This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
Another grave defect in the estimates alluded to is that all the profit is assumed to be paid to the reeler. This can evidently only be the case when each reeler runs her own reel, owns and cares for her own cocoons, sells her own silk, and furnishes her own capital. Now, even supposing that persons so fortunately placed as to be able to fulfill all these conditions should wish to engage in silk reeling, which is in the highest degree improbable, there exists an almost insuperable obstacle to the production of good silk except by an establishment large enough to use the cocoons of many producers.
Nearly every silk crop as raised by the individual growers contains three or four grades of cocoons, and to produce good and uniform silk, these must be separated and each sort reeled by itself, producing several grades of silk.
Without going into detail, it is enough to say that this is not practical for those who attempt to reel their own cocoons, and that for this reason, and many others, hand reels and single basins have been nearly abandoned even in Italy; the women finding so much difficulty that they prefer to sell their cocoons and work in large establishments where the work is done to more advantage.
It is evident, therefore, that, from the estimates made, there should be a considerable deduction for poor workmanship, and another for use of capital, organization, selling expenses, superintendence, insurance, repairs, deterioration, etc. In fact, I do not see in what way the reeling of silk in the United States, by the ordinary method, could be made to bear a much higher charge for labor than that borne by European filatures, which barely pay with labor at one franc per diem of thirteen hours.
To be able, then, to reel silk by the ordinary reels, it would first be necessary to find a sufficiency of highly skilled operatives willing to labor in a factory thirteen hours per day for twenty cents each. I sincerely believe and hope that this can never be done. I have enlarged somewhat upon this difficulty for the purpose of showing that the growers, or at any rate individual growers of cocoons, should not attempt to do the reeling, but by no means with an idea of discouraging the raising of silk worms, which is and should be an entirely separate matter. To use a rough comparison, I should esteem it as wasteful, even if possible, for each grower to attempt to reel his own cocoons as for each farmer to grind his own wheat upon his farm and endeavor to sell the flour.
It is, therefore, clear that the object of the sericulturist should be to raise and market as good a crop of cocoons as possible to the best advantage, and with the least possible expense and risk.
After what has been said, it may be very properly asked, if, seeing that the hopes which have been entertained of reeling by the usual method have proved fallacious, and as no radically new system of raising silk worms is under consideration, it is not very possible that all hopes of profit from rearing the worm may prove fallacious also.
In fact, not only has the question been asked, but an argument of great apparent strength and much plausibility has been formulated and extensively circulated, tending to show that the difficulty of cheap labor, which it has been shown stood in the way of reeling without improved machinery, will make the raising of cocoons also a hopelessly unprofitable task.
Briefly summarized, this argument may be stated as follows:
First. To raise silk worms to advantage much time and attention are required.
Second. Time and attention are more costly in the United States than in other countries.
Third. Consequently, cocoons can be more cheaply raised in other countries than in the United States.
Fourth. The United States possess no special advantages as a market for cocoons, and therefore they must be sold as cheaply as elsewhere, and the labor costing more, there is less profit.
Fifth. The profits made by raisers in Europe are not very great, and as they would be less in the United States, it is not worth while to try to raise cocoons in that country.
It must be acknowledged that upon the surface this all appears to be very sound and almost unanswerable, but I hope to be able to show that there is in reality not the slightest real foundation for the conclusion to which this argument points.
Taking the points cited in order, I would say, as regards the first and second, that although labor and time are required to raise cocoons, I am convinced that the labor and time of the kind necessary will not be found more expensive in our country than in Europe, for the following reasons:
The work is a home industry. It can be carried on without severe manual labor except for a few days, at the end of the season, when large crops are raised.
Now, nothing is better known than that there exists in many of our States an enormous number of wives and daughters of country people of a class entirely different from any to be found elsewhere, except, perhaps, to a limited extent, in England. I refer to the "well-to-do" but not wealthy agricultural and manufacturing classes in small villages.
One or two generations ago the farmers' and mechanics' wives and daughters found plenty of work in spinning, weaving, dyeing, cutting, and making the linen and clothes of the family. This has entirely ceased as a domestic industry with the exception of the "sewing" of the women's clothes and men's underwear. As a consequence, the women of the family are condemned to idleness, or to the drudgery of the whole household work.
Upon a proper occasion I think that much might be said of the evils and dangers which are likely within a short time to arise from the fact that perhaps a large majority of American women find themselves, because of the present organization of society and industry, almost unable to contribute to the family income except by going away from home, or in doing the most menial and severe labor as household workers from one end of the year to the other. I shall at present, however, only point out that in hundreds of thousands of homes in the country an opportunity of gaining a very moderate sum in addition to the present income by the expenditure of some weeks of care and light work would be hailed as a Godsend, and that, too, in families where the feeling of self-respect and the desire to keep the family together are far too strong to permit the women to go away from home in any way to earn money.