The Technique of American Industry

NOTE. — The value of this article, written by my husband in 1914, lies chiefly in the fact that it gives an idea of the pre-war, or what could justly be called the normal, industrial situation. Wherever it has been possible, the actual statistics have been brought up to date. Generally speaking, however, there have been no recent studies dealing with the processes of American industry, and recourse was had to the Census of Manufactures made in 1914, and just off the press, as the most modern statistics covering the field as a whole. Unless otherwise stated, statistics quoted are from this source. Where more recent reports, government or otherwise, were available, these later figures were used and the year of the study referred to.
Every conclusion of this article, every tendency described, has been but emphasized by later statistics, with one exception — as to wages. Here, however, it must be remembered that the war period of 1914 to 1918 represented a far from normal condition in American industry. Immigration had, for all practical purposes, ceased, workers were drafted from factories for war, and for the first time, on account of shrunken numbers, labor was in a position to secure higher wages. In addition, the employer was forced, without actual demands, to pay higher wages in order to obtain his quota of necessary workers. Still a third influence toward higher wages was to be found in the more general acceptance of the ‘ welfare’ idea among employers — higher wages as a restful influence on the employees. Wages, then, are high to-day, as compared to the figures, say, of 1910; but the figures of 1910 are well to know, so that it can be shown from what low levels wages have risen. Also, it must be borne in mind that, while apparently wages have risen, the increase in the cost of living over this period has been so great that real wages are in many instances actually lower than in 1910.
Here I might quote from an article of my husband’s, written at this same time. Its pertinence to the situation to-day is evident. ‘In the words of Mr. A. D. Noyes in the Atlantic Monthly (vol. III, p. 658), “We are in the presence of a novel and striking condition of things in American finance, whereby active or potential control of a very great part both of our financial institutions and our industrial institutions is concentrated in the hands of a comparatively small group of financiers.”
‘How does this affect the labor problem in America?
‘First, it brings the most complete temperamental and geographical divorce of management and worker in industrial history.
‘Second, it leaves the final control of industrial enterprise in non-industrial, and in the end, abstract financial, hands.
‘ Third, it means that the only information from the industrial plants which these boards of directors care for or understand is that of statistics of output and costs.
‘ Fourth, it turns over the formation of wageand labor-policies to men supersensitive to the stock market, a market notoriously panicky over labor disturbances.
‘In a word, it turns industrial affairs, one of whose major characteristics is the human quality brought by the worker, over to a group of financial minds whose education, environment, and ambitions make it impossible for them to obtain an accurate perspective of the human side of industrial production. The condition is potential for danger.’


ONE hundred years ago an industrial characteristic isolated itself from the general body and began an evolution, slow but stupendous in promise. Industrial technique had been in past economic periods the but slightly important assistant of man’s trade-dexterity. To-day the machine in its character fixes the man’s speed of work, his hours, his posture, limits his thoughts in the day, and in the end moulds for his life the very processes of his mind, and thus determines how he shall worship, vote, and find his pleasure.

In America, at the close of the Civil War, the machine technique began its last stage of evolution, which was to reach in our day ‘Scientific Management.’ The minute subdivision of industrial production, and the adaptation of the automatic machine, more than any other single characteristic, defines American production. It determines the intelligence and sex of the worker, demands the temperamentally acquiescent, and finds self-assertion and tradeunionism impossible with ‘efficiency.’ What is this technique ? What kind of a worker has it demanded and obtained?

In the meat industry a few years ago fifty per cent of the slaughterers were master butchers. Each could kill, dress, quarter, and prepare the hide. The rest of the force were their assistants. Today (1914) forty-four different workmen in succession perform their task on the animal. The mechanizing of the process came when the Chicago yards began to control the market in the Atlantic States. Chicago, as the geographical centre of the corn states, which fattened all the Western range animals, carefully built up the organization of the Union Stockyards Market in the centre of the city. The railroads made it easy for the farmer to route his cattle into Chicago. The Chicago yards were known throughout the corn states as the place where a market could be found for stock, no matter what the general market was. In the three years 1908, 1909, and 1910, Chicago received 10,353,295 cattle, 20,337,341 hogs, 14,022,607 sheep. The raw material came to Chicago to be converted, and then distributed over the world. The final product was of standard form and no variety. Each unit of the raw material, the live animal, presented the same identical problem in the working-up. The amount of production was gigantic. These factors gave the typical stimulus to the machinization of the industry.

