On The Causes And Consequences Of Large Factories

263. On examining the analysis which has been given in

chapter XIX of the operations in the art of pin-making, it will

be observed, that ten individuals are employed in it, and also

that the time occupied in executing the several processes is very

different. In order, however, to render more simple the reasoning

which follows, it will be convenient to suppose that each of the

seven processes there described requires an
equal quantity of

time. This being supposed, it is at once apparent, that, to

conduct an establishment for pin-making most profitably, the

number of persons employed must be a multiple of ten. For if a

person with small means has only sufficient capital to enable him

to employ half that number of persons, they cannot each of them

constantly adhere to the execution of the same process; and if a

manufacturer employs any number not a multiple of ten, a similar

result must ensue with respect to some portion of them. The same

reflection constantly presents itself on examining any

well-arranged factory. In that of Mr Mordan, the patentee of the

ever-pointed pencils, one room is devoted to some of the

processes by which steel pens are manufactured. Six fly-presses

are here constantly at work; in the first a sheet of thin steel

is brought by the workman under the die which at each blow cuts

out a flat piece of the metal, having the form intended for the

pen. Two other workmen are employed in placing these flat pieces

under two other presses, in which a steel chisel cuts the slit.

Three other workmen occupy other presses, in which the pieces so

prepared receive their semi-cylindrical form. The longer time

required for adjusting the small pieces in the two latter

operations renders them less rapid in execution than the first;

so that two workmen are fully occupied in slitting, and three in

bending the flat pieces, which one man can punch out of the sheet

of steel. If, therefore, it were necessary to enlarge this

factory, it is clear that twelve or eighteen presses would be

worked with more economy than any number not a multiple of six.

The same reasoning extends to every manufacture which is

conducted upon the principle of the division of labour, and we

arrive at this general conclusion: When the number of processes

into which it is most advantageous to divide it, and the number

of individuals to be employed in it, are ascertained, then all

factories which do not employ a direct multiple of this latter

number, will produce the article at a greater cost. This

principle ought always to be kept in view in great

establishments, although it is quite impossible, even with the

best division of the labour, to attend to it rigidly in practice.

The proportionate number of the persons who possess the greatest

skill, is of course to be first attended to. That exact ratio

which is more profitable for a factory employing a hundred

workmen, may not be quite the best where there are five hundred;

and the arrangements of both may probably admit of variations,

without materially increasing the cost of their produce. But it

is quite certain that no individual, nor in the case of

pin-making could any five individuals, ever hope to compete with

an extensive establishment. Hence arises one cause of the great

size of manufacturing establishments, which have increased with

the progress of civilization. Other circumstances, however,

contribute to the same end, and arise also from the same cause--

the division of labour.

264. The material out of which the manufactured article is

produced, must, in the several stages of its progress, be

conveyed from one operator to the next in succession: this can be

done at least expense when they are all working in the same

establishment. If the weight of the material is considerable,

this reason acts with additional force; but even where it is

light, the danger arising from frequent removal may render it

desirable to have all the processes carried on in the same

building. In the cutting and polishing of glass this is the case;

whilst in the art of needle-making several of the processes are

carried on in the cottages of the workmen. It is, however, clear

that the latter plan, which is attended with some advantages to

the family of the workmen, can be adopted only where there exists

a sure and quick method of knowing that the work has been well

done, and that the whole of the materials given out have been

really employed.

265. The inducement to contrive machines for any process of

manufacture increases with the demand for the article; and the

introduction of machinery, on the other hand, tends to increase

the quantity produced and to lead to the establishment of large

factories. An illustration of these principles may be found in

the history of the manufacture of patent net.

The first machines for weaving this article were very

expensive, costing from a thousand to twelve or thirteen hundred

pounds. The possessor of one of these, though it greatly

increased the quantity he could produce, was nevertheless unable,

when working eight hours a day, to compete with the old methods.

