Our critic comes back to the charge by saying that " the Steel Corporation has bought up many steel plants in various parts of the country, and added them to its already enormous properties." Quite true. And for what purpose? Let us see what they do with these plants. How do they manage this part of the business? What is their plan of working? The conditions were these: Before the advent of the United States Steel Corporation, there were many isolated steel manufacturing plants, each being equipped for the making of a number of kinds of steel products - for instance, steel railroad rails, structural steel, merchant bar steel, steel boiler-plates, steel tank-plates, and so on. The equipment necessary for producing these different forms of steel was very expensive; and inasmuch as a considerable portion of this equipment for some particular kind of product would necessarily be idle on account of the fluctuations of trade, the expense burden was abnormally high on account of this idle equipment. How has this condition been handled by the Steel Corporation? This has been the plan: Suppose they have purchased five plants, each making the five classes of product indicated above, and working under the disadvantages of a variety of products. These plants are examined, and inventories made of their equipments. It is then decided which mill is best adapted for making each one of the five classes of products. Then there is a redistribution of the equipment of the plants, placing in the plant selected for it all that in the several plants is adapted to a certain product; removing all the machinery from this plant that is not adapted to the particular product to be turned out, to be distributed among the other plants according to the particular class of products for which each one is designed. Thus each plant is equipped to turn out the single class of product which is most appropriate for it, by drawing upon the other plants for such machinery as they have which may supplement its own in this line.
By this plan, each plant makes but one class of product. Having the best machinery from all the plants for this purpose, and concentrating its energies on a single class, it is enabled not only to turn out a better product, but to turn it out much more economically than before. As the workmen become more expert on their single line of product, they work more efficiently and consequently earn higher wages. All these conditions, producing an economical output, enable the manufacturers to reduce the selling price.
The conditions of economy brought about in the management of the manufacturing operations and in marketing the product, are very marked when a large number of plants operate under one general head. Again, with the immense amount of capital at the disposal of such a corporation, it is enabled to secure the services of the best experts, and the most valuable processes in existence.
There are many other advantages, not only to the corporation and its employees, but to the users of its products, and so to the general public, when a combination of capital is honestly made and honestly administered.
What has been said of the Steel Corporation as to favoring of employees, has been duplicated in various ways by different manufacturers all over the country. Factory sites have been beautified by landscape gardening, and trees and shrubbery have made the surroundings of working men and women pleasant and attractive. Land has been purchased, and workingmen's homes built and rented to them at fair rates. Factory dining rooms are provided; reading rooms, libraries, gymnasiums, clubs, and social organizations are inaugurated; emergency hospitals or "first aid" rooms are arranged, with all or nearly all these services free except that provided in dining rooms, which is furnished at actual cost. More recently, a firm in Connecticut announces that it will furnish free medical attendance to all its employees and their families.
Schools have been established for apprentices, wherein they receive such technical instruction as may be necessary to their success in the trade they are learning - and this, not only without expense to themselves or to their parents, but they are paid by the hour for time spent in their school work, the same as for their time in the shop.
To foster a practical interest in the work of the shops, many concerns have what is called the Suggestion System, whereby the employees may make written suggestions of any improvements which they desire as to shop methods and routine, the design and construction of the product, and many kindred subjects, the best suggestions made each month receiving prizes.
All of these matters emphasize the fact that the mutual interests of the capitalist who manufactures and sells, and of the employee by the efforts of whose hand and brain the products are being turned out, are each year being recognized and in a very large majority of cases are being acted upon in good faith.
In former times, machines were built one at a time or in very small lots. Parts were made and fitted to the particular machine to which they belonged; and while the same general form and dimensions were practically maintained, there was no attempt made to render the several parts so exact as to fit upon any other machine than the one for which they were intended. Systems of gauges had not been developed, and the planer was yet a comparatively new tool; much work was still done by hand, the hammer, the cold chisel, and the file being the chief reliance of a large majority of machinists. This was the state of the machine shop and its methods nearly up to the year 1800.
The use of milling cutters and the commencement of practically interchangeable manufacturing, came into machine shop practice at nearly the same time. It has been said that "but for the milling machine, there would have been no such thing as interchangeable manufacturing." It might be said with quite as much truth, that if the system of interchangeable manufacturing had not been conceived, there would have been little need for the milling machine. Each, to a great extent, depended very much upon the development of the other - and upon a third factor, the conception and development of the method of handling work (particularly small parts) in jigs and fixtures.