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Work with Machines:

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Jarod Roll

on 9 February 2016

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Transcript of Work with Machines:

Work with Machines:
Mill Life, America's First Factories

HIS 318
Dr. Roll
Textile mills, 1820s and 1830s
--turning raw cotton into cloth
--technology copied from UK
--Lowell, MA
1820: 200 residents
1836: 18,000 residents (18th largest city in US in 1840)
Mills ran on water power from fast-moving rivers, and processed cotton grown in the South, esp. the new southwestern cotton frontier states
Factory towns, company towns:
--Lowell's mills employed 10,000 people, 95 percent native born whites, 75 percent women
--men in supervisory position, women tended the looms and spindles
Women came from farms throughout New England, some as young as 10 or 11 years old, most 15 to 30 years old

"Lowell Fever"
Wage work, attractive alternative to unpaid farm or household labor, or work as a servant, nanny, or teacher
--paid $2.25 to $4 a week, minus $1.25 a week for room and board (men paid $4 to $12 a week)
Boarding houses
Lending libraries
Church attendance required
A world of machines:
--noise, motion, dust, no rest, long days (12 to 14 hours)
--"just like we were living machines"
Little control over work or conditions:
--fear of being controlled by the machines, "white slave"
--anger at power of managers: spread out, speed up, and premium system
--power to cut wages at will (first strike in 1834 in response to a 15 percent wage cut)
--first strike crushed, leaders fired (no means of appeal)
Yet, the work itself offered some empowerment:
--"I defied the machinery to make me its slave"
--led to calls for women's suffrage, anti-slavery activism
--appeals to American revolutionary traditions
--Lowell Female Labor Reform Association
These concerns informed broader labor movement in the 1830s and 1840s:
--concerns about "industrial tyranny" or "industrial feudalism"
--better working conditions and 10-hour day top demands (time for leisure and self-improvement)
--"we want the liberty of living"
In 1840 President Martin Van Buren made the 10-hour day the standard for federal employees (very small number, but important precedent)
More important:
--development of labor theory of value, ie, that productive labor creates wealth, thus the productive laborers were due their share of that wealth
--new enemies: speculators, idle rich
Full transcript