This book is based on a series of simple, yet vital, questions in American labor history: what did the first American factory workers think about the origins of the industrial system? What did these men and women have to say, in their own words, about their experiences as technological pioneers? What was it like to be part of that first wave of workers moving from farms to factories? Did the perceptions and actions of the first operatives, at the cutting edge of a massive economic change that would spread across the nation over the nineteenth century, shape the attitudes of industrial workers in succeeding generations?
In seeking to answer these basic questions, I have conducted an intensive and extensive analysis of the working lives of factory operatives in antebellum New England. These workers were a significant part of the first generation of Americans to face a mechanized, integrated system of factory production. And their perceptions of technological and socioeconomic change shed much light on how working Americans first responded to the beginnings of the mechanized factory system.
A definition of "a mechanized factory system" is certainly in order at the outset of this study, since these mechanized workplaces are the principal setting for this investigation. I have determined mechanized factory systems to be those work sites where machines, driven by external sources of power, performed a substantial number of steps in the production process. The production process itself was divided into a number of discrete tasks and then integrated within factory buildings. The work force was often sizeable in number, and usually organized in some hierarchical fashion. Wages, working hours, and regulations were also frequently defined in a precise manner. It was the combination of these factors that gave the mechanized factory system its basic form, while each factory had its own unique variations on this fundamental structure.
The industries examined in this study -- textile mills, paper mills, armories, clock factories, ropewalks, metalworking and machine shops -- were the first ones to bring these factors together to create mechanized manufacturing systems. Yet these
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Publication information: Book title: Aspirations and Anxieties:New England Workers and the Mechanized Factory System, 1815-1850. Contributors: David A. Zonderman - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1992. Page number: 3.