Sources Of The Advantages Arising From Machinery And Manufactures

1. There exists, perhaps, no single circumstance which

distinguishes our country more remarkably from all others, than

the vast extent and perfection to which we have carried the

contrivance of tools and machines for forming those conveniences

of which so large a quantity is consumed by almost every class of

the community. The amount of patient thought, of repeated

experiment, of happy exertion of genius, by which our<
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manufactures have been created and carried to their present

excellence, is scarcely to be imagined. If we look around the

rooms we inhabit, or through those storehouses of every

convenience, of every luxury that man can desire, which deck the

crowded streets of our larger cities, we shall find in the

history of each article, of every fabric, a series of failures

which have gradually led the way to excellence; and we shall

notice, in the art of making even the most insignificant of them,

processes calculated to excite our admiration by their

simplicity, or to rivet our attention by their unlooked-for


2. The accumulation of skill and science which has been

directed to diminish the difficulty of producing manufactured

goods, has not been beneficial to that country alone in which it

is concentrated; distant kingdoms have participated in its

advantages. The luxurious natives of the East,(1*) and the ruder

inhabitants of the African desert are alike indebted to our

looms. The produce of our factories has preceded even our most

enterprising travellers.(2*) The cotton of India is conveyed by

British ships round half our planet, to be woven by British skill

in the factories of Lancashire: it is again set in motion by

British capital; and, transported to the very plains whereon it

grew, is repurchased by the lords of the soil which gave it

birth, at a cheaper price than that at which their coarser

machinery enables them to manufacture it themselves.(3*)

3. The large proportion of the population of this country,

who are engaged in manufactures, appears from the following table

deduced from a statement in an Essay on the Distribution of

Wealth, by the Rev. R. Jones:

For every hundred persons employed in agriculture, there are:

Agriculturists Non-agriculturists

In Bengal 100 25

In Italy 100 31

In France 100 50

In England 100 200

The fact that the proportion of non-agricultural to

agricultural persons is continually increasing, appears both from

the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons upon

Manufacturers' Employment, July, 1830, and from the still later

evidence of the last census; from which document the annexed

table of the increase of population in our great manufacturing

towns, has been deduced.

Increase of population per cent

Names of places

1801-11 1811-21 1821-31 Total

Manchester 22 40 47 151

Glasgow 30 46 38 161

Liverpool(4*) 26 31 44 138

Nottingham 19 18 25 75

Birmingham 16 24 33 90

Great Britain 14.2 15.7 15.5 52.5

Thus, in three periods of ten years, during each of which the

general population of the country has increased about 15 per

cent, or about 52 per cent upon the whole period of thirty years,

the population of these towns has, on the average, increased 132

per cent. After this statement, there requires no further

argument to demonstrate the vast importance to the well-being of

this country, of making the interests of its manufacturers well

understood and attended to.

4. The advantages which are derived from machinery and

manufactures seem to arise principally from three sources: The

addition which they make to human power. The economy they produce

of human time. The conversion of substances apparently common and

worthless into valuable products.

5. Of additions to human power. With respect to the first of

these causes, the forces derived from wind, from water, and from

steam, present themselves to the mind of every one; these are, in

fact, additions to human power, and will be considered in a

future page: there are, however, other sources of its increase,

by which the animal force of the individual is itself made to act

with far greater than its unassisted power; and to these we shall

at present confine our observations.

The construction of palaces, of temples, and of tombs, seems

to have occupied the earliest attention of nations just entering

on the career of civilization; and the enormous blocks of stone

moved from their native repositories to minister to the grandeur

or piety of the builders, have remained to excite the

astonishment of their posterity, long after the purposes of many

of these records, as well as the names of their founders, have

been forgotten. The different degrees of force necessary to move

these ponderous masses, will have varied according to the

mechanical knowledge of the people employed in their transport;

