Sibley College Lectures. - 1887-88. By The Cornell University Non-Resident Lecturers In Mechanical Engineering

By C. J. H. Woodbury, Boston, Mass.

The great factories of the textile industries in this country are fashioned after methods peculiarly adapted to the purposes for which they are designed, particularly as regards the most convenient placing of machinery, the distribution of power, the relation of the several processes to each other in the natural sequence of manufacture, and the arrangement of windows securing the most favorable lighting. The floors and roofs embody the most economical distribution of material, and the walls furnish examples of well known forms of masonry originating with this class of buildings.

These features of construction have not been produced by a stroke of genius on the part of any one man. There has been no Michael Angelo, no Sir Christopher Wren, whose epitaph bids the reader to look around for a monument; but the whole has been a matter of slow, steady growth, advancing by hair's breadth; and, as the result of continual efforts to adapt means to ends, an inorganic evolution has been effected, resulting in the survival of the fittest, and literally pushing the weaker to the wall.

This advance in methods has, like all inventions, resulted in the impairment of invested capital. There are hundreds of mill buildings, the wonder of their day, now used for storage because they cannot be employed to sufficient advantage in manufacturing purposes to compete with the facilities furnished by mills of later design. Thus their owners have been compelled to erect new buildings, and, as far as the original purpose of manufacturing is concerned, to abandon their old mills.

In the case of a certain cotton mill built about thirty years ago, and used for the manufacture of colored goods of fancy weave, the owners added to the plant by constructing a one story mill, which proved to be peculiarly adapted to this kind of manufacture, by reason of added stability, better light, and increased facilities for transferring the stock in process of manufacture; and they soon learned not only that the old mill could not compete with the new one, but that they could not afford to run it at any price; the annual saving in the cost of gas, as measured by the identical meter used to measure the supply to the old mill, being six per cent. on the cost of the new mill.

In another instance, one of two cordage mills burned, and a new mill of one story construction was erected in its place. The advantage of manufacture therein was so great that the owners of the property changed the remaining old mill into a storehouse; and now, as they wish to increase their business, it is to be torn down as a cumberer of the ground, to make room for a building of similar construction to the new mill.

It is true that such instances pertain more particularly to industries and lines of manufacture where competition is close and conditions are exacting. Still they apply in a greater or less degree to nearly every industrial process in which a considerable portion of the expense of manufacture consists in the application of organized labor to machines of a high degree of perfection.

These changes have been solely due to the differences in the conditions imposed by improvement in the methods of manufacture. The early mills of this country were driven by water power, and situated where that could be developed in the easiest manner. They were therefore placed in the narrow valleys of rapid watercourses. The method of applying water power in that day being strictly limited to placing the overshot or breast wheel in the race leading from the canal to the river, the mill was necessarily placed on a narrow strip of land between these two bodies of water, with the race-way running under the mill.

To meet these conditions of location, which was limited to this strip of land, the mill must be narrow and short, and the requisite floor area must be obtained by adding to the number of stories. It was essential that the roof of such a mill should be strong and well braced in order to sustain the excessive stress brought to bear upon it. The old factory roof was a curious structure, with eaves springing out of the edge of hollow cornices, the roof rising sharply until about six feet above the attic floor, with an upright course of about three feet, filled with sashes reaching to a second roof, which, at a more moderate pitch than the first slope, trended to the ridge.

The attic was reduced to an approximately square room, by placing sheathing between the columns underneath the sashes, and ceiling underneath the collar beams above; thus forming a cock-loft above and concealed spaces at the sides which diminished the practically available floor space in the attic. This cock-loft and these concealed spaces became receptacles for rubbish and harbors for vermin, both of which were frequent causes of fire.

The floors of such a mill were similar in their arrangement to those of a dwelling. Joists connecting the beams supported the floor; and the under side was covered over by sheathing or lath and plaster, thus forming, as in the case of the roof, hollow spaces which were a source of danger. This method caused at the same time an extravagant distribution of material, by the prodigal use of lumber and the unnecessary thickness of such floors, and entailed an excessive amount of masonry in the walls.

Mills built after this manner were frequently in odd dimensions; and the machinery was necessarily placed in diversified arrangement, calling forth a similar degree of wasted skill as that used in making a Chinese puzzle conform to its given boundaries. Their area depended upon the topography of the site, and their height upon the owner's pocket book. There was in Massachusetts a mill with ten floors, built on land worth at that time ten cents or less per square foot, which has been torn down and a new mill rebuilt in its place, because, since the advent of modern mills, it has failed every owner by reason of the excessive expenditure necessary for the distribution of power, for supervision, and for the transfer of stock in process, in comparison with the mills of their competitors, built with greater ground area and less number of stories.