Proper Circumstances For The Application Of Machinery

329. The first object of machinery, the chief cause of its

extensive utility, is the perfection and the cheap production of

the articles which it is intended to make. Whenever it is

required to produce a great multitude of things, all of exactly

the same kind, the proper time has arrived for the construction

of tools or machines by which they may be manufactured. If only a

few pairs of cotton stockings should be requir
d, it would be an

absurd waste of time, and of capital, to construct a

stocking-frame to weave them, when, for a few pence, four steel

wires can be procured by which they may be knit. If, on the other

hand, many thousand pairs were wanted, the time employed, and the

expense incurred in constructing a stocking-frame, would be more

than repaid by the saving of time in making that large number of

stockings. The same principle is applicable to the copying of

letters: if three or four copies only are required, the pen and

the human hand furnish the cheapest means of obtaining them; if

hundreds are called for, lithography may be brought to our

assistance; but if hundreds of thousands are wanted, the

machinery of a printing establishment supplies the most

economical method of accomplishing the object.

330. There are, however, many cases in which machines or

tools must be made, in which economical production is not the

most important object. Whenever it is required to produce a few

articles parts of machinery, for instance, which must be executed

with the most rigid accuracy or be perfectly alike--it is nearly

impossible to fulfil this condition, even with the aid of the

most skilful hands: and it becomes necessary to make tools

expressly for the purpose, although those tools should, as

frequently happens, cost more in constructing than the things

they are destined to make.

331. Another instance of the just application of machinery,

even at an increased expense, arises where the shortness of time

in which the article is produced, has an important influence on

its value. In the publication of our daily newspapers, it

frequently happens that the debates in the Houses of Parliament

are carried on to three and four o'clock in the morning, that is.

to within a very few hours of the time for the publication of the

paper. The speeches must be taken down by reporters, conveyed by

them to the establishment of the newspaper, perhaps at the

distance of one or two miles, transcribed by them in the office,

set up by the compositor, the press corrected, and the paper be

printed off and distributed, before the public can read them.

Some of these journals have a circulation of from five to ten

thousand daily. Supposing four thousand to be wanted, and that

they could be printed only at the rate of five hundred per hour

upon one side of the paper, (which was the greatest number two

journeymen and a boy could take off by the old hand presses),

sixteen hours would be required for printing the complete

edition; and the news conveyed to the purchasers of the latest

portion of the impression, would be out of date before they could

receive it. To obviate this difficulty, it was often necessary to

set up the paper in duplicate, and sometimes, when late, in

triplicate: but the improvements in the printing machines have

been so great, that four thousand copies are now printed on one

side in an hour.

332. The establishment of 'The Times' newspaper is an

example, on a large scale, of a manufactory in which the division

of labour, both mental and bodily, is admirably illustrated, and

in which also the effect of domestic economy is well exemplified.

It is scarcely imagined by the thousands who read that paper in

various quarters of the globe, what a scene of organized activity

the factory presents during the whole night, or what a quantity

of talent and mechanical skill is put in action for their

amusement and information. (1*) Nearly a hundred persons are

employed in this establishment; and, during the session of

Parliament, at least twelve reporters are constantly attending

the Houses of Commons and Lords; each in his turn retiring, after

about an hour's work, to translate into ordinary writing, the

speech he has just heard and noted in shorthand. In the meantime

fifty compositors are constantly at work, some of whom have

already set up the beginning, whilst others are committing to

type the yet undried manuscript of the continuation of a speech,

whose middle portion is travelling to the office in the pocket of

the hasty reporter, and whose eloquent conclusion is, perhaps, at

that very moment, making the walls of St Stephen's vibrate with

the applause of its hearers. These congregated types, as fast as

they are composed, are passed in portions to other hands; till at

last the scattered fragments of the debate, forming, when united

with the ordinary matter, eight-and-forty columns, reappear in

regular order on the platform of the printing-press. The hand of

man is now too slow for the demands of his curiosity, but the

power of steam comes to his assistance. Ink is rapidly supplied

to the moving types, by the most perfect mechanism; four

attendants incessantly introduce the edges of large sheets of

white paper to the junction of two great rollers, which seem to

devour them with unsated appetite; other rollers convey them to

the type already inked, and having brought them into rapid and

successive contact, redeliver them to four other assistants,

completely printed by the almost momentary touch. Thus, in one

hour, four thousand sheets of paper are printed on one side; and

an impression of twelve thousand copies, from above three hundred

thousand moveable pieces of metal, is produced for the public in

six hours.

