Thursday, February 24, 2011

More on Steam-Driven Pin Making in the 1770s

I have received further details from Michael Perelman of the "integrated pin factory" described by Arthur Young in 1772 (3rd edition, first published in 1770). The following article sets our Michael's case (as well as much, much more - much of it highly controversial as its from a modern Marxist world view).

Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation, 2010, (76) 2010): 481-496

Micharl Perelman, "Adam Smith, Class, Labour and the Industrial Revolution".

Economists of virtually all schools of thought regard Adam Smith sympathetically. This article explores Adam Smith’s authoritarian side, showing the close connection between Smith’s notion of appropriate behavior and the prevailing economic organization. This article explores how this dimension of Smith’s pre-analytic vision shaped his writings.”

In Michael's letter to me, he adds:

“The pin factory is described by Arthur Young, who recommends visiting it. It used steam when the water flow was low, to raise the water to run the mill.” (MP) His article reports:

“The first integrated pin factory was the Dockwra copper works, founded in 1692. It produced about 80 tons of copper
per year, perhaps as much as half of the entire industry. The company had no less than 24 benches for drawing wire (for
making pins). Dockwra seemed from the start to have given attention to the possibility of new methods (Hamilton, 1967,
p. 103).

Eventually, Warmley works founded near Bristol in 1746 had surpassed Dockwra. The Warmley works came to popular
attention in 1770, when Arthur Young published A Six Months Tour Through the Southern Counties of England and Wales.
Young was a prolific observer of agriculture, as well as economic life in general. Young was far from obscure. His books
were widely translated in European languages. This particular book was already in its third edition by 1772. A careful
study of authorities used in parliamentary debates found that the MPs cited Young far more than Adam Smith (Willis,

Young described the process of integrated pin production at Warmley, beginning with how the molten metal was:

poured into a flat mould of stone, to make it into thin plates, about 4 feet long and three broad. The plates are thencut into 17 strips and then again, by particular machines, into many more very thin ones, and drawn out to the lengthof 17 feet, which are again drawn into wire, and done up in bunches of 40 s value each; about 100 of which are made
here every week, and each makes hundred thousand pins. The wires are cut into them, and completed here employinga great number of girls who with little machines, worked by their feet, point and head them with great expedition;and each will do a pound and a half in a day.

The heads are spun by women with a wheel, much like a common spinning wheel, and then separated from one
another by a man, with another little machine like a pair of shears. They have several lapis calaminaris stones forpreparing it to make the brass, of which they form a vast number of awkward looking pans and dishes for the Negroes,on the coast of Guinea. All the machines and wheels are set in motion by water, for racing, which there is a prodigious
fire engine, which raises, as it is said 3000 hogsheads every minute. [Young, 1772, pp. 170–74]"

{This system replaced the people who had turned wheels in the operation. The displaced workers represented one-sixth
of the labor force (Allen, 2009, p. 147).}” (MP)

I shall check Young’s reference to the making of pins from wire pulled to ’17 feet’. This reads like a simple ‘extrusion of molten metal’ (still used when I was an apprentice in a Austral Bronze , Sydney) the 1950s. In my book, Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy, Palgrave, 2008 (2nd edition, 2010), I followed J-L. Peaucelle, 2006. 'Adam Smith's use of multiple references for his pin-making examples', European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 13:4: 480-512, cited in Michael's references, and also volume of Diderot’s Encyclopedia (whose illustration showed coiled wire on a great wheel being cut up manually for the pins). Smith didn’t mention how the wire was prepared, whether by stretching or heat.

Anyway, Michael's interesting point is worth pursuing. Any readers with further information are invited to lass them to Lost Legacy.



Blogger entech said...

From the description of the Integrated Pin Factory it does not seem, to me, a very large integration.
I would speculate that basic copper plates (ingots?) were drawn between rollers to thin the plates. The plates were then cut into smaller plates and passed through rollers closer together to produce thinner plates. The thinned plates would need to be cut into narrower plates to fit in with the practical limits for the width of the rollers. The rollers would have been driven by water wheels in a similar manner to the mills used for grinding wheat for a very long time. Presumably the plates are cut with some form of water powered guillotine.
The steam component is undoubtedly some form of beam engine (Newcomen) with the sole purpose of maintaining a sufficient head of water to drive the rollers and cutters. Watt’s condensing engine was not released commercially until about 1775 and rotating engines a bit later.
Once the wires were drawn the actual process of forming the wire into pins made individually using hand and foot operated machines. As Smith was only talking of the final process the actual pin making stage is not much different from that described by Smith.
In my view the commercial age did not really give way to the industrial age until some 50 years later with Stevenson’s Rocket and the means of transporting the produce relatively quickly and efficiently.

2:45 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I share your scepticism but still want to read Young's book. Habit: check a source you have not read.

It's not clear from Michael's extract what is going on. The machinery of the day was manually driven, not power driven. My old Gran's (1940s) Singer sowing machine was driven by pressing on a foot plate with wheels and chords, not by electricity.

But there is some steam power around.

I have not tackled, so far, Smith's assertion that inventions enhanced labour, which is certainly plausible. And his main point about the pin factory is how re-arranging by breaking up tasks raised the productivity of labour - more output of pins per day,

His main points about the division of labour was the separation of the complex supply chains - even for a simple common labourer's woolen coat - into labour spread over several tasks and geographically separated - which A. Young (1928) showed led to increasing returns (Econ Journal, 1928, vol. 38, pages, 552-42) in his path-breaking article.

As improvements occur along the supply chain, they lower unit costs, allowing higher consumption in coats, and whatever else its inputs contribute to. The sheers that cut the wool, also produce cheaper outputs wherever they are used, or derivatives thereof, making other product. Labour and capital are not subjected to the pessimism of diminishing returns (Ricardo) but to increasing returns and to lower unit prices, larger markets, and to the economies of substitution.

The 'industrial revolution', propelled by innovation and invention, raised living standards - spread opulence - for workers too. Hence, Michael teaches in a US College where his great-great grandparents likely slaved away on farms and sweat shops.


2:58 pm  

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