Before the Industrial Revolution, muskets were created individually by craftsmen in their workshops, requiring a large amount of time and effort to complete just a single one. Since each firearm was created individually, no two were exactly alike. If the musket broke, it would take a skilled craftsman many hours to fix it if it was possible at all. The idea for standardization of parts had been suggested previously, but with little acceptance. In 1798, with war with France on the horizon, American inventor Eli Whitney seized the opportunity to provide the United States Military with muskets by showcasing his firearm comprised of interchangeable parts before a committee of government officials including President John Adams. He fascinated the group by placing ten pieces of each part for a musket on the table, and assembling it by grabbing seemingly random parts. He promised an order of 10,000 muskets within a two-year time frame, no small achievement at the time. Due to complications, Whitney wasn’t able to deliver on his order until 10 years later. Despite his tardiness, he received another order for 15,000, which he was able to complete within 4 years, because his product was superior in quality compared to others on the market at the time.
Interchangeable parts helped to usher a new era in manufacturing. In order to produce the large quantity of guns he promised, Eli Whitney implemented a primitive version of the assembly line that allowed unskilled workers to “slice metal by a pattern” to make specific parts of the weapon. Whitney also erected worker residences to house the laborers in his factories, an act that would be duplicated again and again during the age of industrialization. Whitney’ practices would come to influence businessmen like Henry Ford at the turn of the 20th Century, and earn him the nickname, “Father of American Technology”.
The average standard of living increased as a result of the Industrial Revolution, as mass produced goods were much cheaper for the public to buy. The price of food also plummeted with the advent of new agricultural tools and railroads streamlining the process of transporting from field to table. Prosperity ultimately led to a rise in the population due to better diets and sanitation now affordable to a greater percentage of the public. And in industry, assembly lines allowed for the employment of hundreds of unskilled laborers at each factory. The new abundance of jobs available in factories led to a mass migration of lower class workers from agricultural areas to the city.
For all the good that the Industrial Revolution did, not everyone was positively affected. The overcrowding of cities facilitated the spread of disease and crime. Pollution became a major health concern as factories spewed huge amounts of harmful smoke into the atmosphere. A new class of factory owners arose and abused their power by subjecting the new proletariat class to horrid working conditions. Tensions between classes increased greatly as the wealthy became even wealthier. Karl Marx’s hypotheses were somewhat coming to fruition, and in no small part due to the Eli Whitney’s invention of interchangeable parts.
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