The author spent several days in 1913 in the great Armour plant in Chicago. The organization of work on the cattle-killing floor seemed to have left ungrasped no opportunity to simplify and standardize the human labor. The cattle were ‘knocked’ by hand, and automatically dumped out on the floor. An overhead trolley carried the stunned or dead animals rapidly by several workmen, and each performed his simple operation. At the end of the vast room the bled and beheaded carcass was dropped on to a moving platform, which passed without halt, between, and on a level with, two stationary platforms. On a particular spot on this stationary side-platform waited a workman, and as the carcass entered his twenty-foot zone, he rode with it the twenty feet, did his bit of work, and left the moving platform at the lower limit of the zone. He then returned by the stationary side-platform just in time to begin riding through the twenty feet with a fresh animal. This round of work was observed for an hour. The workman, one of the skinners styled ‘ rumpers,’ never paused, never changed the stereotyped twist of his knife, jerked the hide, and turned the rump, without variation in the effort. Forty-four different men added their isolated bit of technique to prepare the beef for the cooling-room. As fast as it was discovered that one job allowed a subdivision and simplification, the system put in another man. The moving platform can be speeded up or slowed down. A floor foreman explained that ‘the platform was speeded until cut hides began to show up, and then we knew the men were having to slash to do their job. We then slowed down.’ In the hundreds of labor-operations in the great Armour plant, in the beef,sheep-, or pigslaughtering, sausage-making, chippedbeef canning, can-making, the mechanization of the human work has been refined to an unbelievable extent.

The subdivision of labor among the crew forced the skilled men to be ultraskilled, since their work was simplified into the most automatic of motions. This lowered the ‘spoiling’ and waste of hides and of meat enormously. A ‘skinner’ sometimes worked a week, handling thousands of animals without injuring a single hide. The same valuable dexterity also came to the ‘splitter,’ and reduced costly waste. While this pushed up the wages of the highly expert, it was counterbalanced by the great increase of the unskilled workers, who took up the work where the chance of waste was small or impossible. The company then attached these skilled men to them by putting them on steady weekly time, while the other nine tenths of the gang were hired by the hour. These high-priced men, the ‘strategic’ labor of the industry, not only stood by the company in time of trouble, but acted as ‘speeders-up,’ ‘pace-setters,’ and this was the third great object for which the technique strove.

Take the ‘splitters,’ for example. In 1884, five splitters would get out 800 cattle in ten hours, or 16 per hour per splitter. Wages were 45 cents per hour. In 1894, four splitters got out 1200 in ten hours, or 30 animals per man per hour. The splitter, where the moving platform was not used, would turn ‘split cattle’ over to the workers below as fast as he could. These workers in turn had to perform their divided portion of labor and pass the animal on. With a fast splitter and a fast skinner, the whole 230 workmen were forced to higher speed. No member of the force could ‘go lazy’ without drawing the attention of the ‘boss’ upon him by the massing up of undone carcasses at his division of the work-floor.

In a gang of sheep-butchers, the pace is set by the ‘pelter,’ who loosens the hide so that it can be pulled off without tearing the ‘fell’ or mucous covering, and also by the ‘setter,’ who hangs the carcass on an overhead trolley which is to carry it slowly before each workman, and afford each man the opportunity swiftly to perform his allotted task. These two speeders were formerly steady time men, favored and attached to the company by carefully calculated better treatment. The pelter’s speed of work had pushed the hanging up of sheep from 60 to 75 per hour. Just prior to the strike in 1904 the union had succeeded in limiting the speed to a maximum of 461/2; and this having been proved to be the normal, it showed that the employer had achieved an increase of productivity of from 30 to 50 per cent by the use of this single refinement of industrial technique.