and that the extent of power required for this purpose is widely

different under different circumstances, will appear from the

following experiment, which is related by M. Rondelet, Sur L'Art

de Batir. A block of squared stone was taken for the subject of


1. Weight of stone 1080 lbs

2. In order to drag this stone along the floor of the quarry,

roughly chiselled, it required a force equal to 758 lbs

3. The same stone dragged over a floor of planks required 652 lbs

4. The same stone placed on a platform of wood, and dragged over

a floor of planks, required 606 lbs

5. After soaping the two surfaces of wood which slid over each

other, it required 182 lbs

6. The same stone was now placed upon rollers of three inches

diameter, when it required to put it in motion along the floor of

the quarry 34 lbs

7. To drag it by these rollers over a wooden floor 28 lbs

8. When the stone was mounted on a wooden platform, and the same

rollers placed between that and a plank floor, it required 22 lbs

From this experiment it results, that the force necessary to

move a stone along

Part of its weight

The roughly chiselled floor of its quarry is nearly 2/3

Along a wooden floor 3/5

By wood upon wood 5/9

If the wooden surfaces are soaped 1/6

With rollers on the floor of the quarry 1/32

On rollers on wood 1/40

On rollers between wood 1/50

At each increase of knowledge, as well as on the contrivance

of every new tool, human labour becomes abridged. The man who

contrived rollers, invented a tool by which his power was

quintupled. The workman who first suggested the employment of

soap or grease, was immediately enabled to move, without exerting

a greater effort, more than three times the weight he could


6. The economy of human time is the next advantage of

machinery in manufactures. So extensive and important is this

effect, that we might, if we were inclined to generalize, embrace

almost all the advantages under this single head: but the

elucidation of principles of less extent will contribute more

readily to a knowledge of the subject; and, as numerous examples

will be presented to the reader in the ensuing pages, we shall

restrict our illustrations upon this point.

As an example of the economy of time, the use of gunpowder in

blasting rocks may be noticed. Several pounds of powder may be

purchased for a sum acquired by a few days' labour: yet when this

is employed for the purpose alluded to, effects are frequently

produced which could not, even with the best tools, be

accomplished by other means in less than many months.

The dimensions of one of the blocks of limestone extracted

from the quarries worked for the formation of the breakwater at

Plymouth were 26 1/2 ft long, 13 ft wide, and 16 ft deep. This

mass, containing above 4,800 cubic feet, and weighing about 400

tons, was blasted three times. Two charges of 50 lbs each were

successively exploded in a hole 13 feet deep, the bore being 3

inches at top and 2 1/2 inches at bottom: 100 lbs of powder were

afterwards exploded in the rent formed by those operations. Each

pound of gunpowder separated from the rock two tons of matter, or

nearly 4,500 times its own weight. The expense of the powder was

L 6, or nearly 7 1/2d. per lb: the boring occupied two men during

a day and a half, and cost about 9s.; and the value of the

produce was, at that time, about L 45.

7. The simple contrivance of tin tubes for speaking through,

communicating between different apartments, by which the

directions of the superintendent are instantly conveyed to the

remotest parts of an establishment, produces a considerable

economy of time. It is employed in the shops and manufactories in

London, and might with advantage be used in domestic

establishments, particularly in large houses, in conveying orders

from the nursery to the kitchen, or from the house to the stable.

Its convenience arises not merely from saving the servant or

workman useless journeys to receive directions, but from

relieving the master himself from that indisposition to give

trouble, which frequently induces him to forego a trifling want,

when he knows that his attendant must mount several flights of

stairs to ascertain his wishes, and, after descending, must mount

again to supply them. The distance to which such a mode of

communication can be extended, does not appear to have been

ascertained, and would be an interesting subject for enquiry.

Admitting it to be possible between London and Liverpool, about

seventeen minutes would elapse before the words spoken at one end

would reach the other extremity of the pipe.

8. The art of using the diamond for cutting glass has

undergone, within a few years, a very important improvement. A

glazier's apprentice, when using a diamond set in a conical

ferrule, as was always the practice about twenty years since,

found great difficulty in acquiring the art of using it with

certainty; and, at the end of a seven years' apprenticeship, many

were found but indifferently skilled in its employment. This

arose from the difficulty of finding the precise angle at which

the diamond cuts, and of guiding it along the glass at the proper

inclination when that angle is found. Almost the whole of the

time consumed and of the glass destroyed in acquiring the art of

cutting glass, may now be saved by the use of an improved tool.

The gem is set in a small piece of squared brass with its edges

nearly parallel to one side of the square. A person skilled in

its use now files away the brass on one side until, by trial, he

finds that the diamond will make a clean cut, when guided by

keeping this edge pressed against a ruler. The diamond and its

mounting are now attached to a stick like a pencil, by means of a

swivel allowing a small angular motion. Thus, even the beginner

at once applies the cutting edge at the proper angle, by pressing

the side of the brass against a ruler; and even though the part

he holds in his hand should deviate a little from the required

angle, it communicates no irregularity to the position of the

diamond, which rarely fails to do its office when thus employed.

