Economic History of Europe in Modern Times

By Melvin M. Knight; Harry Elmer Barnes et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE FACTORY SYSTEM

QUESTION OF INTERPRETATION

How far back in human history "factories" can be traced is a moot question, the answer depending largely upon how the word "factory" is defined. The controversies which have arisen about it do not concern us very much here, as we are dealing with the modern factory system, which did not exist before the eighteenth century, and was still in its infancy, even in England, at the opening of the nineteenth. If we define a factory as an industrial enterprise in which at least one person is completely specialized to management, control, or direction, some examples could be found in both ancient and medieval times. Admitting the logic of this common definition, the word "factory" has nevertheless been avoided in the earlier part of this treatise, simply because it invites a comparison with present-day conditions which might lead to confusion. It seemed just as logical, and less dangerous to clear thought, to call the earlier concentrations merely central shops.

The picture of a factory which comes into our minds when the word is used includes automatic or semi-automatic machines driven by power. Even if only a single model of one article is manufactured, production will be broken up into processes, and these into tasks. Take the very simple case of a small heating stove, made of sheet iron with cast iron top, doors, grate, and base. Cutting, bending, and possibly stamping the sheet iron will be entirely separate from the cast work. Besides the larger castings, there will be a number of small ones, such as a shaker for the grate, and probably sliding or revolving ventilators for the doors. A good deal of drilling, assembling, and finishing must be done after these pieces are provided.

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