The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

3
COLONIAL CRAFTSMEN

In colonial America the terms artisan, craftsman, tradesman, and mechanic were frequently used interchangeably; thus they are used so in this chapter. Artisans or craftsmen were men who owned their own tools, possessed a skill, and served an apprenticeship to learn their trade. They were a heterogeneous group; some owned their own shops, some worked for wages in the building and shipbuilding industries, and some were journeymen who worked for wages in the shops of master craftsmen.

Colonial times in America were times of limited mechanization and craftsmen worked with a few simple tools to directly manipulate their raw materials. They purchased their own supplies--wood, bars of iron, cloth, leather, brass, silver and gold. The rhythms of work were intermittent, with physical work, socializing, and breaks for talk or a drink blended together. Craftsmen worked slowly, not seeing any reason for haste in any particular job. They constantly changed tasks or stopped work to deal with the flow of people who came through their shops. The work week was frequently interrupted by religious holidays, weddings, funerals, feasts, and other community or neighborly activities. In the craft system, work and leisure intermingled so that awareness of being part of a larger social community permeated the workshop.


THE ARTISAN WORK ETHIC

The work ethic so central to colonial society rested on the habits and traditions of artisans and craftspersons, as well as that of farmers. Artisan work was task oriented rather than time oriented, with craftsmen usually working in their own homes or lofts, setting their own pace of work. They might spend Monday and even Tuesday at the tavern or at some recreational activity and then work at a rapid pace the rest of the week through Saturday. Work patterns were irregular, varying from

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