Continuing on the tour (click here for previous stops), we step back into the National Museum of American History, where they had some fantastic displays of early American manufacturing.
One display case featured the rifles from the Harpers Ferry Armory, probably made around 1840.
The production process became famous for the use of “interchangable parts,” a concept we take for granted today. Before this advance, items were manufacturing as “one off” or unique items, with pieces being filed and customized to fit only that particular rifle. With advances in gauges and quality techniques, “identical” rifles could be built, where if there was a problem in battle, parts from one rifle could confidently be used to repair another rifle.
Here is a picture of some of the gauges used by workers at Harpers Ferry, along with a sign explaining more (click on any of the pictures for a larger image).
Even with the technological advance, the factory had management problems. It seems that the management approach was brought over from the military, a strict command and control structure. The workers, used to being in the “craft” system where individual workmanship was more important and structure and control, rebelled. The writer of new work rules was shot (!!!) and petitions were sent to Washington asking for change.
What work conditions did workers want to maintain? “Setting their own hours, taking frequent holidays, and drinking whiskey on the job.” That sounds like a modern day UAW auto factory! The more things change, the more they stay the same.
More to come…
Click here for the final stop in the tour, Stop #5.
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