This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Apprentice (Fr. apprendre, to learn), a person bound to service for a term of years, and receiving in return for such service instruction in his master's business. Apprenticeship had its origin in the system of associated trades which prevailed in almost all parts of Europe in the middle ages. Those only who were free of the fraternity of a trade were allowed to exercise it; and the usual, if not the indispensable, mode of acquiring this freedom was through an apprenticeship to a member of the body, for a time and under regulations varying in different towns and in different trades in the same town. In some instances the rules designed to limit the numbers of the fraternity were so strict as to prohibit the master from taking any apprentice but his own son. In France, the apprentice, after having served in that capacity from three to eight or ten years, served as a journeyman, called the compagnon of his master, a number of years more, after which he was entitled to admission as a master into the communaute or corps de marchands, if the chef-d'œuvre which he was required to deliver to the jurande, wardens of the company, showed him to be a proficient in his art.
Sons of merchants living with their fathers until they were 17 years old were entitled to the privileges of those who had served their apprenticeship. These companies were abolished at the revolution, but the contract of apprenticeship, although no longer imperative, is still frequently entered into in France, and there are statutes regulating the rights and duties of the parties to it. In Germany, where the system exists to the present day, in a more or less modified and legally limited form, the term of apprenticeship, Lehrjahre, is generally about seven years, but sometimes less. The apprentice, after serving for the prescribed term, becomes a Gesell, like the French com-pagnon, and is entitled to receive from the guild a general letter of recommendation, armed with which he commences his travels. Being recognized and employed by his brethren of the same craft, he works his way from town to town, and on returning with certificates of good conduct during his Wanderjahre is entitled to become a master.
In Italy the contract of apprenticeship resembled that in use in England. In Scotland and Ireland the regulations regarding it were never rigorous, and those existing in the latter country were early superseded by English laws designed to encourage immigration. - In the 12th century guilds were formed in England, and shortly afterward, without doubt, apprenticeships came into vogue, although there is no notice of them in the statutes until the year 1388. The London apprentices, many of whom were of high birth or had wealthy masters, formed an important body and figure in history, particularly during the time of the civil wars. The term of apprenticeship was fixed at seven years, which had been the ordinary period of service previously, by a statute passed in the reign of Elizabeth. The institution became so widespread that acts designed to limit the number of apprentices were passed, and the courts showed no favor to the laws which recognized and supported the relation, but restricted their operation to trades existing at the time of their passage; a doctrine which, while giving rise to some absurd anomalies, exempted most of the large manufacturing towns from the operation of the act of Elizabeth. In 1813 numerous petitions for the repeal of this statute were presented, and shortly afterward apprenticeship, as a necessary means of access to a trade, was abolished.
The English law on the subject has been revised and settled in the master and servant act of 1867 (30 and 31 Victoria, eh. 141); and in almost all our states the contract of apprenticeship is provided for by express statutes, most of them, at least in the older states, being of an early date. The statutory law of New York had been till 1871 very little changed since the original act of 1801. - The contract of apprenticeship is made between the master on one side and the infant and usually his parent or guardian on the other. It is commonly in writing and under seal, and is to be regarded like any other contract of that sort. It has been said that at common law the infant is bound by an engagement of this sort, because it is an agreement that certainly must be for his benefit. But it is probable that this is not the rule, and that the infant is not bound by his contract of apprenticeship more than he is by any other of his contracts. The statutory law may however declare that he shall be bound in such a case, and it usually does. It has also been held in the United States, though otherwise in England, that at common law the parent or guardian may bind the minor without his joining in or assenting to the articles.
But the statutes of almost all our states expressly require the infant's assent. The long existing statute of New York on the subject may be referred to as fairly illustrating the American law on the subject. By that statute, every male infant and every unmarried female under the age of 18 years may with the consent of the proper parties bind himself or herself in writing to serve as clerk, apprentice, or servant in any trade, profession, or employment, if a male till 21 years of age, and if a female till 18 years of age, or for any shorter term; and such engagement is as binding on the infant as if he or she were of full age. The engagement, however, must be with the consent of the father; and by a statute of 1862, if the mother be living, it is not valid without her written consent also. But if the father be dead, or incapable of giving his assent, or have neglected his family, the consent must be given by the mother; or if she be dead, or incapable, or refuse, then by the legally appointed guardian; or if there be none, or he be incapable, then by the overseers of the poor or any two justices of the peace of the town where the infant resides. The consent in either instance must be in writing.