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THE CONQUERING FACTORY SYSTEM
FACTORIES, factory products, factory workers,factory customers--and a race dependent upon factories and factory goods--these aresome of the fruits of the application of the factory system to the production ofthe things mankind needs and desires.
But they are not the factory's only fruits.
The factory has not been able to keep the factorysystem within the limits of its four ugly walls.
What is the factory system?
It is the group of methods used in manufacturingof which the most conspicuous are (a) systematic production; (b) standardizationto insure uniformity of product; (c) division and subdivision of labor. These representthe application of the principles of efficiency to the work of producing the necessariesand luxuries, of modern civilization.
Harrington Emerson, who has been called by anadmirer the "High Priest of the New Science of Efficiency," defines efficiencyas "the elimination of all needless waste in material, in labor, and in equipment,so as to reduce costs, increase profits, and raise wages." This definition shouldat once make clear the legitimate field of the factory system and also the limitedsphere of activities in which its application is desirable. In a factory, which hasits justification only in its capacity for producing the largest possible quantityof commodities at the lowest possible cost, the elimination of every waste is mostdesirable. But outside of a factory, in all the activities of man which have theirjustification primarily in the extent to which they enrich life, the quantitativecriterion which efficiency enjoins becomes absurd. Life, if man is to dignify itby the way he lives, must be lived artistically. Not quantitative but qualitativecriterions apply in home life, in education, in social activities, in literature,painting, sculpture. Yet the apostles of efficiency have not been content to limitits application to the factory. They have made efficiency a philosophy of life andare now busily engaged in applying the factory system to the regulation of everyactivity of civilized man.
In his introduction to his epoch making volumeon "The Principles of Scientific Management," the late Frederick WinslowTaylor, the founder of the efficiency movement, said of the principles of which hewas so ardent an advocate:
The same principles can be applied with equal force to all social activities: to the management of our homes; the management of our farms; the management of the business of our tradesmen, large and small; of our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities, and our government departments. 30
What was merely the distant vision of Taylorin 1911 is today in process of becoming an accomplished fact. As we shall see, weare now in the process of fulfilling in every activity of life Taylor's propheticwords: "In the past the man has been first; in the future the system mustbe first."
In order to understand why the factory systemhas spread from the factory to every aspect of American life a careful examinationof the factory system in its original "habitat" is essential.
When the first manufacturers discovered thatwealth could be accumulated much more rapidly by applying power to the making ofone thing in one place instead of making many different things in one place, thefirst step in the development of the factory system had been taken. On the heelsof this discovery came lower prices, made possible by economies in labor and economiesin material, and a ruthless war of extermination upon the guild, the custom, andthe domestic systems of production.
The ubiquitous village smithy, where horses andoxen were shod and where practically everything which the neighborhood needed inthe way of iron work was made: agricultural implements--plowshares, bog-hoes, stonehooks, garden forks; carpenter's tools--broad-axes, pod-augers, beetles and frows;building hardware--hinges, latches, and locks; fire-place utensils--andirons, gridirons,cranes, tongs, and shovels; cooking utensils, cutlery and hundreds of other things,disappeared. The smithy's place was taken by mills and machine shops in each of whichonly one article or one commodity was made, or if a number of allied products weremade, each was produced serially instead of on custom order.
The spinning wheels, the combs and cards, thereels and the looms and the loom rooms disappeared from the craftsman's shops andfrom the homes of rich and poor. These were replaced by mills in each of which onlyone process in the making of fabrics was carried on. One mill spun yarn. Anotherwove gray goods. A third dyed and finished them. Or mills confined themselves toonly one fiber, to linen, to wool, to cotton, or to silk, and performed the variousprocesses of manufacture in separate departments each of which made possible systematicfactory production.
Much of the cooking and preserving disappearedfrom the home. Homes with kitchens, pantries, vegetable cellars, smoke-houses andmilk houses in which foods were cooked, smoked, pickled and preserved by the jointeffort of the entire family were replaced by packing houses and canneries, in whichfoodstuffs were systematically packed and canned and bottled by the most approvedfactory techniques.
