March 29, 2017
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Place your comments about Pursell, 39-71; Smith and Clancey, 153-172 in the comment field below.
The reading on the gender comparisons in the paper mill industry was interesting, particularly how women worked together and men more separated. I feel this concept is flawed because it isn’t necessarily the gender of a person that dictates work habits, but rather personal characteristics. This may be attributed to the lack of technology that aided labor at the time. In todays factories machinery is run by anyone that has obtained the knowledge to use it. Comparably the lack of technology, or should I say modern technology, in factories of the past caused a difference in the roles of men and women.
I found the story about Frederick Douglass working at the Baltimore Shipyard interesting. It was a graphic account when racism had swept through the shipyard very quickly. For a while, black and white carpenters worked side by side with no animosity. Then it seemed that one day all of the white workers refused to works with the black workers for fear that the skilled black men could freelance their skills and leave the white man unemployed. This lead to great tensions and a detailed account when Frederick Douglass was attacked by a group of white men. His account of the attack was graphic and vivid. Detailing the fight virtually punch by bunch; blow by blow. I think its important for this story to be included in the book because it shows that as the evolution of technology progressed, the working conditions would evolve along with it.
I enjoyed this weeks readings by Pursell. Dealing primarily with the industrialization of The Lake Company. The companies problems were many, but such is the fate of most companies as they develop industry. Some of the biggest concern was from conflict related to local farmers and the impact this industry had on them. Citizens as well were sometimes at odd with the companies decisions. technologically there were some very interesting developments
I was amazed by the system of counting water created by James Francis. I wonder if other such systems were developed as solutions for conveying large scale measurements?
I found the Pursell reading particularly interesting in that it brought a new perspective of industrialization to my attention that I had not previously considered. Typically when I think of the struggles involved with industrialization and progress in general I consider the exploitation of the workers involved and not about external factors such as the environment and general resistance to the progress itself. With this approach in mind, the reading prompted me to wonder what other periods of progress or advancing technology experiences similar constraints due to either the environment or general resistance?
In reading Pursell, one gets a good sense of the domino effect one invention can cause. After the invention of the cotton gin, the need for factories to make thread, and eventually cloth, increased. When these new industrial factories began to sprout up in America, things changed rapidly – and this includes the land. In this reading you see that these technological changes can have quite an impact on the land. In addition, as seen with the Lake Company, controversies can also come up. It’s interesting to see the effect one small invention can eventually have.
Along with just about everyone else I enjoyed the reading for this week. The situation that was talked about was interesting to me because the power those companies had over the area. It amazed me to see how they had the power make some industries thrive while hurting others. Sure the dams were great for growth of industries but they were also terrible for farmers upstream. I think this shows how technology is great as long as it is used properly. Dams are great for many things but they could also ruin the environment and communities’ livelihood.
After class on Tuesday, I wondered how efficient is piece work? I understand it’s more efficient than one person being train to complete the whole processes, but every step is dependent on another person. After reading Smith and Clancey, I learned that regulating piece work was extremely hard. The letters explain why the piece workers and day laborers went on strike. In order to regulate the workers behavior, they enlisted a military superintendent to watch over the factory. The military superintendent, as oppose to the civil superintendent, showed up to regular shift and hours. He exposed the workers attempts to avoid doing work. He would whistle blow on workers who skipped out of work or took too long of a break. The workers wanted to continue coming-and-going as they pleased. However with each person dependent on the next person for the material, the process has to be more streamlined. Hours and monitoring were put in place in order to increase efficiency.
I am often wondering if the conditions in the mills were all the same. It makes since that the employees were not treated fairly, however, I wonder why women in general were treated worse than men. I don’t see a reason many mills would even bother to hire married women as Elizabeth suggested. It is scary that Water Mills were able to affect towns in other areas. It makes since though, nowadays, factories often spread pollution to neighboring cities. Shell is an awesome example of this where they had polluted a neighboring town, and sometimes have to pay consequences. I also had excepted that once machines had entered the work place, people would have become less effective. But I guess like the Cotton Gin… why would machines be different. If anything, they’ve made conditions significantly worse.
I thought that the Pursell reading this week was particularly interesting. This is because it takes into account the fact that technology is not always a straightforward advance for all those involved. In this case, that had to do with farmers, and dam building. Building the damn would often involve flooding the land, which would directly effect the farmers. Because of this, they objected to the damn.
Pursell’s reading, as well as previous readings, are interesting because they call to the forefront an interesting and often ignored question of how much is truly sacrificed in the name of progress and innovation. Pursell describes the hardships of many land owners in relation to the Lake Company’s holdings of river property which ran through local farms and the court cases that were raised as a result of the rivers flooding the land as a result of the Lake Company’s dams and control of the water levels. This is surely not the only hardship faced in the first days of industrialization and this is a problem which continues to plague progress. For example, when a road is built or land is cleared to make way for residential plans or retail areas, it is not uncommon for builders to attempt to buy land from those already living on it, sometimes leading to serious difficulties for both sides. It is interesting seeing examples of the trials faced in the way of progress and understanding that it is a problem which has always, and most likely always will, plague any form of progress or expansion.