In pig-killing the ‘speeders-up’ are the sticker, the scalder, the hooker-on, the splitter, and the chopper. In this department the unions have never attempted to force the work back to normal, so that the extent of the increase in productivity is uncalculated, though it is known to be extremely great.

In the sausage department the hour rates have not been reduced, but piecework has been introduced. Here is to be noticed the existence of a kind of industrial technique of a not very high moral level. Piece-work in sausage-making is slowed down largely by ‘leaks’ in the sausage-covering, which have to be tied up as discovered. Sausage-covering is bought in open market by the big packers, in three grades, the leaks increasing as the grade lowers. If a piece-worker is making good wages, the foreman proceeds to slip second-rate coverings to him. If he be a productive worker even with second-rate coverings, he is allotted third-rate coverings. His pay the foreman knows can be reduced down to, but not below, 27 cents per hour. This is an example of increasing output by ‘shaving’ rates, a method raised to perfection by the Steel Trust. Since men are apt to become restless under this method, the sausage-department of the Beef Trust is rapidly introducing Slav women in the place of the German men, who, up to 1903, furnished the sausage-workers.

An eye-witness at the Stock Yards describes a scene in one of the large packing-houses. ‘A month ago,’ he says, ‘we stood with a superintendent in a room of the canning department. Down both sides of a long table stood twenty immigrant women; most of them were visibly middle-aged and mothers. “Look at that Slovak woman,” said the superintendent. She stood bending slightly forward, her dull eyes staring straight down, her elbow jerking back and forth, her hands jumping in nervous haste to keep up with the gang. These hands made one simple precise motion each second, 3600 an hour, and all exactly the same. “She is one of the best workers we have,” the superintendent was saying. We moved closer and glanced at her face. Then we saw a strange contrast. The hands were swift, precise, intelligent. The face was stolid, vague, vacant. “It took a long time to pound the idea into her head,” the superintendent continued; “ but when this grade of woman once absorbs an idea she holds it. She is too stupid to vary. She seems to have no other thought to distract her. She is as sure as a machine. For much of our work this woman is the kind we want. Her mind is all on the table.” ’

A few years ago the miner in the coalfields was a skilled worker in the true sense. He handled dynamite, calculated his own timbering, under-cut the coal, and worked on piece-work tonnage. The mining machine did away with the skilled pick-work, and a machine drilled the holes which broke down the cut-under coal. The holes were fired by a specialized workman. This new work of tending the machines under a foreman is done largely by unskilled agricultural laborers from the Balkan States, who have never seen a coal mine. The skilled American coalminer is rapidly deserting the Pennsylvania soft-coal region.

The irregularity of the miner’s working days, hourly and yearly, must always be taken into account. In 1898, in anthracite coal, the men worked 152 days, the lowest record since 1890; in 1917, 285 days, the highest record. The average number of days worked during a year from 1890 to 1917 is 204. In bituminous coal the average has been 214. There is considerable variation in the hours of work among coalminers. The average day for anthracite in 1919 is 7.4 hours; the average wage 61 cents per hour. The largest number of men are found to be working eight to nine hours, at wages of from 50 to 60 cents. Over ten per cent of the 1892 men studied work over ten hours, and one third over 12 hours. At the other extreme, 20 per cent work under six hours, and one half under four hours. In bituminous coal, the average day is 5.5 hours, the average wage 72 cents per hour; 10,790, by far the largest group, fall under the heading ‘60, and under 70, cents.’

Even in the industry alleged to demand more skill among its workmen than any other, the manufacture of automobiles, the machine is beginning to render technical knowledge and experience unnecessary. The great Ford plant at Detroit employed 40,000 men, manufactured 2618 machines a day, or 785,432 a year, and in 1917 produced $350,000,000 to $400,000,000 worth of cars, as compared with $89,000,000 worth in 1913 and $206,867,343 in 1916.