The relative hardness of the diamond, in different

directions, is a singular fact. An experienced workman, on whose

judgement I can rely, informed me that he has seen a diamond

ground with diamond powder on a cast-iron mill for three hours

without its being at all worn, but that, on changing its

direction with respect to the grinding surface, the same edge was

ground away.

9. Employment of materials of little value. The skins used by

the goldbeater are produced from the offal of animals. The hoofs

of horses and cattle, and other horny refuse, are employed in the

production of the prussiate of potash, that beautiful, yellow,

crystallized salt, which is exhibited in the shops of some of our

chemists. The worn-out saucepans and tinware of our kitchens,

when beyond the reach of the tinker's art, are not utterly

worthless. We sometimes meet carts loaded with old tin kettles

and worn-out iron coal-skuttles traversing our streets. These

have not yet completed their useful course; the less corroded

parts are cut into strips, punched with small holes, and

varnished with a coarse black varnish for the use of the

trunk-maker, who protects the edges and angles of his boxes with

them; the remainder are conveyed to the manufacturing chemists in

the outskirts of the town, who employ them in combination with

pyroligneous acid, in making a black die for the use of calico


10. Of tools. The difference between a tool and a machine is

not capable of very precise distinction; nor is it necessary, in

a popular explanation of those terms, to limit very strictly

their acceptation. A tool is usually more simple than a machine;

it is generally used with the hand, whilst a machine is

frequently moved by animal or steam power. The simpler machines

are often merely one or more tools placed in a frame, and acted

on by a moving power. In pointing out the advantages of tools, we

shall commence with some of the simplest.

11. To arrange twenty thousand needles thrown promiscuously

into a box, mixed and entangled in every possible direction, in

such a form that they shall be all parallel to each other, would,

at first sight, appear a most tedious occupation; in fact, if

each needle were to be separated individually, many hours must be

consumed in the process. Yet this is an operation which must be

performed many times in the manufacture of needles; and it is

accomplished in a few minutes by a very simple tool; nothing more

being requisite than a small flat tray of sheet iron, slightly

concave at the bottom. In this the needles are placed, and shaken

in a peculiar manner, by throwing them up a very little, and

giving at the same time a slight longitudinal motion to the tray.

The shape of the needles assists their arrangement; for if two

needles cross each other (unless, which is exceedingly

improbable, they happen to be precisely balanced), they will,

when they fall on the bottom of the tray, tend to place

themselves side by side, and the hollow form of the tray assists

this disposition. As they have no projection in any part to

impede this tendency, or to entangle each other, they are, by

continually shaking, arranged lengthwise, in three or four

minutes. The direction of the shake is now changed, the needles

are but little thrown up, but the tray is shaken endways; the

result of which is, that in a minute or two the needles which

were previously arranged endways become heaped up in a wall, with

their ends against the extremity of the tray. They are then

removed, by hundreds at a time, with a broad iron spatula, on

which they are retained by the forefinger of the left hand. As

this parallel arrangement of the needles must be repeated many

times, if a cheap and expeditious method had not been devised,

the expense of the manufacture would have been considerably


12. Another process in the art of making needles furnishes an

example of one of the simplest contrivances which can come under

the denomination of a tool. After the needles have been arranged

in the manner just described, it is necessary to separate them

into two parcels, in order that their points may be all in one

direction. This is usually done by women and children. The

needles are placed sideways in a heap, on a table, in front of

each operator, just as they are arranged by the process above

described. From five to ten are rolled towards this person with

the forefinger of the left hand; this separates them a very small

space from each other, and each in its turn is pushed lengthwise

to the right or to the left, according to the direction of the

point. This is the usual process, and in it every needle passes

individually under the finger of the operator. A small alteration

expedites the process considerably: the child puts on the

forefinger of its right hand a small cloth cap or fingerstall,

and rolling out of the heap from six to twelve needles, he keeps

them down by the forefinger of the left hand, whilst he presses

the forefinger of the right hand gently against their ends: those

which have the points towards the right hand stick into the

fingerstall; and the child, removing the finger of the left hand,

slightly raises the needles sticking into the cloth, and then

pushes them towards the left side. Those needles which had their

eyes on the right hand do not stick into the finger cover, and

are pushed to the heap on the right side before the repetition of

this process. By means of this simple contrivance each movement

of the finger, from one side to the other, carries five or six

needles to their proper heap; whereas, in the former method,

frequently only one was moved, and rarely more than two or three

were transported at one movement to their place.