Serial production in the factory destroyed thevery foundations of individual production. The factory owners, by concentrating systematicallyon one product, were able not only to outsell the craftsmen but to paralyze mostof the productive activities in the home. The factory product, eventually, sold socheaply that the workshop producers could not hope to meet its competition. It becameso cheap that it did not even seem worth while for individuals to continue its productionfor their own consumption.
Yet in spite of the competitive advantage ofvery low costs of production, the early manufacturers found it difficult to put thecraftsmen out of their misery. It took generations for the mills and factories toestablish their present supremacy. It was only after the manufacturer discoveredthat concentration of production upon a single kind of goods made it possible tosupport systematic salesmanship that the old craft production really began to succumb.Systematic salesmanship made possible the profitable operation of the factory becauseit enabled the manufacturer to sell at a profit in territory where handicraft competitionhad been destroyed while selling at a loss in territory where it still survived.The factory was thus enabled to extend itself into new territory, selling if necessaryat a loss until all neighborhood production ceased and then recouping its initiallosses after the sale of its product had become firmly established.
Home and workshop products tended to vary notonly in response to the moods and creative urge of the maker, but often in accordancewith the needs, desires, and idiosyncrasies of the consumer. Under such conditionseccentricity was no luxury. Personality could be catered to because individual tastewas not penalized. Being made individually and not serially, the products could bevaried in size, in quality and in design to suit the maker or consumer without materiallyaffecting the actual cost of production. But none of the economies of mass production,mass distribution and mass consumption is possible if the finished product is permittedto vary in this manner. Serial production in the factory is dependent at all stagesupon uniformities: uniformities of design, material and workmanship. Each articleexactly duplicates every other, not only because uniformity is essential for economicalmass production, but because it is essential to the creation of mass consumption.
If the cooks in the canneries were permittedto vary each batch of soup as the spirit moved them, some of the cans of soup wouldcontain more salt, other less; some would contain onions, others would have none;some would be thin, others would be thick. It would be obviously impossible to createa mass demand for the soup. Mass production is dependent upon mass consumption. Theconsumer must know before hand just about what the soup is going to contain. Therecipe, therefore, has to be a compromise which appeals to all kinds of demand. Tastehas to be standardized, not only in soup, but in nearly everything that is consumed,or factory production becomes impossible.
The factory system involves an apotheosis ofthe mediocre. The least common denominator of taste is made the standard to which,on the score of efficiency, everything must conf orm.
With serial production and with uniformity inthe product, division and sub-division of labor make possible revolutionary reductionsin the amount of human labor which have to be used per unit of production. Specialmachines can be devised for each operation, and the worker instead of having to beable to perform all the operations involved in making the product from beginningto end can be confined to the endless repetition of a few simple operations. Amazingeconomies, as Henry Ford has shown, become possible.
When one workman assembled the fly-wheel magnetofor the Model T Ford automobile complete, it took about twenty minutes. By dividingthe work of assembly into twenty-nine operations performed by twenty-nine men, thetotal time for the assembling was finally cut to five minutes; one man was able todo somewhat more than four men were able to do before.
In the assembling of the Ford motor, the workwas at first done completely by one man. The Ford engineers divided this task intoeighty-four operations. Eighty-four men operating the new way assembled three timesas many motors as the same number were able to assemble before. They did the sameamount of work per day as one hundred and thirty-two men did under the previous method.
Originally the assembling of the chassis tooktwelve hours and twenty-eight minutes. This operation was finally cut down by thesame principle of division and sub-division of labor to one hour and thirty-threeminutes. The sub-division of operations in the Ford factory is almost incrediblyfine; the man who places a part does not fasten it--the part may not be fully inplace until after several operations later; the man who puts on the bolts, does notput on the nuts; the man who puts on the nuts does not tighten them.
Thus division and sub-division of labor go on,in the factories and in the offices, not only in the automobile industry, but inall industries, and thus the economies of the factory system are fully realized.