The basic fact in a consideration of this factory is that it produces one car which holds almost without change to one model. This standardization of type has allowed all the economies of large-scale production. All operations are simplified to the last possible division. An agricultural laborer from Austria-Hungary can be made a onepiece moulder in three days, and in two days could be a finished core-maker. A maximum period of two days is allowed for learners in most branches of the work. If the operation is not learned within that time, the worker is moved on to another type of occupation.

Labor need not even be able-bodied. The overhead crane has done away with lifting and trucking. By planning and crowding machines on the floor, the four-cylinder casting, which formerly traveled over 4000 feet in the finishing, now (1914) travels but 334 feet.

Steadily the labor of this plant becomes unskilled, the change keeping pace with the unceasing mechanization of the productive work. So minute has the subdivision of labor become, that men must be moved from one job to another in order to make it humanly possibly to keep working over a long period within the plant.

In 1890, in a certain community in Pennsylvania, a glass-factory was built, and skilled glass-workers from Belgium, Germany, and France imported. Very few unskilled workers could be used. Late in the nineties glass-making machinery was perfected and was introduced into this factory. The machines simplified the principal operations so much that cheap unskilled labor was immediately put at work. The GlassWorkers’ Union recognized the danger in this development, and in 1898 struck against the machine. The union was beaten, and by 1904 every plant in the community had fully installed the machines. Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and Russians rapidly filled the industry, and now (1914) all plants are running as ‘open shops.’ Of the 9000 inhabitants of this community, 4800 were recent immigrants from Southeastern Europe. This same story finds endless repetition in the intensive studies of the Federal Immigration Commission.

An uncolored statement from the United States Tariff Commission Report (1918) illuminates a striking phase of American large-scale production: —

‘Without touch or aid of human hand, an automatic machine produces complete one-dram bottles at the rate of 165 per minute. In the manufacture of beer bottles one machine displaces 54 skilled hand-workmen. The labor cost is “practically nothing.” ... In the making of bottles by the hand method, the labor cost in 1916 was 57 per cent of the total factory cost in twenty-six factories. The greater part of this is due to the high wages paid the skilled blowers. By the automatic method the wage of the skilled operative is a cost that is entirely eliminated.’

A machine-blower in the most efficient American factories can blow five cylinders of window-glass simultaneously, each nearly 39 feet long and 32 inches in diameter, in less time than it takes a Belgian hand-blower to blow one cylinder 5 feet long and 5 inches in diameter. The wages of this skilled operative are $40 per week. In the demoralization of industry due to competition between hand-made and machine-made glass in 1912-1913, wages sank two thirds. Hand-workers went down to $15 a week; even so, machinemade glass was cheaper. Wages at that time were lower in the United States than in Belgium. Now there are but 1800 hand window-glass blowers — among the most highly skilled of all workmen — in the United States, and their annual income does not average $100 per month.

An improvement in the hours of work is noticeable. In 1914, 1738 glassworkers in Pennsylvania were employed 72 hours a week. The 1919 statistics show that 7.7 hours is the average day with about one fifth of the workers employed ten hours and over. The average wage to-day is 50 cents per hour, with almost half the workers earning under 40 cents.

The International Harvester Company has carried factory organization to almost perfect simplification. A single illustration will suffice. A small plate called a ‘sickle section’ is used on all grass-cutting or grain-cutting machines. Thirty operations are required to fashion it. The operatives live through the following sequence.

1. Unload. — The sheets of metal are unloaded from the cars. The man is paid so much per pound.

2. Truck. — A man conveys these sheets to the machine.

3, 4. Cut.—A man feeds the sheets into a machine, which cuts them out in their present form, 20,000 a day. It requires one mo-

tion of the arm for each piece. A boy, about sixteen years old, picks up these plates, arranges them in rows in boxes ready for the next operation — 30,000 per day.

5. Punch is the next operation. These two holes are punched by a machine which works automatically. One boy feeds and tends two or three machines.

