On the Causes and Consequences of Large Factoriesby@charlesbabbage

On the Causes and Consequences of Large Factories

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On examining the analysis which has been given in chapter XIX of the operations in the art of pin-making, it will be observed, that ten individuals are employed in it, and also that the time occupied in executing the several processes is very different. In order, however, to render more simple the reasoning which follows, it will be convenient to suppose that each of the seven processes there described requires an equal quantity of time. This being supposed, it is at once apparent, that, to conduct an establishment for pin-making most profitably, the number of persons employed must be a multiple of ten. For if a person with small means has only sufficient capital to enable him to employ half that number of persons, they cannot each of them constantly adhere to the execution of the same process; and if a manufacturer employs any number not a multiple of ten, a similar result must ensue with respect to some portion of them. The same reflection constantly presents itself on examining any well-arranged factory. In that of Mr Mordan, the patentee of the ever-pointed pencils, one room is devoted to some of the processes by which steel pens are manufactured. Six fly-presses are here constantly at work; in the first a sheet of thin steel is brought by the workman under the die which at each blow cuts out a flat piece of the metal, having the form intended for the pen. Two other workmen are employed in placing these flat pieces under two other presses, in which a steel chisel cuts the slit. Three other workmen occupy other presses, in which the pieces so prepared receive their semi-cylindrical form. The longer time required for adjusting the small pieces in the two latter operations renders them less rapid in execution than the first; so that two workmen are fully occupied in slitting, and three in bending the flat pieces, which one man can punch out of the sheet of steel. If, therefore, it were necessary to enlarge this factory, it is clear that twelve or eighteen presses would be worked with more economy than any number not a multiple of six. The same reasoning extends to every manufacture which is conducted upon the principle of the division of labour, and we arrive at this general conclusion: When the number of processes into which it is most advantageous to divide it, and the number of individuals to be employed in it, are ascertained, then all factories which do not employ a direct multiple of this latter number, will produce the article at a greater cost. This principle ought always to be kept in view in great establishments, although it is quite impossible, even with the best division of the labour, to attend to it rigidly in practice. The proportionate number of the persons who possess the greatest skill, is of course to be first attended to. That exact ratio which is more profitable for a factory employing a hundred workmen, may not be quite the best where there are five hundred; and the arrangements of both may probably admit of variations, without materially increasing the cost of their produce. But it is quite certain that no individual, nor in the case of pin-making could any five individuals, ever hope to compete with an extensive establishment. Hence arises one cause of the great size of manufacturing establishments, which have increased with the progress of civilization. Other circumstances, however, contribute to the same end, and arise also from the same cause— the division of labour.
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Charles Babbage

English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.

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by Charles Babbage @charlesbabbage.English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.
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