The Harper’s Ferry strike could be associated with a larger movement of striking in the U.S. for the improvement of working conditions during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, to be honest, this was the first I had heard of a strike happening there. When I was in high school we were educated about strikes which gained some popularity in the history books such as The Homestead Strike (1892), the Pullman Strike (1893-4) or the Ludlow Massacre (1914). How is it that such an event which occurred in what was then still the state of Virginia is not taught during that sequence? I know I would have taken a greater interest in this movement if I had known of an event like this which I could have found some connection with.
I was a little confused with the trending theme in Pursell’s reading. Pursell describes how the Lake Company, their dams, and industries revolving around the dams, were effecting the economy in a negative way. I understand that for people like the farmers who lost their lands due to flooding, this could be a devastating financial problem, but the charts on page 50 and 51 depict the financial situation for the community differently. Looking at the charts, both the number of total workforce and percentage of total wealth both rose within the decade. I could just be reading the charts incorrectly, but from my understanding, the Lake Company being there actually helped the economy. Is this incorrect? If true, was Pursell taking individual problems such as a farm flooded or a mill deprived of equal water supply, and using that as evidence to say that the Company was affecting the economy badly, instead of looking at the bigger picture?
Pursell does claim that this increase is due to the growing clothing industry and emphasis on manufacturing, but isn’t that what the dams are built for, manufacturing?
I found it interesting to see in the Pursell reading the way that one invention or innovation of technology can lead to problems that spur even more development and technological growth. Specifically in this weeks readings I found it eye opening to see the way that the increased use of the water wheels with not enough water to power them led to the use of an advanced dam in the area. We often see all sorts of technologies and innovations working in conjunction with one another but do not always see the steps it took to get there.
Like most other people, I enjoyed the essay about men vs. women’s work and it is interesting to compare the work expectations of the time with our current time. Women were expected to work in groups and were often displaced from their families at young ages which I don’t really find odd. Put in the context of those days and the working conditions, mill owners thought they were getting the most out of their workers.
I really enjoyed the Pursell reading and was interested about the different dynamics between mill owners and other owners, towns people. I have always just assumed that mill towns supported the mill and recognized the mill as necessary to their existence. It was interesting to see how the paper mills had their own internal and town conflicts. But why wasn’t there more action taken? Would it really have been impossible to try and change working environments at the time? We know that women didn’t have much voice but what about the men of the community?
I found the reading on women in the paper mills very interesting. Especially the part about how women were supposed to work in groups while the men would work in solitude. I think it just shows how gender roles have diminished as time has gone by. Now women are expected to work by themselves and it is not looked at as dangerous. In today’s society it all depends on the type of job rather than the gender that deals with whether a person should or should not work by themselves.
The Judith McGraw essay about the gender in factories was interesting, especially the men vs. women dynamic. We talked in class yesterday about how young, single women would go and work in the factories for a feeling of independence. This was of course, until they went on strike and were replaced by immigrants who acted as full time employment for a lesser wage.
Using the Slater method of factory work, men worked to produce the materials used in the factory. In the Lowell method, men were not even in the picture.
In the reading on the paper mills and the gender roles of both male and females, I found it intriguing how women’s jobs were set up compared to the men. The article mentions how unskilled and monotonous the jobs actually were and how lenient they were when it came to women having to leave their position (of course that came with a drop in wages). What I would like to know is if women enjoyed the work they were performing in the paper industry. I know in many other lines of work, women hated their jobs and asked for better wages and hours. Did the women in the paper industry enjoy their jobs or did they ask for better work?
It makes me ill that individuals can profit by the exploytations of people who are put in a position of needing to work so badly ( too many workers) that they have to put up with anything. As Frederick Douglas and his cruel treatment at the hands of his bosses and co-workers, points out, it is possible because he is desperate for the job. It is the same with thw women in the mills. One of the reasons that Henry Ford had to pay his worker’s so much was that they were quitting because the change from doing all the different jobs,and the skilled worker, being replaced by the doing one thing all day was too monotinous. With globalazation are we not in the same predicament and the bar has dropped in America because we are competing with sweatshops in other paarts in the world.
In the Pursell reading, I thought it was interesting how building the dams for towns like Lowell and Lawrence had such a huge impact on the upstream communities. I figured there would be disagreements over diverting the water away from the local mills, but I hadn’t considered things like flooding in fields when certain dams were opened. I wondered if the builders and the downstream consumers had thought of it beforehand, or if they even cared if they did.
In the Gender and Papermaking essay Judith McGaw mentions that besides being flexible about shifts and periods of work, women workers were very adaptable from mill to mill and would often be able to fill in at other paper mills when one had a shortage of women workers. McGaw also says how women were able to multitask (conversing while working) whilst maintaining the quality of the paper and tended to master the few tasks they were performing. To the mill owners and supervisors this was because the women’s jobs were monotonous, didn’t require skill, and because they did not press for greater individual output in the women’s area of work. However, my question is if women were so adaptable and capable of mastering their tasks quickly, why not use the mechanization to its full potential? The mill owners said it was to maintain quality but it seems as though women could have been very capable at using mechanization for their tasks and increasing the quantity of their output without sacrificing the paper’s quality.
I enjoyed the essay about men vs. women’s work in the paper mills, but I felt that it made generalizations and assumptions that conditions in other mills were the same as in paper mills. That being said, the author did frequently mention that there was a lot more flexibility in work hours for women in paper mills. Were there any problems that occured with women who often had to leave early to take care of children? Why didn’t the paper mills strive to hire young unmarried women who could work longer hours without the burden of a husband or children pulling her home early?
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