John P Stevens Highschool Art

part 1


ART – see instructions for this assignment in modules – How To… Art&Text in order to know which artifact to choose and how to present it.

TEXT – Document – Factory Owners Establish Discipline for Workers


The Working Classes

The picture is far less clear for the working classes—those who labored in the factories tended the machines and toiled in the mines. For people who shifted from agricultural life or jobs as artisans to work as factory laborers, industrialization may have hurt more than it helped, especially in its earlier decades. These people worked six days a week, twelve to sixteen hours a day, earning only subsistence-level wages. William Harter, a British silk manufacturer, justified the long hours to a parliamentary commission: Reducing the hours of labor “would instantly much reduce the value of my mill and machines … every machine is valuable in proportion to the quantity of work which it will turn off in a given time.” In textile factories, whole families typically labored together. Women’s earnings were between one-third and two-thirds of men’s, and children’s wages were a mere fraction of that. As a result, factory owners employed women and children whenever possible to save money, and they even contracted with orphanages to provide cheap child laborers.

Factory laborFigure 17.8, an 1853 woodcut, shows the interior of a cotton factory. Here the supervisor of an English cotton factory whips a boy as a woman in tattered clothing looks on. Whipping was one way in which supervisors disciplined child workers to the rhythms of the machinery. In the scene’s background, women and men tend the spinning machines while three other men talk, apparently unconcerned by the violence. Middle-class reformers such as Frances Trollope (1780–1863) used pictures like these to decry the harsh treatment of children in the cotton mills. One governmental investigation of child labor described how children “were rendered pale, weak and unhealthy” from “laboring for hours like little slaves.” Employers, anxious to keep their machines running and wages low, replied that “it was absolutely necessary that the children should be employed within the mills from six o’clock in the morning till seven in the evening, summer and winter.” Document 17.2 reveals some of the typical factory rules that employers insisted were necessary to keep their machines running smoothly and profitably.


Child Labor, 1853New factories typically employed women and children. As this woodcut of a cotton factory interior suggests, supervisors sometimes used harsh methods of discipline.

After the 1820s, factory workers’ wages started to climb. By the 1840s or 1850s, they were earning more than their agricultural counterparts. This change did not make them rich, however, for most of them had to spend some two-thirds of their income on food alone. In 1842, Flora Tristan reported that most workers in English factories “lack clothing, bed, furniture, fuel, wholesome food—even potatoes!” and that their bodies were “thin and frail, their limbs feeble, their complexions pale, their eyes dead.”

DOCUMENT 17.2Factory Owners Establish Discipline for Workers

Employers and overseers in the new factories needed workers who would labor in rhythm with the machines and according to the demands of industrial capitalism. To these ends, they instituted rules and disciplinary measures. The following document discusses such measures, which went into effect at a Berlin factory in 1844.

In every large work, and in the coordination of any large number of workmen, good order and harmony must be looked upon as the fundamentals of success and therefore the following rules shall be strictly observed.

1. The normal working day begins at all seasons at 6 a.m. precisely and ends, after the usual break of half an hour for breakfast, an hour for dinner and half an hour for tea at 7 p.m., and it shall be strictly observed.…

Workers arriving 2 minutes late shall lose half an hour’s wages; whoever is more than 2 minutes late may not start work until after the next break, or at least shall lose his wages until then.

4. Repeated irregular arrival at work shall lead to dismissal. This shall also apply to those who are found idling by an official or overseer and refused to obey their order to resume work.

6. No worker may leave his place of work otherwise than for reasons connected with his work.

7. All conversation with fellow workers is prohibited; if any worker requires information about his work, he must turn to the overseer or to the particular fellow-worker designated for the purpose.…

from: Sidney Pollard and Colin Holmes, Documents of European Economic History, vol. 1 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968).

Analyze the Source

  1. What problems do employers face, as suggested by these rules?
  2. What do you think of these rules?

InsecurityMoney was only one variable in the quality-of-life equation. Industrial workers faced job insecurity, physical dangers, and painful changes unique to their way of life. The worst insecurity centered on employment itself. Even in good times, some firms failed. During economic downturns and crises, such as the “Great Hunger” of the 1840s, wages plummeted below subsistence levels, and many workers lost their jobs. For these industrial laborers, there was no unemployment insurance to turn to, and no foraging, cottage industry, or gardening that people living in the countryside could resort to in hard times.

Risks of injury

The work itself carried a high risk of severe physical injury. Factory owners made no provisions for safety. In cotton factories, children regularly climbed under and on top of the equipment to free jammed machines, collect cotton, and tie broken threads; many young workers suffered terrible injuries to their hands and even lost fingers. Long hours and exposure to chemicals, dust, smoke, and industrial residue all led to ill health. Indeed, industrial populations had a far shorter life expectancy and a higher incidence of disease and deformity than rural populations. In the 1840s, the military turned down 90 percent of volunteers from some urban areas for health reasons—double the rate of rejection for rural volunteers.

Lifestyle changesBesides job insecurity, injury, and ill health, the new industrial age brought lifestyle changes that are harder to evaluate. Industrial workers experienced a new rhythm of labor that no longer bore any resemblance to the natural rhythms of daylight and seasonal changes. Now, workers toiled unrelentingly to keep pace with the machines and schedules of the factory owner. Employers and their stewards maintained workplace discipline with fines, curses, and whippings. Children who could not keep up were beaten at times (see Figure 17.8); some were even chained to their machines. There were no slack days, as the traditional Monday of preindustrial times. Wages took the form of cash, which workers had to save and apportion carefully over the week for food and housing despite the temptations of alcohol and other leisure activities. At the end of the long workday, laborers trudged home to poor housing clustered around noisy mills or mine entrances or to cheap, overcrowded rooms and cellars of industrial cities.

The question remains: Did the overall quality of life improve for the working classes in the early decades of the industrial revolution? One way to judge is to ask what would have happened to these people without industrialization. Communal villages and agricultural labor had their advantages. In a widely popular poem, “The Deserted Village” (1770), Oliver Goldsmith lamented the loss of rural life:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey

Where wealth accumulated …

But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride

When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

People growing up on farms and in small villages at least had traditions they could rely on. But this traditional life also had its own harsh side. Poverty was no stranger to the countryside, nor was child labor, cold, uncertainty, and squalor in windowless hovels. One contemporary, Frederick Eden, argued that the difficulties experienced by small farmers and villagers were only “temporary” and a small price to pay for “the greater good which may be expected from the improvement.” However we evaluate all this, life in the city did give the working class something no one could have foreseen: a new sense of class consciousness, an awareness of their own unique burdens and hardships that emboldened them into action and alarmed the onlooking middle classes.

From Sherman, The West in the World, Vol. 5, McGraw-Hill, 2015, 531-533A

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