The application of the three techniques whichcomprise the factory system to the production of the goods we consume has revolutionizedlife. It has enabled this civilization to realize the goal of increased profits,higher wages, lower prices. Material well-being has been increased; life in manyobvious respects has been made less uncomfortable. Man has more shelter, more clothing,more creature comforts of all sorts than before.
It is only natural that those who have broughtall this to pass should feel that the application of the factory system to all theactivities of life, often under the nom de plume of "business methods,"would result in equally startling improvements in every aspect of living. The factorysystem applied to the home should make the family happier; applied to the farm itshould make the farmer more prosperous and farm products less expensive; appliedto the business of our tradesmen it should add to their profits and make them servetheir customers better; applied to the school it should produce a better educatedcitizen; applied to the church it should make our spiritual life richer; appliedto philanthropy it should decrease the sum total of human suffering and make menmore unselfish; applied to politics it should make government function more justly,more benignantly, more intelligentlyabove all more economically.
And this is precisely what we have in recentyears begun to do. For better or worse, we have been systematizing all the activitiesof life; we have been transferring the "mechanizing" of life which beganin the factory to the office, to the church, to the school, and to the home.
It is perhaps not correct to say that the applicationof the factory system to administrative and clerical work in offices of all kindsis an invasion of regions outside of the factory. The modern office should be considereda part of the factory, or at least of the industry with which it concerns itselfeven though it may be located in a city hundreds of miles from the place where manufacturingis actually carried on. And yet the invasion of administration by the factory systemis worth mentioning because office workers generally, especially those occupyingexecutive positions which correspond to the position of foreman and superintendentsin factories, are fooled by their white collars and their more genteel clothes intototal blindness to the fact that they are just as truly cogs in the industrial machineas are the men who work in overalls in the factory itself. Modern offices containan increasing number of workers who are expected to perform their work well, justas are the machine operators in the factory, but who, like the laborers, are notexpected to rise higher.
Because the schooling of the modern child mustequip it for the sort of work it will have to do as an adult, the application offactory and mass production methods to office work is profoundly affecting our schoolcurriculums. The Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A. educational classes which are primarilyvocational, have above all else to reflect existing business conditions. This alsois true of many of the high schools and colleges of the country. They are, however,a little slower to respond to changing conditions. In 1928 the National Board ofthe Y.W.C.A. considered the tendency toward systematizing office work so importantthat they made a survey of conditions in offices and their influence upon workers.A striking example of the length to which factory methods are superseding old waysin business offices is described in the report of this survey:
Orders are passed along by means of a belt from a chief clerk to a series of checkers and typists. Each one does only one operation. One interprets the order, indicates the trade discount; the second prices the order, takes off discount, adds carriage charges and totals. The third girl gives the order a number and makes a daily record. The fourth girl puts this information on the alphabetical index. The fifth girl stamps it. The sixth girl makes a copy in septuplicate and puts on address labels. The seventh girl checks it and sends it to the storeroom. Measurement of production by various methods, by the square inch, line, by a cyclometer or by the number of pieces produced, is being done in some offices that are under scientific management.
But with the progressive mechanization of thework in the office, the one thing that made office work endurable to a really civilizedman is disappearing. The most cherished aspect of office work used to be the factthat it could be utilized as a stepping stone to executive positions. Every officeboy was supposed to carry the "baton" of a partnership in his knapsack.But this is fast disappearing. Both office clerks and office executives today gettheir positions on the strength of their training in school and college, and theytend to stay in the positions in which they first find employment.
But the invasion of fine arts by the factorysystem! Here indeed is an invasion of a sphere of activity which ought to be sacredlypreserved for the creative expression of the individual.
Consider how modern literature--if we dare callmuch modern writing literature--is standardized by the demands of mass publishing.Author A has written an interesting short story about, New York's East Side Jews.It has made a distinct hit. He must therefore fill book after book with stories devotedto the identical theme, or cease to be an author with a marketable commodity. AuthorB has written a dashing novel of the West and its cowboys. He must therefore endlesslyrepeat himself on the same locale and characters. The more uniform their stories,the more ideally they fit into the scheme of modern, factory methods of magazineand book publishing.