G. Pick up.

7. Countersink. — The two holes are slightly enlarged on one side to receive the head of the rivet — 7000 per day.

8. Pick up.

9. Truck. — The plates are transferred to another machine.

10. Bevel. — The edge is ground to a bevel by clamping it in a frame and shoving the frame against a whirling grindstone. One of these plates is dropped into the slot in a frame; this frame is shoved against the stone, and then drawn back; another plate is dropped into the slot, shoved, drawn back, and so on, 5000 times each day.

11. Pick up.

12. Truck.

13. Serrate. — A row of young men stand at feeding-machines, which run at great speed and with deafening noise. These machines cut the teeth on the bevel edge of the plate — 7000 per day.

14. Truck.

15. Harden. — This is done by heating.

16. Truck.

17. Inspect. — A man picks out and discards the defective plates.

18. Draw temper.

19. Truck.

20. Pick up.

21. Face.—The surface of the plate is polished on an emery wheel. The man does 4000 a day.

22. Pick up.

23. Back Bevel. — The edge is slightly ground.

24. Pick up.

25. Truck.

26. Burr. — The fuzz is taken off the edge — 4000 per day.

27. Polish.

28. Inspect.

29. Stamp. — The name of the manufacturer is stamped on the face of the plate.

30. Oil.—The plates are dipped in oil to prevent rusting.1

This subdivision of processes demands not only a minimum of technical knowledge, but also a passive, stolid labor-class temperament. Against the the dead, stupefying monotony of this work a virile laborer would rise.

The cigar industry began dispensing with skilled labor when machinery invaded the province of the hand cigarmaker. Formerly certain stogie factories which were investigated paid the girls making cigars on the mechanical ‘roll-tables’ 11 cents per hundred if over 6000 were rolled in a week, and 9 cents if under this number were rolled. To earn the $6.60 in the week, an almost impossible speed was demanded. In 1914 the greatest number of male employees was found in the group earning 30 to 40 cents an hour and working a seven-hour to eight-hour day. The women employed worked 7.6 hours a day at the average wage of 32 cents per hour. Over half of the women in the industry worked eight hours and over, and slightly under one third earned under 25 cents an hour.

The manufacture of silk cloth has become one of the greatest American industries. In 1909 the United States imported two fifths of the world’s production of raw silk; in 1918, 34,448,000 pounds of raw silk were imported, valued at $180,906,000. American ingenuity has brought silk-throwing and weaving machinery to its greatest perfection, and has outstripped the other industrial nations in making the industry adapt itself completely to the factory system. In 1904 concerns producing over a million dollars in silk controlled 29.8 per cent of the American production, in 1909, 34.8 per cent, in 1914, 46.6 per cent. In 1909 there were 99,037 silk-workers in the United States, the great majority being employed in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 1914 the number had increased to 108,180. Of these 61.5 per cent were women and children, and in Pennsylvania women and children constitute 70.4 per cent of the industry’s working force. One mill worked 76 children under 14 years of age. Seven of thirty-six mills studied had regular night-work. It is to be noted that the 1914 census shows a decided decrease in hours of labor over 1909. Pennsylvania, with its higher percentage of women and children, is rapidly acquiring a dominant position in the American silk industry, and New Jersey’s participation is relatively growing steadily less. This is explained by the fact that the technique has simplified the manual labor of silk-making until the wives and children of immigrants can do the work. This labor is cheap and plentiful in the coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania. A silk manufacturer has said, —

‘An ideal location of a silk-manufacturing plant would be one in which labor was abundant, intelligent, skilled and cheap; where there were no labor unions or strikes; where the laws of the state made no restriction as to hours of labor or age of workers; where people were accustomed to mill life.’

The ‘throwing’ or spinning of silk has been much simplified, and almost 20 per cent of all spinners in Pennsylvania are children. Of the eight operations in silk-thread making, four are unskilled work, four are semi-skilled. The average wage in 1910 in this department was 84 cents per day for adults, and 43 cents for children. Up to 1910, in the coal-mining camps young girls often worked a sixty-hour week in these mills for from $1.50 to $2. In 1919, the average length of the working day in silk is 7.9 hours, and the daily wage 39.5 cents.

