I really believe that a machinist who likes to see things, can find more solid enjoyment in some of the rough-and-tumble jobbing shops located in the woods, than he can in some high-toned manufacturing establishments, gotten up without regard to cost. The workmen turned out by such concerns are invariably of more value than those raised in nice shops.
* * * * A new man comes along and says he worked ten years in Hotchkiss’ shop. Now, Hotchkiss has the reputation of selling the nicest shafting known to the market. You want a man to turn shafting, and, of course, you ask this new comer if he worked any on shafting in Hotchkiss’ shop. He answers truly that he never did much else. You consider yourself lucky, and set the man to work.
During a recent visit to Great Britain I gave considerable attention to men and machines, and the following are some of my observations and impressions. Not desiring to criticize any special locality, I will simply use the word “Britain;” and in comparing with the United States will use the word “American.”
My first attention to mechanics was given to locomotive building, as I wished to solve some puzzling matters, such as the general claim that a given number of men in America will build over twice as many locomotives per year as the same number would in Britain—that American builders can compete against the British for foreign orders and yet pay their men about twice as much per hour. This is rather a big question, but I satisfied myself that I found enough to account for differences as great as the above, partly as follows:
One great cause of the decrease in English exports is the conservatism among English manufacturers and their extreme dislike of innovations. They are inclined to stick to old processes and old styles, refusing to study the tastes of their customers.
They seek to impose their own notions and ideas upon the world. Hence, foreign buyers seek in America, in Germany, and in France, goods better suited to their taste and needs. French manufacturers are particularly ready and quick to suit their work to the tastes of their customers. They are especially apt in devising new styles and patterns, such as shall most readily meet the varying tastes of buyers.
They realize that variety is pleasing and fashion capricious, and never hesitate to change a machine, or a pattern, when the old one fails to suit; while the Englishman looks well at the cost, and prefers to continue “in the good old way,” with the hope that some day the fashion may come round again.
Do not let artisans discourage you from learning this or that trade because they have not made a success of it. They may tell you that a certain trade is overcrowded. Investigate a little and you will find that only the botch workman and chronic kickers are out of work. The cheerful, enthusiastic workman is idle only when misfortune overtakes the whole country.
We have here hundreds of mechanics who have no real heart in their work, and no sort of interest in the welfare of their employers. To be discharged is considered no disgrace, and to be in debt is no cause for worry. They work while the eye of a boss is upon them, and kill time when it is not. They growl at the workingman’s condition, but are solely responsible that they are not better off.
You will find them in one shop this week and in another the next, and their sad tales of being oppressed by bosses will make you shed tears—if you are green enough. It is a certain and undeniable fact that the poorest workman is the one who does the most complaining.
Many boys in the machine shop lose their opportunities of becoming skilled mechanics through waiting for a better job, just as men die waiting for something to turn up. There is no job to begin to do good work on like the one in hand, and no mistake greater than supposing that the very best mechanical skill cannot be shown on what would be called a very ordinary piece of work.
Nothing is more common than to hear complaints from apprentices that they don’t get an opportunity to learn the trade at which they are working, but generally speaking no one gets the opportunity; he makes it. There is no conspiracy to keep any one out of the position he ought to fill, but he must get into that position by his own exertions.
If a boy demonstrates that he is capable of doing a simple job of work better than anyone else, he is morally certain to get tried on a better one, if there is a better one. If he fails to do the present job right because there isn’t scope enough for his ambition, he makes it appear that it would be unsafe to trust him with better work. There is no other sure road to advancement than through present duties well performed.
American Machinist – November 10, 1883