333. The effect of machinery in printing other periodical

publications, and of due economy in distributing them, is so

important for the interests of knowledge, that it is worth

examining by what means it is possible to produce them at the

small price at which they are sold. 'Chambers' Journal', which is

published at Edinburgh, and sold at three halfpence a number,

will furnish an example. Soon after its commencement in 1832, the

sale in Scotland reached 30,000, and in order to supply the

demand in London it was reprinted; but on account of the expense

of 'composition' it was found that this plan would not produce

any profit, and the London edition was about to be given up, when

it occurred to the proprietor to stereotype it at Edinburgh, and

cast two copies of the plates. This is now done about three weeks

before the day of publication--one set of plates being sent up

to London by the mail, an impression is printed off by steam: the

London agent has then time to send packages by the cheapest

conveyances to several of the large towns, and other copies go

through the booksellers' parcels to all the smaller towns. Thus a

great saving is effected in the outlay of capital, and 20,000

copies are conveyed from London, as a centre, to all parts of

England, whilst there is no difficulty in completing imperfect

sets, nor any waste from printing more than the public demand.

334. The conveyance of letters is another case, in which the

importance of saving time would allow of great expense in any new

machinery for its accomplishment. There is a natural limit to the

speed of horses, which even the greatest improvements in the

breed, aided by an increased perfection in our roads, can never

surpass; and from which, perhaps, we are at present not very

remote. When we reflect upon the great expense of time and money

which the last refinements of a theory or an art usually require,

it is not unreasonable to suppose that the period has arrived in

which the substitution of machinery for such purposes ought to be


335. The post bag despatched every evening by the mail to one

of our largest cities, Bristol, usually weighs less than a

hundred pounds. Now, the first reflection which naturally

presents itself is, that, in order to transport these letters a

hundred and twenty miles, a coach and apparatus, weighing above

thirty hundredweight, are put in motion, and also conveyed over

the same space. (2*)

It is obvious that, amongst the conditions of machinery for

accomplishing such an object, it would be desirable to reduce the

weight of matter to be conveyed along with the letters: it would

also be desirable to reduce the velocity of the animal power

employed; because the faster a horse is driven, the less weight

he can draw. Amongst the variety of contrivances which might be

imagined for this purpose, we will mention one, which, although

by no means free from objections, fulfils some of the prescribed

conditions; and it is not a purely theoretical speculation, since

some few experiments have been made upon it, though on an

extremely limited scale.

336. Let us imagine a series of high pillars erected at

frequent intervals, perhaps every hundred feet, and as nearly as

possible in a straight line between two post towns. An iron or

steel wire must be stretched over proper supports, fixed on each

of these pillars, and terminating at the end of every three or

five miles, as may be found expedient, in a very strong support,

by which it may be stretched. At each of these latter points a

man ought to reside in a small stationhouse. A narrow cylindrical

tin case, to contain the letters, might be suspended by two

wheels rolling upon this wire; the cases being so constructed as

to enable the wheels to pass unimpeded by the fixed supports of

the wire. An endless wire of much smaller size must pass over two

drums, one at each end of the station. This wire should be

supported on rollers, fixed to the supports of the great wire,

and at a short distance below it. There would thus be two

branches of the smaller wire always accompanying the larger one;

and the attendant at either station, by turning the drum, might

cause them to move with great velocity in opposite directions. In

order to convey the cylinder which contains the letters, it would

only be necessary to attach it by a string, or by a catch, to

either of the branches of the endless wire. Thus it would be

conveyed speedily to the next station, where it would be removed

by the attendant to the commencement of the next wire, and so

forwarded. It is unnecessary to enter into the details which

this, or any similar plan, would require. The difficulties are

obvious; but if: these could be overcome, it would present many

advantages besides velocity; for if an attendant resided at each

station, the additional expense of having two or three deliveries

of letters every day, and even of sending expresses at any

moment, would be comparatively trifling; nor is it impossible

that the stretched wire might itself be available for a species

of telegraphic communication yet more rapid.

Perhaps if the steeples of churches, properly selected, were

made use of, connecting them by a few intermediate stations with

some great central building, as, for instance, with the top of St

Paul's; and if a similar apparatus were placed on the top of each

steeple, with a man to work it during the day, it might be

possible to diminish the expense of the two-penny post, and make

deliveries every half hour over the greater part of the


337. The power of steam, however, bids fair almost to rival

the velocity of these contrivances; and the fitness of its

application to the purposes of conveyance, particularly where

great rapidity is required, begins now to be generally admitted.

The following extract from the Report of the Committee of the

House of Commons on steamcarriages, explains clearly its various


Perhaps one of the principal advantages resulting from the use of

steam, will be, that it may be employed as cheaply at a quick as

at a slow rate; 'this is one of the advantages over horse labour.

which becomes more and more expensive as the speed is increased.

There is every reason to expect, that in the end the rate of

travelling by steam will be much quicker than the utmost speed of

travelling by horses; in short, the safety to travellers will

become the limit to speed.' In horse-draught the opposite result

takes place; 'in all cases horses lose power of draught in a much

greater proportion than they gain speed, and hence the work they

do becomes more expensive as they go quicker.'