In weaving, the German loom has been superseded by the ‘high-speed loom.’ The mechanism of this loom is simpler, and women and girls can operate it quite as satisfactorily as men, and at lower wages.

In the United States machine technique has displaced the skilled worker with the unskilled, and now is well on the way to displace the unskilled male with the immigrant woman and child.

England gave the cotton industry its great inventions, and the United States simplified their control. The race of trained English operatives, with their inherited cotton-mill traditions, had no parallel in America. The labor force here was, first, the Canadian farmer, then the Slav immigrant, and in the South the illiterate poor whites of the Cumberland Mountains. This labor demanded an industrial technique in keeping with its skill. What is the technique?

The cotton bale is broken by a mechanical breaker, then picked up by an automatic distributor, and taken to the picker. The carding machine introduced the immigrant to this department, and the ‘comber’ cut in two the labor-cost of combing. But it was in the important department, of spinning that the most vital technical changes took place. There the conflict was between the ring-frame and the historical mulespinning frame. The mule weaves a finer yarn, but it demands the attention of a skilled adult spinner. The ringframe is simple, less liable to get out of order, and breaks the yarn less; hence women, children, and immigrants are the type of labor found in a ring-frame mill.

England has a stable, non-migrating, skilled textile population. America has a migrating textile labor force, unskilled and alien. In England the industry is completely unionized and the speed of the machinery is moderated. In 1910, in the United States, only 8000 of the 378,000 textile workers were in the union, and the speed of rotation of the ring-spindle had increased two and a half times since 1860. The number of ring-spindles in the United States increased threefold from 1889 to 1914, while the number of mule-frame spindles steadily, if slowly, diminished. In the typical womanand child-employing state of South Carolina, only 3660 spindles out of 4,548,338 are mules.

In the weaving department, the warp-tying and drawing-in machines have displaced labor. But the most important simplification of a process is achieved by the Northrup Automatic loom. This weaving machine has reduced labor one half. Adjusted as it is to the prevailing industrial conditions in this country, the Northrup loom is rapidly supplanting the earlier patents. Both in spinning and weaving America has developed machines which permit the utilization of the most available supply of labor, — the unskilled immigrant, — and this has been an important factor in promoting the success of cotton manufacturing here.

Of the 393,404 wage-earners in cotton, 53.4 per cent are men, 38.2 per cent women, and more than 8 per cent children. In the spinning and weaving department, where the mechanical technique is d eveloped and standardized, — and, unhappily, it must be added, work is more intense and attention more sustained, — there are found the women and children. The men control roughly one half of the weaving, but are largely found in the minor technical departments, in repairing, and doing the work of mill laborers.

The fact that women and children dominate the great technical departments of the industry, and that the newly arrived alien dominates the male labor, indicates that the employer has achieved that prime prerequisite of an unhindered technical development — a passive, subservient labor force. It would be difficult to find an example of production anywhere in the world where the industrial technique dominates more the social and intellectual life of the industry.

The influence of technique in characterizing the foregoing industries is in no way so absolute as the effect of improved machinery upon the labor force in the steel industry. In the United States the industry of smelting ore and making merchant steel employs over 300,000 men, and is capitalized at one and one half billions. All the various processes in the manufacture of steel are mechanically handled and rigidly continuous beyond the most optimistic dreams of early systematizers. In addition to the introduction of automatic machinery, the human labor has been subdivided and simplified until in 1910 the percentage of men in the industry skilled in the traditional sense had sunk from 60 to 24. Some plants show an even greater change. The roll-tables, which now carry and distribute the white-hot ingots, are controlled by a semi-skilled man with levers, who sits high up in a small cage, the ‘pulpit,’in the side of the building. The big crews of skilled catchers and roughers, who formerly handled by hand the steel in the rolls, have disappeared. Thousands of dollars and exhaustive experiments are used to do away with the labor of a single man. Machinery has been greatly increased in size; more power is used. The electric overhead crane has, literally, replaced hundreds of men; scrap steel is now picked up by the ton by a single semi-skilled man in control of an electric magnet; steel rails are cut, sorted, and shoved out on the cooler, by a remote man in a chair with a lever in his hand. The ore which two days ago lay in its geological bed in the Upper Superior region, may to-day be sorted, measured, and stamped steel rails, sold and about to leave the mill on a flat car for some far western railway division.

