To what extent are the factory’s products necessary to the maintenance of our present standards of living? When are the factory’s products desirable? When are they undesirable?
Let us try to answer these questions.
The factory’s products are of three kinds.
The first are products, of which copper wire is one example, which can best be made, or made most economically, by the factory. They are desirable products because they are essential to the maintenance of our present standards of material well-being.
The second are products, of which a can of tomatoes furnishes a good example, which are just as desirable as the first, but which differ from the first because they can be made just as well, and often more economically, outside of the factory.
The third are undesirable products, of which patent medicines are typical, which are undesirable because they are not essential and may actually interfere with the maintenance of a high standard of living. They are products which it would be better not to make at all.
Since the first kind of products, often not only factory-made but factory-begotten, so to speak, are essential to the maintenance of our present standards of living, it follows that the factories making them are essential factories. Ugly though all factories may be, and ugly though the factories making these products are, society will have to tolerate them because they furnish it products which really add to mankind’s comfort.
But products of the second kind—products equally as necessary to material well-being as the first kind—we can provide for ourselves by other methods than that of factory production. The products of this class are essential, but the factories making them are not.
There are therefore two kinds of factories:
Essential factories making desirable products which can best be made by the factory.
Non-essential factories manufacturing either the desirable products which can be made just as well or even better outside of the factory, or the undesirable products which it would be wisest not to make at all.
A famous dandruff cure, which cures dandruff no more than it cures bad breath (for which it is also highly recommended by the manufacturer) furnishes a good example of an undesirable product, and the factory making it is, therefore, an equally good example of a non-essential and undesirable factory.
The ubiquitous canned tomato is a good example of a product of the second kind and the cannery which packs it is a good example of a non-essential factory. Desirable as are canned tomatoes as a product, the cannery itself is neither desirable nor essential because practically every household in the nation may can its own tomatoes.
The essential factory finds its justification in the making of the first kind of products—desirable products which can only be made or made most economically by the factory. These desirable products include most of our machinery—electric dynamos and motors, gasoline engines, tractors, automobiles and tools of all kinds—hammers, saws, planes and drills. They include all kinds of “intermediate” products and materials, (intermediate in the sense that they are used in the making of other things, as in the erection of houses), such as wire nails, copper wire and iron pipe. They include raw materials such as iron and coal, oil and cement. And of course they include factory-begotten products like automobiles which could hardly be made economically at all except by the factory.
There isn’t the slightest doubt about the fact that the factory can and does furnish this type of product of better quality and lower in price than it would be possible to produce it without the factory. It is necessary explicitly to call attention to my full recognition of the useful part which the essential factories play in supplying us a plenitude of these things at low prices so as to anticipate the charge, certain to be made, that I see no good in any factories at all.
If factory production were confined to the making of these desirable products and if the public were to abandon the buying of the product of the non-essential factories, more than half the factories of the country would be eliminated. There would even be a reduction in the number of factories making desirable products, because a drastic reduction in the number of non-essential factories would greatly reduce the demand for the products of the “essential” factories now engaged in making supplies for the myriads of non-essential factories.
Copper wire and iron pipe are desirable products which can best be made in factories. The factories making them are certainly essential factories. But enormous quantities of copper wire and iron pipe are used by non-essential factories. If any considerable number of the non-essential factories in the country are eliminated, some of the factories making copper wire and iron pipe, and some of the mills making raw materials for these essential factories, would also disappear.
Furthermore, since every factory, essential and non-essential, is a large consumer not only of supplies and equipment of all kinds but also of transportation, elimination of the non-essential factories would be followed, first by a reduction in the number of essential factories making supplies for them, and secondly by a reduction in the number of factories, both essential and non essential, which furnish equipment and transportation to the essential factories. Once the process of reducing the number of factories were to begin with the elimination of the non-essential factories, the repercussion in the form of smaller demands for the products of other factories would mean a drastic reduction in the number of factories of all kinds.
The two largest of our manufacturing industries are the industries producing foods and kindred products and those producing textiles and their products. The products of these two great industries fall overwhelmingly into the class of desirable products which are essential to the maintenance of our present standards of living but which could be produced, just as well, outside of factories. A considerable part of the products of these industries, especially of the textile industry, consists of desirable products which are produced most economically in the factory. The factories making them are therefore essential. However, a very large part of the production of both industries (especially of the food industry) consists of goods which are undesirable and non essential and which it would be better not to make at all.