Of course, the factory system dominates the productionof the American newspaper. The local news, unavoidably, must be written to fit localconditions, but aside from that, editorials, cartoons, columns," comic strips,short stories, fashions, pictures, magazine sections, all are fabricated and syndicatedby factory methods. You may move from New York to San Francisco--traverse the wholecontinent--and never for a day stop in a city in which some paper does not publishyour favorite "column," your favorite comic strips, and your favorite poet'seffusions.
A quotation from "Editor and Publisher"(the leading magazine devoted to newspaper publishing) of March 3, 1928, shows thatthe "craft" is beginning to recognize the situation:
The one department of newspaper production inwhich consolidation and modern methods have reduced the number of employees has beenthe editorial, in which machinery plays a small part. The syndicates have made availableto the smallest publisher at prices within reach of the thinnest purse, the bestthat the big city newspapers create and enjoy. This means of economy can be and hasbeen abused, and it bears seeds of danger both to the individual publisher and thecraft in general. The profession and business of gathering and selling news and commercialinformation to the public is one that requires direct contact between man and man.The press is one machine to which the dens is indispensable.
The writer in "Editor and Publisher"is probably whistling to keep up his courage when he says that the individual isindispensable to the press. Our factory civilization has repeatedly produced machinesand methods which placed in the ranks of false prophets those who said the individualwas indispensable.
The factory system has been applied in a mostmasterly fashion to the task of entertaining the masses. A populace bored to thepoint of inanity by the monotony of its work in office and factory, and suppliedwith ample leisure by the process of taking from the family most of the occupationswhich might make homemaking interesting and important, has to be entertained. Entertainmentis therefore provided which is quite as thoroughly standardized, as easy to assimilate,as little disturbing to the mind as is the work which they do while earning theirdaily bread. The movies, with standardized tragedies, comedies and news features,with standardized actors and actresses and standardized show houses, furnish a splendidmeans of escape into a world of adventure and apparent life. If the movies do notsatisfy the masses every night in the week, there is the alternative of standardizedvaudeville and standardized burlesque, and even without leaving the home to be entertained,there is the standardized entertainment of the radio, the phonograph and the pianoplayer. There is plenty of music, but it is mainly vicarious music, not music thatis the product of personal effort. There is less of that kind of music and that kindof singing in the lives of the men and women of our factory-dominated civilizationthan in that of the African negroes in the forests.. Family dancing and folk singinghas gone the way of family and craft production: it has been systematized out ofexistence.
We buy our music today; we do not produce itourselves. Perhaps the time will come when it can neither be produced or enjoyedby us.
Says Waldo Frank:
Art cannot become a language, hence an experience, unless it is practiced. To the man who plays, a mechanical reproduction of music may mean much, since he already has the experience to assimilate it. But where reproduction becomes the norm, the few music-makers will grow more isolate and sterile, and the ability to experience music will disappear. The same is true with cinema, dance and even sport. Only when the theatre for instance, is an ennobled symbolization of common social practice (as it was in Athens and in Medieval Europe) can it become an experience for the onlooker."
In this country where industrialization has goneso far and where leisure is more abundant than in any other nation, more money isspent for commercialized amusement than for anything else except food, and more moneyinvested in the "factories" which produce it than in anything else exceptland. As Dr. George B. Cutten, President of Colgate University, said, we seem tohave become "amusement mad." He says:
We have more than 20,000,000 daily admissions to the moving-picture exhibitions and more than 100,000,000 admissions to sporting events yearly. Three million dollars is spent in admissions to see a prizefight, and far more than that in traveling and hotel expenses in connection with it. Probably the 80,000 people who witness a YaleHarvard football game pay in admissions and expenses more than $1,000,000, and the great Yale Bowl can barely accommodate onefifth of those who desire to see this contest. The gate receipts of a world's baseball series are more than $1,000,000; $30,000,000 is spent annually on admissions to circuses, and probably more than $100,000,000 is paid every year to jazz orchestras. The space given to sporting events in daily newspapers shows the demands of the public for this form of amusement.