It is difficult to realize how completely the adaptation of machinery, stimulated by the ‘continuous process’ of steel-production, has changed the very nature of the industry. If the best economies are to be realized, the pig iron must be converted into steel while yet liquid, and this steel rolled at once into merchantable shapes without cooling. As the blast furnaces increased the tonnage of the ‘cast,’ great machines had to be contrived to handle the growing units and handle them rapidly. The relative weight of the product, the necessary speed in its handling, the great heat of the pig iron and steel, the standardization of the product, the quickly recognized economies of largescale production, all stimulated the introduction of the automatic machine. In the smelting of ore between 1899 and 1909, the number of workers in the industry actually decreased 2.1 per cent, the horse-power used increased 136 per cent, value of materials, 144 per cent, and capital invested in the plant, 241 per cent. This is the statistical indication of the decline in importance of human labor and the increasing part played by capital.2

When pig iron was cast into sand, it required 500 men to handle the 2500ton output of five furnaces. With the pig-casting machine now in use and the direct conversion of the molten pig iron, 130 men are a complete casting crew for that tonnage. The ' mud-gun ’ and pneumatic drill have displaced many skilled men. One of the very recent labor-saving machines to be installed is that for handling molten iron, by which four men now do the work formerly accomplished by fourteen.

In ore-handling, the labor-saving was even more marked. In 1901, 680 men unloaded at the docks of one large plant 13 tons of ore per man per working day. In 1910, 109 men unloaded 164 tons per man per day — a twelvefold increase. The remarkable efficiency of the ‘ore bridge’ with its grab-buckets accounts for this productivity.

In steel-converting, the Bessemer process was revolutionized by the building of larger converters, the direct use of the molten pig iron, the pouring into moulds set on cars, and the extended use of the overhead electric crane. From 1890 to 1905 the output of steel per man grew from 2.7 to 9.7 tons. The open-hearth converter brought aboutan even more remarkable development of mechanical appliances. Charging machines handling tons replaced the exhaustive and dangerous hand-charging. The pig iron was brought direct from the mixers, molten in ladles. The steel was cast into ingot moulds set on cars. Water-cooled doors lessened the heat as well as danger. Longer overhead cranes, larger cars and locomotives, and — of most importance — great specialized steel buildings, give the open-hearth process perhaps the most remarkable mechanical evolution in the industry.

In the steel industry proper, despite its going over for the first time into the manufacture of merchant shapes which demand much hand-labor, the labor force increased but 31 per cent in the ten years 1899 to 1909, while horsepower used increased 91 per cent, materials 68 per cent, and capital invested 135,5 per cent. From 1909 to 1914 labor increased 5 per cent; horse-power 28.8 per cent; material decreased 10. 1 per cent; capital increased 25.2 per cent.

This has resulted, in the last few years, in a tendency to develop a new type of worker, the semi-skilled, at the expense of both the skilled men above him and the unskilled below. These semi-skilled are recruited from the unskilled workers, who, after a period of work, have picked up some single dexterity, such as handling a crane or a lever, but who lack, as a rule, any mechanical knowledge. A steel superintendent put it tersely: ‘That Pole skidding rails up the incline with his lever-control could be replaced in five minutes by any one of those three laborers there. They have each been watching like hawks for months every move he has made. We can get a thousand of these semi-skilled to-morrow by calling on the gang bosses. They can’t go very wrong with the machine, no matter how confused they get; and in the end, while they know only one small operation, they have that cold.’

The machine displaces the unskilled, and the semi-skilled displaces the skilled at the machine. This new evolution dates roughly from the recent increase in the use of electric power in the plants.