These two industries employ nearly thirty percent of the men, women and children over ten years of age gainfully employed in manufacturing in this country—manufacturing having been taken to include every productive occupation except agriculture and fisheries—and include over forty percent of all the factories listed by the census of 1920.
Since a very large part of the factories in these two industries are, in my opinion, undesirable and non-essential, it is quite possible that the number of desirable and essential factories in the two industries might equal in numbers the undesirable and non essential factories in all the remaining industries. On this as sumption over forty percent of all our factories are undesirable and non-essential. If this estimate errs at all, it errs in my estimation on the side of over-conservatism. I am using it merely for the purposes of making it possible to form a very rough idea as to the magnitude of the industrial counter-revolution which is involved in my proposal that all these undesirable and non-essential factories should be eliminated.
If we include the superfluous essential factories—those which supply the undesirable and non-essential factories with their supplies and equipment—at least a hundred thousand factories in the United States would be closed by such an industrial counter-revolution.
If we include all the persons who are supported by the activities of this hundred thousand factories, including not only the wage earners but also the owners and salaried employees, at least three and a half million persons now gainfully occupied in them would have to find other means of supporting themselves. While this is nearly thirty percent of the total number of persons gain fully engaged in industry, it is only ten percent of the total number of all persons gainfully occupied if we include agricultural, professional and domestic workers.
Baldly set down in this fashion, this industrial counter-revolution seems at first blush a ruthless proposal to destroy economic forces and instruments of colossal magnitude—perhaps the greatest for good or ill which man has yet evoked. But mankind’s instinctive recoil from so startling an idea will be very brief. It will console itself with the conviction that the industrial counter revolution is too visionary, too utopian, too chimerical ever to become a reality.
But while the counter-revolution may be improbable, it is not impossible and it certainly is not impractical. Nor will mankind shrink from it once a sufficient number of people find it to their interest to bring it about. For men deliberately began a revolution of even greater magnitude about two hundred years ago.
The industrial revolution closed hundreds of thousands of workshops and community mills. It destroyed the value of incalculable investments of capital in domestic and workshop manufacturing equipment.
It destroyed the trades and livelihoods of millions of workers. It precipitated misery, ruin, and rioting. It was responsible for an amount of suffering that it is impossible for the human mind to fully visualize.
Criticism, therefore, of my proposed counter-revolution on humanitarian grounds—on the basis of the suffering which it might inflict—is equally criticism of the original industrial revolution. Mankind did not shrink from the industrial revolution why should it shrink from the counter-revolution?
If, however, one enlightened family here and another one there adopts scientific domestic production, the transition from the factory-system will be so gradual that the counter-revolution will come peacefully and without adding to the misery and suffering which already exists in our factory-dominated civilization.
As to the charge of utopianism, certain to be made by practical men because of the drastic and destructive nature of the proposed change, this cannot be made consistently unless the self same critics are willing to assert that Arkwright, Watt and Stephenson were equally impractical and utopian because they at one time proposed, and brought about, an even more drastic economic revolution. Their revolution has been justified on the ground that it improved the conditions of mankind and added to the wealth of the nations of the world. That is precisely the ground on which I shall justify the industrial counter-revolution—for I propose to show that the elimination of the non-essential and undesirable factory will add to the real comfort and true wealth of mankind.
A study of the products of some of the most important of the non-essential and undesirable factories of the country is all that is necessary in order to do this. Such a study requires a candid, and I am afraid a disillusioning examination of food products, for instance, and their production in our great mills, packing houses and canneries. It requires us to make a comparison of factory products and factory production with the products which we might consume and the conditions under which we could produce them if we turned to scientific domestic production.
White flour is a typical factory product. It has replaced the “rye and injun meal” of the American colonial era as the principal American breadstuff. That the flour of the American pioneers was a wholesome foodstuff is more than probable because on a devitalized dietary they could hardly have survived the hardships to which they were subjected. It would therefore be a brash man who would say that there was any dietetic justification for the substitution of factory-made white flour for the old American whole grain meals. Yet there are plenty of apologists for the modern milling industry who will be quick to assert that the modern product is superior to the product which it has almost entirely displaced.
