Labor should not be organized for selfish ends, but for its own good, so as to secure steady and permanent employment, rather than prevent it by impracticable schemes and unwise methods, which will cripple manufacturers and all kinds of industry. The men should organize under the general laws of the State, so that their leaders will be responsible to the laws and can be indicted, tried, and punished in case they misappropriate funds or commit any breach of trust; and such laws should be amended if necessary, so that wise, responsible leaders of the organizations can contract to furnish labor for a certain time at a fixed price, when manufacturers can make calculations ahead as to the cost of labor the same as for the cost of material, and have such confidence that they will use all their energies to do a larger amount of business and benefit the workingman as well as themselves by furnishing steady employment. Such a plan as is here outlined can readily be carried into effect by selecting better men as leaders. It is well known how well the organization known as the locomotive brotherhood is conducted, and it should be an example to others.
It has had its day of dissensions, when the best counsels did not prevail, which shows that any organization of the kind, no matter how well conducted, may be diverted by its leaders into improper channels.
When organized under the laws of the State and under by-laws designed to secure steady employment, rather than any artificial condition of things in regard to pay hours, and continuance of labor, the true interests of the workman will be advanced. It may be that some one of you will develop a talent in the direction of organization and be the means of aiding in the solution of this great problem. Please think of the matter seriously, watch the law of evolution while you are advancing your professional knowledge, and if the opportunity offers, do all you can to aid in a cause so important and beneficent.
One writer has criticised the technical schools because they do not teach mechanical intuition. The schools have enough to do in the time available if they teach principles and sufficient practice to enable the principles to be understood. The aptitude to design, which must be what is meant by mechanical intuition, requires very considerable practical experience, which you will readily learn if you do not keep yourself above it. If you have used your leisure hours to study why a certain piece of mechanism was made in a certain way rather than in another; if you have wondered why one part is thick in one place rather than in another, apparently in defiance of all rules of the strength of material; if you have endeavored to ascertain why a particular device is used rather than another more evident one; if you have thought and studied why a boss is thrown in here and there in designs to receive bolts or to lengthen a journal, and if you have in your mind, by repeated observation, a fair idea of how work is designed by other people, the so-called mechanical intuition will be learned and found to be the combination of common sense and good practice.
You will observe that some details have been copied for years and years, although thoughtful men would say they are not the best, simply because they are adapted to a large amount of work already done. This is particularly true of the rolling stock on railroads. The cost of a change in starting in a new country might be warranted, but it practically cannot be done when the parts must interchange with so much work done in other parts of the country. You will find in other cases that the direct strain to which a piece of mechanism is subjected is only one of the strains which occur in practice. A piece of metal may have been thickened where it customarily broke, and you may possibly surmise that certain jars took place that caused such breakages, or that particular point was where the abuse of the attendant was customarily applied.
Wherever you go you will find matters of this kind affecting designs staring you in the face, and you will soon see why a man who has learned his trade in the shop, and from there worked into the drawing room with much less technical information than you have, can get along as well as he does. Reserve your strength, however. Your time will come. Whenever there is a new departure to be taken, and matters to be worked out from the solid which require close computation of strains or the application of any principles, your education will put you far ahead, and if you have, during the period of what may be called your post-graduate course, which occurs during your early introduction into practical life, been careful to keep your eyes and ears open so as to learn all that a man in practical life has done, you will soon stand far ahead.
Reference was made to the use of leisure hours. Leisure hours can be spent in various ways. For instance, in studying the composition and resolution of forces and the laws of elasticity in a billiard room, the poetry of motion, etc., in a ball room, and the chemical properties of various malt and vinous extracts in another room; but the philosophical reason why certain engineering work is done in the way it is, and the proper way in which new work shall be done of a similar character and original work of any kind carried on, can only be learned by cultivating your powers of observation and ruminating on the facts collected in the privacy of one's own room, away from the allurements provided for those who have nothing to do. No one would recommend you to so separate yourself from the world as to sacrifice health and strength, or to become a recluse, even if you did learn all about a certain thing.
Remember, however, that the men who have accomplished most in this world worked the longest hours, and any one with a regular occupation must utilize his leisure hours to obtain prestige. The difference between one man and another of the same natural ability lies entirely in the amount of his information and the facility with which he can use it. Life is short, and you must realize that now is your opportunity. If any diversion in the way of pleasure or even certain kinds of congenial work is offered, consider it in connection with the question, "Will this be conducive to my higher aim?" This implies that you have a higher aim; and if you have it, and weigh everything in this way, you will find that every moment of exertion adds something to your storehouse of information and brings you nearer to the accomplishment of that higher aim.
In closing, we thank the ladies and gentlemen present for their close attention to details of special interest only to those engaged in technical study or practice.
We congratulate you, young gentlemen of the class of '87, for the success you have thus far obtained, and trust that you will persevere in well doing and win greater success in the future. We need hardly state that all that has been said was in a spirit of kindness, and we feel assured that much of it has been seconded by your parents, to whom no less than to all parents here present off or on the stage, the speaker not excepted, a serious, thoughtful problem has been, still is, and will continue to be to many, "What shall we do with our boys." - Stevens Indicator.
An address to the graduating class, Stevens Institute, Hoboken, N.J., 1887.