Power loom factory frontispiece Ure

Roberts looms in operation at a cotton mill. Invention of this iron loom and Roberts' other key invention of the self acting spinning mule between 1822 and 1830 and the ability to power them with steam engines enabled enormous increases in the productivity of Workers, who are shown dwarfed by the weaving machinery on the huge factory floor. This folding engraving is the only large illustration in Ure's book. It seems possible that the artist of the other hand-colored image of the manufacturing of cotton cloth illustrating this entry based his image on this one.

Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom Overview map of London, England, United Kingdom

A: London, England, United Kingdom

Andrew Ure's Explanation and Promotion of the Factory System as a Self-Regulating Automaton

Manufacture of Cotton hand colored

Roberts looms in operation at a cotton mill. The long caption to this hand-colored print is unusually informative. It reads:

"The Diagram represents one of the great Weaving Galleries of of a Cotton Factory, containing about twelve hundred power-looms. The principle of the power-loom may be thus simply described. At the back of the machine, towards the bottom, is a cylindrical roller or beam containing the warp. The warp as it is unwound passes over a smaller roller above, and extends onwards towards the front; in its passage it passes through the loops of two treddles suspended from above, and the threads of the warp are by those treddles so separated into groups as to form a shed into which the shuttle is thrown; the woven cloth then passes forward and is wound upon the cloth beam in front. Such is the appratus, which fixed in a certain frame work, and placed in connection with the moving power from a steam engine, forms the power-loom. The noise created by so many of these machines working near each other is so great as at first to be almost unbearable. The steam engine sets the whole vast assemblage to work, and effects a variety of different movements in each machine. In the cotton manufacture each loom is between three and four feet high, by five or six feet wide, and the looms are so placed that one female can attend to two of them.The duties which these females have to fulfill consist in mending the warp-threads when they happen to break, replacing the empty shuttles by filled ones, replacing the warp-beam when emptied by another containing a fresh supply, and removing the cloth-beam as it is filled."

In 1835 physician, science writer, and business theorist Andrew Ure issued The Philosophy of Manufactures: or, an Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain. Probably it was not coincidental that this explanation and promotion of the factory system was published in London by Charles Knight, who just three years earlier had issued Charles Babbage's Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. Popular interest in the details of factory manufacturing must have been stimulated by publicity concerning government efforts to regulate factory working conditions in the Factory Acts that were working their way through parliament around this time.

Ure, Babbage and Knight shared a common interest in the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution. Babbage subjected methods of production to new methods of scientific analysis. Knight believed that the cost savings and wider distribution resulting from the new book production technologies would improve access to knowledge among the laboring classes, and that the cost savings from factory production would improve the overall standard of living. Of the three men, Ure may have been the most unbridled exponent of the factory system as the most advanced method of manufacturing, to the deteriment of the value of the individual skilled worker. Though some of his statements in this regard may seem a bit shocking today, Ure maintained a balanced viewpoint, including in his book detailed studies of the social and health problems caused by the factory system. Regarding the factory system in general, On pp. 20-21 of The Philosophy of Manufactures, Ure wrote:

"The principle of the factory system then is, to substitute mechanical science for hand skill, and the partition of a process into its essential constituents, for the division or graduation of labour among artisans. On the handicraft plan, labour more or less skilled, was usually the most expensive element of production—Materiam superabat opus; but on the automatic plan skilled labour gets progressively superceded, and will, eventually, be replaced by mere overlookers of machines.

"By the infirmity of human nature it happens, that the more skillful the workman, the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to become, and, of course the less fit a component of a mechanical system, in which, by occasional irregularities, he may do great damage to the whole. The grand object therefore of the modern manufacturer is, through the union of capital and science, to reduce the task of his work-people in the exercise of vigilance and dexterity, —faculties, when concentred to one process, speedily brought to perfection in the young. In the infancy of mechanical engineering, a machine-factory displayed the division of labour in manifold gradations— the the file, the drill, the lathe, having each its different workmen in the order of skill: but the dextrous hands of the filer and riller are now superseded by the planing, the key-groove cutting, and the drilling-machines; and those of the iron and brass turners, by the self-acting slide-lathe. Mr. Anthony Strutt, who conducts the mechanical department of the great cotton factories of Belper and Milford, has so thoroughly departed from the old routine of the schools, that he will employ no man who has learned his craft by regular apprenticeship; but in contempt, as it were, of the division of labour principle, he sets a ploughboy to turn a shaft of perhaps several tons weight, and never has reason to repent his preference, because he infuses into the turning apparatus a precision of action, equal, if not superior, to the skill of the most experienced journeyman."

While Adam Smith showed how the division of labor created an intensification of skill that improved the manufacturing process, Babbage believed that division of labor resulting from specialization of tasks allowed more efficient use of labor, resulting in cost savings. In contrast Ure believed that a major virtue of factory production was that it essentially removed or excluded human skill from manufacturing, except in the supervision of the machinery. On pp. 13-14 of The Philosophy of Manufactures he wrote:

"The term Factory, in technology, designates the combined operation of many orders of work-people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive manchines continuously impelled by a central power....I conceive that this title, in its strictest sense, involves the idea of a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concern for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinated to a self-regulated moving force."

Ure expressed unbridled enthusiasm for the factory system as the most advanced way of manufacturing, but he also addressed the social and health problems that it caused. The final third of the book concerns the "Moral Economy of the Factory System" within which are chapers on the "Condition of our Factory Operatives", the "Health of Factory Inmates," and "State of Knowledge and Religion in the Factories."

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