Our great national game, baseball, is following along the line of college football--more and more we are showing our interest in it, not by playing but by watching contests. Playing games by proxy is becoming more popular, and has in it the seeds of degeneration. On the other hand, there are 3,000,000 golfers in this country, and factories that formerly manufactured baseball goods are now manufacturing golf clubs. Half a million boys are caddying on golf links; twenty years ago boys of similar age were playing baseball on vacant lots. Golf links are becoming more numerous and vacant lots are disappearing.
There are worse uses for our leisure than play, but too much play tends to weakness. Passive amusement, moreover, such as watching others play or being entertained in other ways, even if the amusement is not morally objectionable, tends to soften the fiber and to weaken the moral structure. The race came to its present lofty position through struggle and strife, and it is not likely that it can maintain its position by any program of passivity and inactivity.
Leisure has increased to such an extent that we must think of something besides amusement with which to occupy it. There are some individuals and some groups in every community to whom this matter of leisure is never a problem. By training and planning, the spare hours are cared for in a way that is profitable to them individually, while at the same time a relief from business or professional toil. But these individuals and groups are not numerous; to most persons leisure is a problem, and to the country as a whole it is a menace.
The various fads--those which spring up suddenly, capture the attention of the people, become the topic of conversation and the chief occupation of the masses for a season, and suddenly decline and are forgotten-show the necessity of some more lasting program and a more purposeful scheme for the occupation of the spare hours of the general public. One has only to mention turkey trotting, mah jong and cross-word puzzles to call to mind a much longer list of harmless, inane, and valueless modes of wasting time, which like Jonah's gourd have sprung up in the night and faded before the rising sun.
It is not what these things were in themselves, but more especially what they indicate, which is important. They were seized upon by people who had excess time at their disposal, were not vicious, and were looking for some innocent way to spend it. Most of these had neither the ability nor the initiative to work at their own programs, and waited for some one else to suggest means to occupy their leisure. The suggestion was not a program but a temporary expedient which from its very nature must be ephemeral. 32
The factory system dominates modern methods ofeducation. The system begins in the nursery school. It ends in the university. Asmore and more of the work of education is taken over by the school and less and lessleft to the home, schools become bigger and bigger institutions; the army of teachersbecomes larger and larger; the educational system, more and more efficient. The modernschool becomes more and more like a modern factory. It becomes an institution notablefor its efficient equipment, efficient methods, and efficient personnel. The pupilsgo through the school in standardized classes; study a standardized curriculum; passstandardized examinations; and emerge with standardized educations.
The work of teaching is divided and sub-dividedamong specialists much as the work of making an automobile is divided and sub-dividedamong trained laborers in the automobile factory. Mathematics is taught by one teacher;history by another. There are plenty of teachers of mathematics who, though theyprobably did know enough history to graduate when they went to school, have forgottenall that they know of that subject and yet build splendid reputations in their specialty.True, the school can never hope to attain the degree of specialization which enablesthe automobile factory to train its workers for their tasks in a single day. Butit can specialize to a point which will make it easy to use stupider and stupidertypes to perform each minute task in pedagogy; to shoot the teachers through normalschools more rapidly than before; to standardize systems and teaching techniques;in short, to apply the principles of efficiency to the whole task of running itselfand of preparing the young for their factory-dominated futures.
Scholars may be as various in temperament andbackground as they can well be, but they must nevertheless be educated by a systemin which they are treated as mere units in a carefully graded class of like units.They enter school as raw material in the kindergarten. The kindergarten preparesthem for their primary work. They pass from one class to another; from the grammarschool to the high school; from the high school to the college, and exit at variousconvenient stopping points along the route into the factory-world, much as raw cottonenters a mill at one point and finally emerges at another as finished cotton goods.Each individual yard is the same as every other yard. Each individual scholar tendsto be the same as every other--educated for a place in the factory world, with thesame identical range of reactions to factory, office, religion, politics, as theschool and college boards consider it best for them to possess. They may, for instance,react either to Republicanism or to Democracy, but to Socialism, never!
From the moment the child is able to leave thehome, he is expected to do what all of his fellows do. Not only in school, but outof school as well. The boys join the Boy Scouts and the girls the Campfire girls,the Girl Reserve, or the Junior League.
They go to school en masse, they play en masse,they think en masse. Modern mass education makes them memorize more abstract facts,infinitely more than the child of the pre-factory age, but they probably do not understandtheir environment as well.
This is the factory system applied to education.
Where has this factory system not gone? It hasbeen applied to the most elementary aspects of life--to the feeding and shelteringof mankind. We eat in restaurant and lunchrooms dishes produced by factory methodsout of foods which all came from factories, and we sleep in apartment houses andhotels in which every detail of living is as meticulously standardized as is everystep in the making of a Ford car.
Strange as it may seem, some of the most acutestudents of civilization are completely blind to the deadening effect upon us ofthis systemization of all the ordinary activities of our lives. Havelock Ellis, whois not afraid to advocate the most revolutionary changes in our sexual customs, isyet willing to accept, with an amusing fatalism, the existing factory systemizationof life as part of the solution of the problem of domestic happiness. He would makehomes happy by destroying their every function except that of being dormitories forthe couples who inhabit them. In an essay he urges mankind to replace the wasteful,extravagant, and often inefficient home cookery by meals cooked outside; "tofacilitate the growing social habit of taking meals in spacious public restaurants,under more attractive, economical and wholesome conditions than can usually be securedwithin the narrow confines of the home," and "to contract with speciallytrained workers from outside for all those routines of domestic drudgery which areinefficiently and laboriously carried on by the household worker, whether mistressor servant." 33
Is it really desirable to give up home cookeryand to substitute for it mass cookery and mass service in restaurants? Wouldn't itbe wiser to utilize our scientific knowledge for the purpose of making home cookerymore attractive, more economical, more wholesome and to make homemaking a creativeart rather than to abandon one of the few remaining economic functions of the home?
In our American cities we seem to be acting uponMr. Ellis's prescription, according to Charles Laube, President of the National RestaurantAssociation.
Apartments have been largely responsible for the decline of the domestic kitchen. They are small and they aggravate modern wives who don't like to cook, anyway. The restaurateur has competed successfully against the home kitchen in the past because he has made money through labor-saving machines, electric dish washers and patented potato peelers. From now on success will lie in making his place more attractive, in dispensing atmosphere as well as good food. The restaurant will be decorated more artistically and a new type of waitress will appear--one who is prettier, more congenial and dressed becomingly." 34
This is probably as it should be in a factory-dominatedworld. The "atmosphere," the artistic decorations, the prettily dressedhomemakers are obsolete. All these must be transferred from the inefficient privacyof the home to a "spacious public restaurant" where they can be enjoyeden masse and in public.
In a civilization reflecting at every point theconquering factory system it is fitting to find that we have applied the factorysystem to the business of being born, of being sick, and in the end of dying andbeing buried. We now have maternity hospitals, nurseries, and nursery schools, sanitariumsand even funeral churches, all of them efficient-and hard.
The modern mother is merely maternity case number8,434; her infant after being finger and foot printed, becomes infant number 8,003.
By virtue of the same mania for system, a moderncorpse becomes number 2,432; while a modern funeral becomes one of a series scheduledfor parlor 4B for a certain day at a certain hour, with preacher number fourteen,singer number 87, rendering music number 174, and flowers and decorations class B.
Thus the factory system begins and finishes thecitizen of the factory-dominated world.
It introduces him to his world in a systematizedhospital, furnishes him a standardized education, supports him in a scientificallymanaged factory, and finishes him off with a final factory flourish, by giving hima perfectly efficient funeral and a perfectly scientific entrance into the regionsof eternal bliss.
GO TO CHAPTER IX