13. Various operations occur in the arts in which the

assistance of an additional hand would be a great convenience to

the workman, and in these cases tools or machines of the simplest

structure come to our aid: vices of different forms, in which the

material to be wrought is firmly grasped by screws, are of this

kind, and are used in almost every workshop; but a more striking

example may be found in the trade of the nail-maker.

Some kinds of nails, such as those used for defending the

soles of coarse shoes, called hobnails, require a particular form

of the head, which is made by the stroke of a die. The workman

holds one end of the rod of iron out of which he forms the nails

in his left hand; with his right hand he hammers the red-hot end

of it into a point, and cutting the proper length almost off,

bends it nearly at a right angle. He puts this into a hole in a

small stake-iron immediately under a hammer which is connected

with a treadle, and has a die sunk in its surface corresponding

to the intended form of the head; and having given one part of

the form to the head with the small hammer in his hand, he moves

the treadle with his foot, disengages the other hammer, and

completes the figure of the head; the returning stroke produced

by the movement of the treadle striking the finished nail out of

the hole in which it was retained. Without this substitution of

his foot for another hand, the workman would, probably, be

obliged to heat the nails twice over.

14. Another, though fortunately a less general substitution

of tools for human hands, is used to assist the labour of those

who are deprived by nature, or by accident, of some of their

limbs. Those who have had an opportunity of examining the

beautiful contrivances for the manufacture of shoes by machinery,

which we owe to the fertile invention of Mr Brunel, must have

noticed many instances in which the workmen were enabled to

execute their task with precision, although labouring under the

disadvantages of the loss of an arm or leg. A similar instance

occurs at Liverpool, in the Institution for the Blind, where a

machine is used by those afflicted with blindness, for weaving

sash-lines; it is said to have been the invention of a person

suffering under that calamity. Other examples might be mentioned

of contrivances for the use, the amusement, or the instruction of

the wealthier classes, who labour under the same natural

disadvantages. These triumphs of skill and ingenuity deserve a

double portion of our admiration when applied to mitigate the

severity of natural or accidental misfortune; when they supply

the rich with occupation and knowledge; when they relieve the

poor from the additional evils of poverty and want.

15. Division of the objects of machinery. There exists a

natural, although, in point of number, a very unequal division

amongst machines: they may be classed as; first, those which are

employed to produce power, and as, secondly, those which are

intended merely to transmit force and execute work. The first of

these divisions is of great importance, and is very limited in

the variety of its species, although some of those species

consist of numerous individuals.

Of that class of mechanical agents by which motion is

transmitted--the lever, the pulley, the wedge, and many others--

it has been demonstrated, that no power is gained by their use,

however combined. Whatever force is applied at one point can only

be exerted at some other, diminished by friction and other

incidental causes; and it has been further proved, that whatever

is gained in the rapidity of execution is compensated by the

necessity of exerting additional force. These two principles,

long since placed beyond the reach of doubt, cannot be too

constantly borne in mind. But in limiting our attempts to things

which are possible, we are still, as we hope to shew, possessed

of a field of inexhaustible research, and of advantages derived

from mechanical skill, which have but just begun to exercise

their influence on our arts, and may be pursued without limit

contributing to the improvement, the wealth, and the happiness of

our race.

16. Of those machines by which we produce power, it may be

observed, that although they are to us immense acquisitions, yet

in regard to two of the sources of this power--the force of wind

and of water--we merely make use of bodies in a state of motion

by nature; we change the directions of their movement in order to

render them subservient to our purposes, but we neither add to

nor diminish the quantity of motion in existence. When we expose

the sails of a windmill obliquely to the gale, we check the

velocity of a small portion of the atmosphere, and convert its

own rectilinear motion into one of rotation in the sails; we thus

change the direction of force, but we create no power. The same

may be observed with regard to the sails of a vessel; the

quantity of motion given by them is precisely the same as that

which is destroyed in the atmosphere. If we avail ourselves of a

descending stream to turn a water-wheel, we are appropriating a

power which nature may appear, at first sight, to be uselessly

and irrecoverably wasting, but which, upon due examination, we

shall find she is ever regaining by other processes. The fluid

which is falling from a higher to a lower level, carries with it

the velocity due to its revolution with the earth at a greater

distance from its centre. It will therefore accelerate, although

to an almost infinitesimal extent, the earth's daily rotation.