The modern flour mill takes wheat, one of the oldest and perhaps one of the best of the cereals, and converts it into white flour, middlings and bran. The bulk of the middlings and bran is sold for poultry and cattle feed. Both, however, are also sold, in one form or another, for human consumption. The flour itself is sold for cake and bread making. The middlings, after being bleached and packaged, are advertised as the cream of the wheat and sold for breakfast food. While the bran, generally sweetened and flavored to overcome its natural woodiness, is also packaged and then sold for its laxative properties.
The white flour, which under our present scheme of factory production has become the principal breadstuff of America, (whole wheat flour being a negligible part of the total present day production), is hardly fit for human consumption. It is pale and pasty in appearance; to the palate it is flat and flavorless. The public demand for it represents an acquired and not a natural taste. But it is not only unappetizing to the normal palate; it is a nutritive atrocity. Essential parts of the wheat berry—the vitamins, the mineral salts, the natural laxative elements—are absent from white flour, because they are mainly found in those parts of the wheat berry which are milled into middlings and bran. Consumers of white flour who happen to eat middlings and bran bring about a sort of metabolic reunion of the three parts of the wheat; but unfortunately much of the virtue of each of the parts is destroyed before the reunion by the processes to which the mill has subjected them.
What is most unfortunate, only a small portion of the missing elements of wheat is consumed by this white flour eating nation. Most of the middlings and bran are sold to dairymen and poutrymen for cattle and chicken feeds. The cows and chickens thrive upon what we are too stupid to eat! The white flour—that part of the wheat which is most anemic and which contributes most to the well-nigh universal constipation of Americans—is used exclusively for human consumption.
There isn’t a single good reason, from the standpoint of physiology, why wheat should be milled into white flour, middlings and bran. But there are many reasons from the standpoint of the factory system of production, distribution and consumption.
There are first of all the profits that grow out of the fact that white flour does not spoil quite so readily as does whole wheat flour. It can be shipped greater distances and stored for longer periods of time. It therefore lends itself to nation-wide distribution and makes it much easier for the larger mills to invade the local area of distribution of the smaller mills. Whole wheat flour, which is a complete and practically natural organic substance, decomposes more rapidly than white four which milling transforms into an almost inert material. Like fresh eggs and fresh milk, whole wheat flour is a product little adapted to large scale factory production because it has to be comparatively fresh in order to be marketable.
Secondly, there are the profits which grow out of the fact that milling the wheat into its constituent parts creates three profits, where otherwise only one would have existed. Aggregate sales and aggregate profits of flour mills are thus made larger. We are first persuaded, by the national advertising of the mills, that white flour is more genteel, and that it is tastier and healthier than the plebeian dark flour. A high price is then secured from us by the mills for the white flour. We are then persuaded that bleached middlings make a breakfast food superior to whole grain cereals. A high price is then secured for this part of the wheat as well. Finally we are persuaded that bran is an essential medicinal agent (for curing the constipation caused by eating the white flour from which the bran had been extracted) and thus the mills secure a fancy price from us for this last constituent of the original whole wheat.
These factory-begotten products—white flour, bleached middlings, and parched bran—are undesirable forms of a most desirable foodstuffs. We are not eating a superior foodstuff, be cause factories have taken over the milling of the wheat. But neither are we being furnished wheat products at a lower price than we could produce them for ourselves. And certainly the flour mills themselves are not objects of such beauty as to justify their being solely on esthetic grounds.
The great mills of which the nation is so proud are on all counts undesirable. And most of them are non-essential as well.
For we are not without practical alternatives to which we can turn in order to supply ourselves with flour—and four of a better quality at a lower price.
A small flour mill can be purchased from almost any mail order house. A suitable one is listed in the Sears, Roebuck & Co., 1927-28 catalog for $10.35. It can be used to make whole wheat flour, cornmeal and oatmeal for table use, as well as coarse feeds for cattle and poultry. The mill uses self-aligning burrs for the actual grinding, instead of the great, clumsy mill-stones which were in use before the modern roller mill took over the matter of producing flour and cereals. The burrs are easy to replace and they can be changed so as to mill flour varying from fine to coarse in a very few minutes. The extra burrs cost only 87 cents. The mill can be operated with a one-horsepower motor or engine. Yet it has a capacity of from five to fifteen bushels per hour, depending on the fineness of grinding, condition of grain and the power used. With one of these mills we are independent of the flour factory; we get the finest flour, because it is whole and unbleached, at the cost of a little time, a little electricity or gasoline and the bare cost of the grain itself.
