A Sheffield cutler, working in one of our
Eastern factories, wrote to his comrades at home stating his
views of our workshops, etc. We make an extract from his letter.
The remark about the division of labor indicates
a lack of knowledge. It is practiced more extensively here than
elsewhere, and our manufacturers were the first to institute
regularly organized plans for accomplishing specific objects.
"The great number of large works - cotton,
woolen, edge-tools, files, table knives, indeed all kinds of
trade - carried on, and in a first rate style, too, will
soon enable them to compete with England for the markets of
the world. Look out, you at home; go ahead, or the
Yankees will trip you up in trade matters.
I don't think they could compete with you
yet in their own markets but for their tariff. They have not
got the division of labor amongst the materials, as you
have; they have not the iron and coal, and the material
trades so concentrated as you have, and then, from the
demand for labor, don't work for so little as you do.
Steel comes from one distant town; tip
handles from another; coals and bone handles, wire tools,
etc., etc., from others. Ivory in tusk is six dollars
a pound. They do far more with machinery in all kinds
of trades than you. Men never learn to do a knife
through, as they do in Sheffield. The knives go
through thirty or forty hands. One matches and resins
all; another pins all; another bores all handles; another
glazes all blades, and another buffs all handles.
I myself glaze and chill all the better
knives they make at Hanover Works, and nothing else, from
day to day. If a Yankee can resin a knife on, they
call him a cutler; and by doing one thing all the time they
become very expert, and make some very good knives.
Not the variety you make, but such patterns as are done
easiest by machinery, and there is a large quantity made, I
The Englishmen get the best wages, because
they can go to any part of a knife, and the Yankee don't
The system of managing here is for one man
to be responsible for the forging of blades. All are made by
trip hammers. He is a practical man, able to mend
tools and see all the machinery is in order; he is called
the boss blacksmith. Another attends to the grinders
and sees that the blades are properly done, and the orders
Another attends to all the steel forks.
The last came from Sanderson's, Carver Street, Sheffield;
[the former, doubtless; not the forks, certainly;] he
attends to all the hands engaged on forks.
Then the work we call halting is let to a
job hand who employs all the men he needs to put the work
through. He takes the job at so much the hundred. All
are reckoned by the hundred here, and are taken, carvers,
tables and desserts, at one price, in most cases; but
grinding and less carvers get the better above all these
There is what you call a table knife manager
who gives out the materials as toe come in to those they
belong to, sees they are finished right, and to whom the
superintendent refers all letters and information as to what
is wanted, and he sees that the things wanted are attended
to and put through.
The superintendent is the head 'boss' over
the men, lets the jobs, sets the price, turns off and sets
on, and keeps a few hands always at liberty to go from job
to job when needed; and these are called 'company hands.' All are Englishmen, who know how to go at any part of a
knife; for the Yankees are brought up to one or two jobs and
cannot shift about. Men who have jobs, matching and resining, for instances, set on and turn off their extra
hands as they like, and if any of them are stuck with their
work, the 'company's hands’ are sent to help them out, and
he has to pay them after the rate the company pays.
They work by the hour. I am a 'company hand,' so is
Joseph H, and H. B.
The superintendent is responsible to a board
of directors, elected by the company, who are shareholders.
Nearly all the works here are share-holding concerns, and
there is such smashing up amongst these companies!
The shareholders differ from the managers.
The managers get experience and set up for themselves, or
demand nearly all the profits. The orders are not sent
direct to the works, but they have agents or sale-shops at
New York and other places, who send the orders and keep, if
possible, their shelves fully supplied with trashy articles.
The people here are far more steady than in
Sheffield. Men seldom go off drinking here.
There are no ‘ball weeks’ and no holiday at the Christmas
time unless you take it. The works were not stopped
one hour this Christmas.
There are no beggars here; all seem very
well off, and far better dressed than working men in
Sheffield, and far cleaner. The methods of working are
far easier; indeed, the Yankees will not do hard work, if
possible. There are not as many files used among 200
men as you could put in your pocket."
from Scientific American,
March 11, 1865, p.161