Millions of dollars are annually spent in building new factories. Other millions are spent in equipping them with the best machinery that trained and experienced men have been able to devise. Still more millions of money are annually paid to the officials who manage and the employees who man these enormous manufacturing plants.
Why could not these expert employees labor in their own homes or their individual shops, and produce the manufactured goods without all these enormous expenses? What are the necessities which impel men to spend these vast sums of money in erecting, equipping, and operating these immense plants?
Casually considering the question, the factory or manufacturing plant does not seem to be a real necessity. A large force of employees working under a single management does not seem to be the most economical method of producing the desired goods. Certainly every man is free to choose his own particular line of work; and there are many persons who, seeing a large force of employees giving their entire life work to the enrichment of successful manufacturers, while the employees themselves work long hours at hard and laborious tasks and fare so poorly that they are seldom enabled to save any considerable portion of their wages, not infrequently ending an industrious life in poverty and want, are led to believe that the factory is not a necessity or even a benefit to mankind, but rather a means for reducing the individual worker to a condition of grinding servitude, voluntary perhaps, but often the result of dire necessity.
These people, considering all the hardships in the life of factory employees, are likely to hold and often to express the opinion that the highest welfare of the human race really demands a return to the simpler life of early days, when a much larger proportion of the people lived upon farms, producing their own provisions, raising the flax and the wool wherewith they clothed themselves, quite independently of the wealthy classes, whether bankers, capitalists, or manufacturers, the factory as we know it to-day having hardly begun its marvelous era of existence.
Let us consider for a moment how all this has come about. In the earlier years of the independence of this country, the chief dependence was upon the results of agricultural work. In due time the development of the resources of the country has placed manufacturers at the front, so that in very recent years the value of manufactured products has become nearly double that of agricultural.
These results, like many others of a less notable character, commenced from very small beginnings; and it has been by inborn mechanical ability, remarkable ingenuity, patient development, and tireless energy, that mechanical undertakings have been developed from meager initial facilities, until, in the vast manufacturing enterprises of the present day, the American mechanic in nearly all lines leads the world in originality and practical achievement.
When the early setders of New England labored under the restrictive and harassing laws of the Mother Country, and under their administration were goaded and exasperated beyond endurance in many ways, not the least of which was that of being obliged to purchase many manufactured articles from England at extortionate prices - or, if purchased from other countries, still paying taxes to England for the privilege - they rebelled. Determining to buy no more foreign goods, they set out, at first in a most clumsy and primitive fashion, to make for themselves such articles as were really necessaries, and, in noble self-denial, to live without those which they could not make for themselves. They doubtless little realized, however, that they were thereby laying the foundations of the greatest manufacturing country in the world. By the principles thus inaugurated, they instituted the first industrial boycott in the history of the country - the one that has had more important and far-reaching influences than anything of the kind before or since.
While the departure of the Pilgrims for this country, and the making of their homes on the "stern and rock-bound coast" of New England, were for the purpose of seeking religious freedom, it is also true that freedom soon meant very much more than this to them; and with a larger conception of their opportunities and possibilities, some of which were in reality forced upon them by adverse circumstances, there came to them the inspiration of industrial as well as religious freedom. The world has seen and has given them due credit for the determined and heroic manner in which they went about their self-appointed task; and they have amply demonstrated to posterity their appreciation of and grasp upon the possibilities and conditions, and the breadth and nobility of character which they exhibited in working out the many perplexing problems that confronted them.
American manufacturing came into being with these small beginnings and crude efforts to fashion those common objects of household necessity and daily use, which, although crude and clumsy, yet answered the pur pose until supplanted later by those of more improved form and workmanship. These primitive successes led to greater endeavors, and developed into still broader usefulness, when the time came that necessities had been provided for and luxuries were now demanded by the higher plane of living to which the people had in due time advanced.
Thus the crude beginnings and rude surroundings among which the early American mechanic performed his work, were in his own house. Soon he outgrew these primitive facilities, and built small shops, frequently in the garden or back yard of his home. These gradually enlarged. The development of the business demanded increased facilities, and buildings were erected quite independent of the home surroundings, and two or more men were associated as manufacturers. These plants developed and enlarged, and in due course of time became the machine shops and the factories, which have since multiplied many hundreds of times, not only in number and in value, but in influence and importance, until to-day our country stands the foremost manufacturing nation of the world. This is true, not only as to the volume and value of her manufactured productions, but also as to their great range and diversity of kind and usefulness. One by one the American mechanic has taken up the various classes of work formerly monopolized by this country or that, failing perhaps at first, but always progressing and developing, until, by native ingenuity and unflagging energy, all obstacles have been overcome, all difficulties put aside, new industries have come into being, and other "victories" of peace "no less than those of war" have been added to the laurels of the American mechanic and of his ever-readv and ever-confident partner, the American manufacturer and capitalist. It is to this combination, each confident of and faithful to the abilities and honor of the other, and each acting his part in his own sphere of usefulness, that the immense success of American manufacturing is due.
The factories of to-day are the logical results of a natural growth and development of the various branches of business for which they were originally built and organized. As the buildings increased in numbers and dimensions, the methods of construction, the equipment, and the systems by which they were managed, developed methods of greater economy and efficiency.