This arose from the large capital invested in the machinery; but

he quickly perceived that with the same expense of fixed capital,

and a small addition to his circulating capital, he could work

the machine during the whole twenty-four hours. The profits thus

realized soon induced other persons to direct their attention to

the improvement of those machines; and the price was greatly

reduced, at the same time that the rapidity of production of the

patent net was increased. But if machines be kept working through

the twenty-four hours, it is necessary that some person shall

attend to admit the workmen at the time they relieve each other;

and whether the porter or other servant so employed admit one

person or twenty, his rest will be equally disturbed. It will

also be necessary occasionally to adjust or repair the machine;

and this can be done much better by a workman accustomed to

machine-making, than by the person who uses it. Now, since the

good performance and the duration of machines depend to a very

great extent upon correcting every shake or imperfection in their

parts as soon as they appear, the prompt attention of a workman

resident on the spot will considerably reduce the expenditure

arising from the wear and tear of the machinery. But in the case

of single lace frame, or a single loom, this would be too

expensive a plan. Here then arises another circumstance which

tends to enlarge the extent of a factory. It ought to consist of

such a number of machines as shall occupy the whole time of one

workman in keeping them in order: if extended beyond that number,

the same principle of economy would point out the necessity of

doubling or tripling the number of machines, in order to employ

the whole time of two or three skilful workmen.

266. Where one portion of the workman's labour consists in

the exertion of mere physical force, as in weaving and in many

similar arts, it will soon occur to the manufacturer, that if

that part were executed by a steam-engine, the same man might, in

the case of weaving, attend to two or more looms at once; and,

since we already suppose that one or more operative engineers

have been employed, the number of his looms may be so arranged

that their time shall be fully occupied in keeping the

steam-engine and the looms in order. One of the first results

will be, that the looms can be driven by the engine nearly twice

as fast as before: and as each man, when relieved from bodily

labour, can attend to two looms, one workman can now make almost

as much cloth as four. This increase of producing power is,

however, greater than that which really took place at first; the

velocity of some of the parts of the loom being limited by the

strength of the thread, and the quickness with which it commences

its motion: but an improvement was soon made, by which the motion

commenced slowly, and gradually acquired greater velocity than it

was safe to give it at once; and the speed was thus increased

from 100 to about 120 strokes per minute.

267. Pursuing the same principles, the manufactory becomes

gradually so enlarged, that the expense of lighting during the

night amounts to a considerable sum; and as there are already

attached to the establishment persons who are up all night, and

can therefore constantly attend to it, and also engineers to make

and keep in repair any machinery, the addition of an apparatus

for making gas to light the factory leads to a new extension, at

the same time that it contributes, by diminishing the expense of

lighting, and the risk of accidents from fire, to reduce the cost

of manufacturing.

268. Long before a factory has reached this extent, it will

have been found necessary to establish an accountant's

department, with clerks to pay the workmen, and to see that they

arrive at their stated times; and this department must be in

communication with the agents who purchase the raw produce, and

with those who sell the manufactured article.

269. We have seen that the application of the division of

labour tends to produce cheaper articles; that it thus increases

the demand; and gradually, by the effect of competition, or by

the hope of increased gain, that it causes large capitals to be

embarked in extensive factories. Let us now examine the influence

of this accumulation of capital directed to one object. In the

first place, it enables the most important principle on which the

advantages of the division of labour depends to be carried almost

to its extreme limits: not merely is the precise amount of skill

purchased which is necessary for the execution of each process,

but throughout every stage--from that in which the raw material

is procured, to that by which the finished produce is conveyed

into the hands of the consumer--the same economy of skill

prevails. The quantity of work produced by a given number of

people is greatly augmented by such an extended arrangement; and

the result is necessarily a great reduction in the cost of the

article which is brought to market.

270. Amongst the causes which tend to the cheap production of

any article, and which are connected with the employment of

additional capital, may be mentioned, the care which is taken to

prevent the absolute waste of any part of the raw material. An

attention to this circumstance sometimes causes the union of two

trades in one factory, which otherwise might have been separated.

An enumeration of the arts to which the horns of cattle are

applicable, will furnish a striking example of this kind of

economy. The tanner who has purchased the raw hides, separates

the horns, and sells them to the makers of combs and lanterns.

The horn consists of two parts, an outward horny case, and an

inward conical substance, somewhat intermediate between indurated

hair and bone. The first process consists in separating these two

parts, by means of a blow against a block of wood. The horny

exterior is then cut into three portions with a frame-saw.

