Old-Time Workmen

daguerreian_society_c1850_e

The Baltimore News says:

“Really skillful mechanics are becoming more and more scarce and trades are only half learned. Old-time workmen were proud of their work and a man would consider himself guilty of a piece of flagrant dishonesty to leave a bad job behind him. The artisan had as much pride in anything he touched as was to be found in the literary creator. But there seems to be no such feeling now. Men are only half educated at their trades and about the only thing that gives real concern is the question of pay.”

The breaking up of the old apprentice system is the cause of this evil, and its restoration will be the only cure. The Gazette was informed some time ago by one of the most reputable and respected employing mechanics in this city, that it was a hard matter for him to get good native journeymen, and that the best skilled workmen he got now-a-days were foreigners.

There was a time, not so very long ago either, when a mechanic took as much pride in his handiwork as a writer does in the product of his mind, and would have been as much hurt by sneers at his job as the latter is by adverse criticism of his article. But that time is now a thing of the past.

Judging from appearances, the fact that it has become so has improved neither the moral nor the material condition of the class referred to. This country must have good mechanics, and if it can not get them at home it will, as it has done, send abroad for them, and thus is increased the competition between American labor and the cheaper labor of Europe.

But for all this, the labor unions still restrict the number of boys permitted to learn trades. The evil effect of this compulsory idleness upon the excluded boys is patent in every town and city of the entire country.

Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser – July 1, 1887

—Jeff Burks

Daguerreotype portrait c. 1850 – Daguerreian Society, Leonard A. Walle Collection
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3 Responses to Old-Time Workmen

  1. That guy looks like my sister’s boyfriend!

    He can be pretty boring most of the time unless he gets hammered. Then he’s a real cutup. But most of the time he’s just plain square.

  2. Ryan McNabb says:

    It’s charming to read these old evaluations of “what’s wrong with kids today”. They were saying the same thing, literally, in ancient Rome. As for work, our grandfathers did different work with different materials and different tools for different customers. And nostalgia is better than crack cocaine – and I say this as a trembling addict myself. Go to any great 18th century house and flip up the rug or open a shutter and you’ll see the mediocre evidence of a reasonably skilled but busy guy just trying to get it done so he can go fishing or have a beer. Some of it is glorious and majestic, but most of it is majestic only in comparison to IKEA.

    As for labor unions, what else is new? Of course they hold down the number of slots. The last thing they want is the sidewalks littered with unemployed union carpenters, pushing wages down. The AMA does the same thing. I’m not anti union, but one of their functions is to control the number of people at the party.

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