Without increase of cost, then, we shall obtain a power which

will insure a rapidity of internal communication far beyond the

utmost speed of horses in draught; and although the performance

of these carriages may not have hitherto attained this point,

when once it has been established, that at equal speed we can use

steam more cheaply in draught than horses, we may fairly

anticipate that every day's increased experience in the

management of the engines, will induce greater skill, greater

confidence, and greater speed.

The cheapness of the conveyance will probably be, for some

time, a secondary consideration. If, at present, it can be used

as cheaply as horse power, the competition with the former modes

of conveyance will first take place as to speed. When once the

superiority of steam-carriages shall have been fully established,

competition will induce economy in the cost of working them. The

evidence, however, of Mr Macneill, shewing the greater

efficiency, with diminished expenditure of fuel, by locomotive

engines on railwavs, convinces the committee, that experience

will soon teach a better construction of the engines, and a less

costly mode of generating the requisite supply of steam.

Nor are the advantages of steam-power confined to the greater

velocitv attained, or to its greater cheapness than

horse-draught. In the latter, danger is increased, in as large a

proportion as expense, by greater speed. In steam-power, on the

contrary, 'there is no danger of being run away with, and that of

being overturned is greatly diminished. It is difficult to

control four such horses as can draw a heavy carriage ten miles

per hour, in case they are frightened, or choose to run away; and

for quick travelling they must be kept in that state of courage,

that they are always inclined for running away, particularly down

hills, and at sharp turns of the road. In steam, however, there

is little corresponding danger, being perfectly controllable, and

capable of exerting its power in reverse in going down hills.,

Every witness examined has given the fullest and most

satisfactory evidence of the perfect control which the conductor

has over the movement of the carriage. With the slightest

exertion it can be stopped or turned, under circumstances where

horses would be totally unmanageable.

338. Another instance may be mentioned in which the object to

be obtained is so important, that although it might be rarely

wanted, yet machinery for that purpose would justify considerable

expense. A vessel to contain men, and to be navigated at some

distance below the surface of the sea, would, in many

circumstances, be almost invaluable. Such a vessel, evidently,

could not be propelled by any engine requiring the aid of fire.

If, however, by condensing air into a liquid, and carrying it in

that state, a propelling power could be procured sufficient for

moving the vessel through a considerable space, the expense would

scarcely render its occasional employment impossible.(3*)

339. Slide of Alpnach. Amongst the forests which flank many

of the lofty mountains of Switzerland, some of the finest timber

is found in positions almost inaccessible. The expense of roads,

even if it were possible to make them in such situations, would

prevent the inhabitants from deriving any advantages from these

almost inexhaustible supplies. Placed by nature at a considerable

elevation above the spot at which they can be made use of, they

are precisely in fit circumstances for the application of

machinery to their removal; and the inhabitants avail themselves

of the force of gravity to relieve them from some portion of this

labour. The inclined planes which they have established in

various forests, by which the timber has been sent down to the

water courses, have excited the admiration of every traveller;

and in addition to the merit of simplicity, the construction

these slides requires scarcely anything beyond the material which

grows upon the spot.

Of all these specimens of carpentry, the Slide of Alpnach was

the most considerable, from its great length, and from the almost

inaccessible position from which it descended. The following

account of it is taken from Gilbert's Annalen, 1819, which is

translated in the second volume of Brewster's Journal:

For many centuries, the rugged flanks and the deep gorges of

Mount Pilatus were covered with impenetrable forests; which were

permitted to grow and to perish, without being of the least

utility to man, till a foreigner, who had been conducted into

their wild recesses in the pursuit of the chamois, directed the

attention of several Swiss gentlemen to the extent and

superiority of the timber. The most skilful individuals, however,

considered it quite impracticable to avail themselves of such

inaccessible stores. It was not till the end of 1816, that M.

Rupp, and three Swiss gentlemen, entertaining more sanguine

hopes, purchased a certain extent of the forests, and began the

construction of the slide, which was completed in the spring of


The Slide of Alpnach is formed entirely of about 25,000 large

pine trees, deprived of their bark, and united together in a very

ingenious manner, without the aid of iron. It occupied about 160

workmen during eighteen months, and cost nearly 100,000 francs,

or L4,250. It is about three leagues, or 44,000 English feet

long, and terminates in the Lake of Lucerne. It has the form of a

trough, about six feet broad, and from three to six feet deep.

Its bottom is formed of three trees, the middle one of which has

a groove cut out in the direction of its length, for receiving

small rills of water, which are conducted into it from various

places, for the purpose of diminishing the friction. The whole of

the slide is sustained by about 2,000 supports; and in many

places it is attached, in a very ingenious manner, to the rugged

precipices of granite.

