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 i
jurious. 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


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


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



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


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.