1. The lowest of these, next the root of the horn, after

undergoing several processes, by which it is flattened, is made

into combs.

2. The middle of the horn, after being flattened by heat, and

having its transparency improved by oil, is split into thin

layers, and forms a substitute for glass, in lanterns of the

commonest kind.

3. The tip of the horn is used by the makers of knife

handles, and of the tops of whips, and for other similar


4. The interior, or core of the horn, is boiled down in

water. A large quantity of fat rises to the surface; this is put

aside, and sold to the makers of yellow soap.

5. The liquid itself is used as a kind of glue, and is

purchased by cloth dressers for stiffening.

6. The insoluble substance, which remains behind, is then

sent to the mill, and, being ground down, is sold to the farmers

for manure.

7. Besides these various purposes to which the different

parts of the horn are applied, the clippings, which arise in comb

making, are sold to the farmer for manure. In the first year

after they are spread over the soil they have comparatively

little effect, but during the next four or five their efficiency

is considerable. The shavings which form the refuse of the

lantern maker, are of a much thinner texture: some of them are

cut into various figures and painted, and used as toys; for being

hygrometric, they curl up when placed on the palm of a warm hand.

But the greater part of these shavings also are sold for manure,

and from their extremely thin and divided form, the full effect

is produced upon the first crop.

271. Another event which has arisen, in one trade at least,

from the employment of large capital, is, that a class of

middlemen, formerly interposed between the maker and the

merchant, now no longer exist. When calico was woven in the

cottages of the workmen, there existed a class of persons who

travelled about and purchased the pieces so made, in large

numbers, for the purpose of selling them to the exporting

merchant. But the middlemen were obliged to examine every piece,

in order to know that it was perfect, and of full measure. The

greater number of the workmen, it is true, might be depended

upon, but the fraud of a few would render this examination

indispensable: for any single cottager, though detected by one

purchaser, might still hope that the fact would not become known

to all the rest.

The value of character, though great in all circumstances of

life, can never be so fully experienced by persons possessed of

small capital, as by those employing much larger sums: whilst

these larger sums of money for which the merchant deals, render

his character for punctuality more studied and known by others.

Thus it happens that high character supplies the place of an

additional portion of capital; and the merchant, in dealing with

the great manufacturer, is saved from the expense of

verification, by knowing that the loss, or even the impeachment,

of the manufacturer's character, would be attended with greater

injury to himself than any profit upon a single transaction could


272. The amount of well-grounded confidence, which exists in

the character of its merchants and manufacturers, is one of the

many advantages that an old manufacturing country always

possesses over its rivals. To such an extent is this confidence

in character carried in England, that, at one of our largest

towns, sales and purchases on a very extensive scale are made

daily in the course of business without any of the parties ever

exchanging a written document.

273. A breach of confidence of this kind, which might have

been attended with very serious embarrassment, occurred in the

recent expedition to the mouth of the Niger.

'We brought with us from England,' Mr Lander states, 'nearly

a hundred thousand needles of various sizes, and amongst them was

a great quantity of Whitechapel sharps warranted superfine, and

not to cut in the eye. Thus highly recommended, we imagined that

these needles must have been excellent indeed; but what was our

surprise, some time ago, when a number of them which we had

disposed of were returned to us, with a complaint that they were

all eyeless, thus redeeming with a vengeance the pledge of the

manufacturer, that they would not cut in the eye. On

examination afterwards, we found the same fault with the

remainder of the Whitechapel sharps, so that to save our credit

we have been obliged to throw them away.'(1*)

274. The influence of established character in producing

confidence operated in a very remarkable manner at the time of

the exclusion of British manufactures from the continent during

the last war. One of our largest establishments had been in the

habit of doing extensive business with a house in the centre of

Germany; but, on the closing of the continental ports against our

manufactures, heavy penalties were inflicted on all those who

contravened the Berlin and Milan decrees. The English

manufacturer continued, nevertheless, to receive orders, with

directions how to consign them, and appointments for the time and

mode of payment, in letters, the handwriting of which was known

to him, but which were never signed, except by the christian name

of one of the firm, and even in some instances they were without

any signature at all. These orders were executed; and in no

instance was there the least irregularity in the payments.