The direction of the slide is sometimes straight, and

sometimes zig-zag, with an inclination of from 10 degrees to 18

degrees. It is often carried along the sides of hills and the

flanks of precipitous rocks, and sometimes passes over their

summits. Occasionally it goes under ground, and at other times it

is conducted over the deep gorges by scaffoldings 120 feet in


The boldness which characterizes this work, the sagacity and

skill displayed in all its arrangements, have excited the wonder

of every person who has seen it. Before any step could be taken

in its erection, it was necessary to cut several thousand trees

to obtain a passage through the impenetrable thickets. All these

difficulties, however, were surmounted, and the engineer had at

last the satisfaction of seeing the trees descend from the

mountain with the rapidity of lightning. The larger pines, which

were about a hundred feet long, and ten inches thick at their

smaller extremity, ran through the space of three leagues, or

nearly nine miles, in two minutes and a half, and during their

descent, they appeared to be only a few feet in length.

The arrangements for this part of the operation were

extremely simple. From the lower end of the slide to the upper

end, where the trees were introduced, workmen were posted at

regular distances, and as soon as everything was ready, the

workman at the lower end of the slide cried out to the one above

him, 'Lachez' (let go). The cry was repeated from one to another.

and reached the top of the slide in three minutes. The workmen at

the top of the slide then cried out to the one below him, 'Il

vient' (it comes), and the tree was instantly launched down the

slide, preceded by the cry which was repeated from post to post.

As soon as the tree had reached thebottom, and plunged into the

lake, the cry of lachez was repeated as before, and a new tree

was launched in a similar manner. By these means a tree descended

every five or six minutes, provided no accident happened to the

slide, which sometimes took place, but which was instantly

repaired when it did.

In order to shew the enormous force which the trees acquired

from the great velocity of their descent, M. Rupp made

arrangements for causing some of the trees to spring from the

slide. They penetrated by their thickest extremities no less than

from eighteen to twenty-four feet into the earth; and one of the

trees having by accident struck against another, it instantly

cleft it through its whole length, as if it had been struck by


After the trees had descended the slide, they were collected

into rafts upon the lake, and conducted to Lucerne. From thence

they descended the Reuss, then the Aar to near Brugg, afterwards

to Waldshut by the Rhine, then to Basle, and even to the sea when

it was necessary.

It is to be regretted that this magnificent structure no

longer exists, and that scarcely a trace of it is to be seen upon

the flanks of Mount Pilatus. Political circumstances having taken

away the principal source of demand for the timber, and no other

market having been found, the operation of cutting and

transporting the trees necessarily ceased.(4*)

Professor Playfair, who visited this singular work, states,

that six minutes was the usual time occupied in the descent of a

tree; but that in wet weather, it reached the lake in three



1. The author of these pages, with one of his friends, was

recently induced to visit this most interesting establishment,

after midnight, during the progress of a very important debate.

The place was illuminated with gas, and was light as the day:

there was neither noise nor bustle; and the visitors were

received with such calm and polite attention, that they did not,

until afterwards, become sensible of the inconvenience which such

intruders, at a moment of the greatest pressure, must occasion,

nor reflect tha the tranquility which they admired, was the

result of intense and regulated occupation. But the effect of

such checks in the current of business will appear on

recollecting that, as four thousand newspapers are printed off on

one side within the hour, every minute is attended with a loss of

sixty-six impressions. The quarter of an hour, therefore, which

the stranger may think it not unreasonable to claim for the

gratification of his curiosity (and to him this time is but a

moment), may cause a failure in the delivery of a thousand

copies, and disappoint a proportionate number of expectant

readers, in some of our distant towns, to which the morning

papers are dispatched by the earliest and most rapid conveyances

of each day.

This note is inserted with the further and more general

purpose of calling the attention of those, especially foreigners,

who are desirous of inspecting our larger manufactories, to the

chief cause of the difficulty which frequently attends their

introduction. When the establishment is very extensive, and its

departments skilfully arranged, the exclusion of visitors arises,

not from any illiberal jealousy, nor, generally, from any desire

of concealment, which would, in most cases, be absurd, but from

the substantial inconvenience and loss of time, throughout an

entire series of well-combined operations, which must be

occasioned even by short and causual interruptions.

2. It is true that the transport of letters is not the only

object which this apparatus answers; but the transport of

passengers, which is a secondary object, does in fact put a limit

to the velocity of that of the letters, which is the primary one.

3. A proposal for such a vessel, and description of its

construction, by the author of this volume, may be found in the

Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, Art. Diving Bell.

4. The mines of Bolanos in Mexico are supplied with timber from

the adjacent mountains by a slide similar to that of Alpnach. It

was constructed by M. Floresi, a gentleman well acquainted with