies of workmen, and others have been formed by the masters engaged in the same branches of trade. These associations have different objects in view; but it is very desirable that their effects should be well understood by the individuals who compose them; and that the advantages arising from them, which are certainly great, should be separated as much as possible from the evils which they have, unfortunately, too frequently introduced. Associations of workmen and of masters may, with advantage, agree upon rules to be observed by both parties, in estimating the proportionate value of different kinds of work executed in their trade, in order that time may be saved, and disputes be prevented. They may also be most usefully employed in acquiring accurate information as to the number of persons working in the various departments of any manufacture, their rate of wages, the number of machines in use, and other statistical details. Information of this nature is highly valuable, both for the guidance of the parties who are themselves most interested, and to enable them, upon any application to government for assistance, or with a view to legislative enactments, to supply those details, without which the propriety of any proposed measure cannot be duly estimated. Such details may be collected by men actually engaged in any branch of trade, at a much smaller expense of time, than by persons less acquainted with, and less interested in it.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse