Factory Production in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Elaine Freedgood | Go to book overview
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The texts collected in this section all involve a curious activity: industrial spectatorship. From Babbage's directions for how to observe “manufactories” to Harriet Martineau's celebration of button production, these works suggest the interest and indeed the awe with which new methods of production were regarded by their Victorian audience. In the detailed history of the cotton manufacture written by Edward Baines, we get a sense of the excitement surrounding the highly profitable inventions of various textile-manufacturing improvements. Hargreaves, we learn, although “illiterate and humble” was also “one of the greatest inventors and improvers in the cotton manufacture”: his invention, the spinning jenny, became the emblem of the beginning of the factory system (although early jennies were actually small and could be used in home production). Baines also makes clear the global implications and reverberations of improved cotton manufacturing: He chronicles the efforts of silk and woolen producers to prohibit or heavily tax the import of Indian calicoes promoted by British silk and woolen producers in the late eighteenth century. This calico was often printed or dyed in England, so that the fabric, like today's Toyotas and Hondas, was neither entirely foreign nor strictly domestic. The pressures to heavily tax this cloth continued until the introduction of the spinning mule, which made English calico fine enough to compete with the Indian-handmade variety.

This sense of the globalism of the manufacturing endeavor is exuberantly represented by George Dodd whose engaging chronicle of a visit to a hat factory celebrates the importation of beaver from North America, of neutria furs from South America, and of “gums, resins, and dyes from almost every part of the globe!” By the end of Dodd's essay, we have become conversant with

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