The sum of all these increments of velocity, arising from the

descent of all the falling waters on the earth's surface, would

in time become perceptible, did not nature, by the process of

evaporation, convey the waters back to their sources; and thus

again, by removing matter to a greater distance from the centre,

destroy the velocity generated by its previous approach.

17. The force of vapour is another fertile source of moving

power; but even in this case it cannot be maintained that power

is created. Water is converted into elastic vapour by the

combustion of fuel. The chemical changes which thus take place

are constantly increasing the atmosphere by large quantities of

carbonic acid and other gases noxious to animal life. The means

by which nature decomposes these elements, or reconverts them

into a solid form, are not sufficiently known: but if the end

could be accomplished by mechanical force, it is almost certain

that the power necessary to produce it would at least equal that

which was generated by the original combustion. Man, therefore,

does not create power; but, availing himself of his knowledge of

nature's mysteries, he applies his talents to diverting a small

and limited portion of her energies to his own wants: and,

whether he employs the regulated action of steam, or the more

rapid and tremendous effects of gunpowder, he is only producing

on a small scale compositions and decompositions which nature is

incessantly at work in reversing, for the restoration of that

equilibrium which we cannot doubt is constantly maintained

throughout even the remotest limits of our system. The operations

of man participate in the character of their author; they are

diminutive, but energetic during the short period of their

existence: whilst those of nature, acting over vast spaces, and

unlimited by time, are ever pursuing their silent and resistless


18. In stating the broad principle, that all combinations of

mechanical art can only augment the force communicated to the

machine at the expense of the time employed in producing the

effect, it might, perhaps, be imagined, that the assistance

derived from such contrivances is small. This is, however, by no

means the case: since the almost unlimited variety they afford,

enables us to exert to the greatest advantage whatever force we

employ. There is, it is true, a limit beyond which it is

impossible to reduce the power necessary to produce any given

effect, but it very seldom happens that the methods first

employed at all approach that limit. In dividing the knotted root

of a tree for fuel, how very different will be the time consumed,

according to the nature of the tool made use of! The hatchet, or

the adze, will divide it into small parts, but will consume a

large portion of the workman's time. The saw will answer the same

purpose more quickly and more effectually. This, in its turn, is

superseded by the wedge, which rends it in a still shorter time.

If the circumstances are favourable, and the workman skilful, the

time and expense may be still further reduced by the use of a

small quantity of gunpowder exploded in holes judiciously placed

in the block.

19. When a mass of matter is to be removed a certain force

must be expended; and upon the proper economy of this force the

price of transport will depend. A country must, however, have

reached a high degree of civilization before it will have

approached the limit of this economy. The cotton of Java is

conveyed in junks to the coast of China; but from the seed not

being previously separated, three-quarters of the weight thus

carried is not cotton. This might, perhaps, be justified in Java

by the want of machinery to separate the seed, or by the relative

cost of the operation in the two countries. But the cotton

itself, as packed by the Chinese, occupies three times the bulk

of an equal quantity shipped by Europeans for their own markets.

Thus the freight of a given quantity of cotton costs the Chinese

nearly twelve times the price to which, by a proper attention to

mechanical methods, it might be reduced. *


1. 'The Bandana handkerchiefs manufactured at Glasgow have long

superseded the genuine ones, and are now committed in large

quantities both by the natives and Chines.' Crawford's Indian

Archipelago, vol. iii, p. 505.

2. 'Captain Clapperton, when on a visit at the court of the

Sultan Bello, states, that provisionswere regularly sent me from

the sultan's table on pewter dishes with the London stamp; and I

even had a piece of meat served up on a white wash-hand basin of

English manufacture.' Clapperton's Journey, p. 88.

3. At Calicut, in the East Indies (whence the cotton cloth caled

calico derivesits name), the price of labour is one-seventh of

that in England, yet the market is supplied from British looms.

4. Liverpool, though not itself a manufacturing town, has been

placed in this list, from its connection with Manchester, of

which it is the port.

5. So sensible are the effects of grease in diminishing friction,

that the drivers of sledges in Amsterdam, on which heavy goodsare

transported, cary in their hand a rope soaked in tallow, which

they thrown down from time to time before the sledge, in order

that, by passing over the rope, it may become greased.