275. Another circumstance may be noticed, which to a small

extent is more advantageous to large than to small factories. In

the export of several articles of manufacture, a drawback is

allowed by government, of a portion of the duty paid on the

importation of the raw material. In such circumstances, certain

forms must be gone through in order to protect the revenue from

fraud; and a clerk, or one of the partners, must attend at the

custom-house. The agent of the large establishment occupies

nearly the same time in receiving a drawback of several

thousands, as the smaller exporter does of a few shillings. But

if the quantity exported is inconsiderable, the small

manufacturer frequently does not find the drawback will repay him

for the loss of time.

276. In many of the large establishments of our manufacturing

districts, substances are employed which are the produce of

remote countries, and which are, in several instances, almost

peculiar to a few situations. The discovery of any new locality,

where such articles exist in abundance, is a matter of great

importance to any establishment which consumes them in large

quantities; and it has been found, in some instances, that the

expense of sending persons to great distances, purposely to

discover and to collect such produce, has been amply repaid. Thus

it has happened, that the snowy mountains of Sweden and Norway,

as well as the warmer hills of Corsica, have been almost stripped

of one of their vegetable productions, by agents sent expressly

from one of our largest establishments for the dying of calicos.

Owing to the same command of capital, and to the scale upon which

the operations of large factories are carried on, their returns

admit of the expense of sending out agents to examine into the

wants and tastes of distant countries, as well as of trying

experiments, which, although profitable to them, would be ruinous

to smaller establishments possessing more limited resources.

These opinions have been so well expressed in the Report of

the Committee of the House of Commons on the Woollen Trade, in

1806, that we shall close this chapter with an extract, in which

the advantages of great factories are summed up.

Your committee have the satisfaction of seeing, that the

apprehensions entertained of factories are not only vicious in

principle, but they are practically erroneous: to such a degree.

that even the very opposite principles might be reasonably

entertained. Nor would it be difficult to prove, that the

factories, to a certain extent at least, and in the present day,

seem absolutely necessary to the wellbeing of the domestic

system: supplying those very particulars wherein the domestic

system must be acknowledged to be inherently defective: for it is

obvious, that the little master manufacturers cannot afford, like

the man who possesses considerable capital, to try the

experiments which are requisite, and incur the risks, and even

losses, which almost always occur, in inventing and perfecting

new articles of manufacture, or in carrying to a state of greater

perfection articles already established. He cannot learn, by

personal inspection, the wants and habits, the arts,

manufactures, and improvements of foreign countries; diligence,

economy, and prudence, are the requisites of his character, not

invention, taste, and enterprise: nor would he be warranted in

hazarding the loss of any part of his small capital. He walks in

a sure road as long as he treads in the beaten track; but he must

not deviate into the paths of speculation. The owner of a

factory, on the contrary, being commonly possessed of a large

capital, and having all his workmen employed under his own

immediate superintendence, may make experiments, hazard

speculation, invent shorter or better modes of performing old

processes, may introduce new articles, and improve and perfect

old ones, thus giving the range to his taste and fancy, and,

thereby alone enabling our manufacturers to stand the competition

with their commercial rivals in other countries. Meanwhile, as is

well worthy of remark (and experience abundantly warrants the

assertion), many of these new fabrics and inventions, when their

success is once established, become general amongst the whole

body of manufacturers: the domestic manufacturers themselves thus

benefiting, in the end, from those very factories which had been

at first the objects of their jealousy. The history of almost all

our other manufactures, in which great improvements have been

made of late years in some cases at an immense expense, and after

numbers of unsuccessful experiments, strikingly illustrates and

enforces the above remarks. It is besides an acknowledged fact,

that the owners of factories are often amongst the most extensive

purchasers at the halls, where they buy from the domestic

clothier the established articles of manufacture, or are able at

once to answer a great and sudden order; whilst, at home, and

under their own superintendence, they make their fancy goods, and

any articles of a newer, more costly, or more delicate quality,

to which they are enabled by the domestic system to apply a much

larger proportion of their capital. Thus, the two systems,

instead of rivalling, are mutual aids to each other: each

supplying the other's defects, and promoting the other's



1. Lander's Journal of an Expedition to the Mouth of the Niger,

vol. ii., p. 42.