Certain conditions have been found which profoundly influence the length of the working day. The great increase in capital tied up in steel plants, and the continuous nature of the process of steel-making forced by the technique on the industry; the desire of the plantowners to flood a good steel market though it means an hysteria of overproduction and over-time — these economic considerations have brought the seven-day week, and, even more socially important, the twelve-hour day. To quote from the Labor Monthly Review for October, 1919: ‘The tendency toward shorter working days which has been seen in most industries during this period [1913-1919], and which seems to be reflected in the hours of iron and steel employees during the early years, has been more than overcome by the pressure of war-production during the later years.’3

Technique has produced a steelworker type possessed of less skill and required to work longer hours at higher pressure and for lower wages, than his predecessor. The speed of work demanded makes it impossible for those not young and hardy to last. In the sheet mills, which have not experienced a single important change in machinery organization in the last twenty years, the output per man has doubled, and it has been through the laborer’s increased intensity of work. The Pittsburg Dispatch of September 24, 1904, mentions a general order of the Carnegie Steel Company, directing superintendents to hire no man over forty years of age in any department, and in some departments only men under thirty-five. Technique has gone on unrestrained, and has produced in the end a labor-status which demands a force far more subservient and docile than the American worker of tradition, with a standard of wages and living far lower, and, for the continuance of the status, an absence of a capacity to organize.

Has the industry acquired such a force? Did this force appear because of the demand for it, or did its accidental presence stimulate industrial technique to create the present organization of production in the steel industry?

Industrial evolution was fated to produce the technique of the automatic machine. The all-important necessity of exact standardization in the production of duplicate parts meant that the one irresponsible, variable influence — man’s labor — must be minimized, even eradicated. At once a vast equipment of nineteenth-century skill and trade-knowledge lost value. Unskilled labor, capable only of sustained attention, became the typical labor. Not only did the huge markets of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburg furnish a ready supply to the capitalist, but the human elements in this labor market found that they could easily sell their unskilled labor in any market which had a labor demand, and the stimulus to a restless migratory spirit was given. The number of hirings in the year necessary to keep the factory force up to normal has steadily increased. As the simplification of processes develops, one immigrant race is rapidly displaced by another of lower industrial knowledge and willing to work for lower wages. As the intensity and monotony of the work increased, a race more pliable and subservient, less liable to organize, was naturally sought by the employer. The United States Steel Corporation advertised during the tin-mill strike in 1909: ‘Wanted: Tinners, Catchers, and Helpers, to work in open shops. Syrians, Poles, and Roumanians preferred.’

The new technique came because the machine industry born in the English industrial revolution was predestined to produce it. One of the most remarkable coincidences in economic history is the migration to America from Europe of a great nation of unskilled workers during the very period when the simplification and mechanization of American industry took place. Whether this unskilled labor-supply came because America’s simplified industry offered it employment, or the industry simplified itself to use the cheap adult labor arriving at the rate of almost a million a year, is a question to which a correct answer is not essential. The labor and technique came together.

  1. Quoted from PRICE, The Labor of the People.
  2. The part played by machinery is graphically shown in the following: —
  3. 1890. 507 employees working 273 days produced 250,594 tons or 1.8 tons per man per day.
  4. 1902. 1,245 employees working 355 days produced 1,080,799 tons or 2.4 tons per man per day.
  5. 1910. 918 employees working 275 days produced 1,455,706 tons or 5.8 tons per man per day.
  6. The most important devices were the electrically operated furnace-charging skips, or ‘larries,’ and the automatic charge-mixers.
  7. According to a government report of 1919 (Labor Monthly Review for September), the average day at present in the steel industry is 7.8 hours, the average hourly wage, 74.8 cents. There are 5497 of the 31,588 men studied who work over 12 hours, and 5968 who work under four hours; 37 per cent earn under 50 cents an hour; 60 per cent earn under 60 cents. According to the statistics of the Bureau of Applied Economics at Washington, the average weekly wage in 1915 was $11.76. In 1919 it was $26.94.— C. S. P.