It will, of course, be objected that this is an alternative which cannot be adopted in the millions of homes located in our great cities. Such a mill has a capacity far in excess of the needs of the average city home. It is essentially a piece of machinery designed for the farm or country estate. But this particular piece of machinery, which is a relatively large domestic flour mill, does not by any means exhaust the existing possibilities for domestic milling even though this is an age in which the needs of domestic production are so terribly neglected. The same catalog lists a series of hand grist mills, ranging in price up from $2.65. The smallest size grinds about two pounds of grain every five minutes. Each mill is provided with steel burrs which grind coarse, medium and fine. It will grind everything which the larger mills will grind. If hand-power grinding is too tedious, quarter horse-power motors are listed in the same catalog at $9.75. One of these motors could be used to drive the mill through a friction pulley placed against the fly-wheel much as electric motors are used to drive sewing machines. At a total cost of less than $15.00 including freight, delivery and fittings, this equipment would enable even a small family to cut down its flour and cereal bill to one-fifth its present dimensions.
None of the mills now on the market, of which I know, is really an ideal domestic machine. While the two described above are serviceable, their designing shows nothing like the ingenuity which has been built into the machines used in our great flour mills. If human ingenuity were really put to work upon the development of domestic machinery, a mill would be produced no larger than an ordinary coffee grinder, driven by a tiny electric motor, with fittings for attaching it to any wall, the whole apparatus weighing a few pounds and costing not much more than five dollars. In a large family it would pay for itself within sixty days. In a small family, within three or four months. It should last, except for an occasional renewal of burrs, brushes and armatures, a lifetime. It would earn bigger dividends upon its cost than any other type of investment which we might make and would furnish us flours and cereals superior to those we now buy from the stand-point of flavor, nutrition and purity.
But the domestic mill would not only earn money for those of us who use it. It would forever free us from the menace and meanness of adulteration. Factories today are in business to make money. Many flour mills have not hesitated to use poisonous bleaches in order to whiten flour, as is shown by the history of the movement to enact and administer pure food laws. They have not hesitated to doctor spoiled and discolored flours with chemicals which made them look “like what they ain’t.” They have not hesitated to debase fine, hard wheat with an admixture of inferior grades and to palm off the resulting mediocre, though uniform, product as the finest flour it is possible to produce.
The average family in the United States consumes 4.6 barrels of flour per year. Every domestic mill put into use in an American family would reduce the demand for factory made four by 4.6 barrels per year. Every 6,529 families who turned to the domestic production of flour would put one flour mill out of business.
Twenty-five millions of these domestic mills would destroy factory milling. The 5,232 mills of all kinds in this country would be eliminated and the 35,194 persons engaged in them released for other work.
The incredible folly of concentrating huge armies of workers, salaried employees, and executives in the centers where these large mills are now located; of shipping both the grain and the flour, middlings and bran back and forth across the whole country; of trying to support all of these non-essential mills with million-dollar advertising campaigns to persuade us “to eat more bread,” would be ended.
Instead we would have a few factories making these domestic mills and supplying parts and replacements for them, all of them engaged in the work of making machinery into a servant and not a master of men. We should not, as a matter of fact, increase the number of factories making machinery very much because factories making factory milling machinery would be replaced by factories making domestic mills. The decrease in mills making factory machines would offset the increase in mills making domestic machines.
In addition, if demand for devitalized grain products such as white flour ended, not only would the non-essential mills disappear, but many of our patent medicine factories would also disappear. For fifty percent of the stock remedies in modern drug stores consists of patent medicines for the alleviation of constipation—laxatives, cathartics and purgatives in liquid, powdered and pill form. These products, which are absolutely essential in this white flour age, would become more or less non-essential if one of the principal dietetic causes of constipation were eliminated.
It is to be hoped that social historians will not underestimate the part which advertising has played in creating the folkways of the period through which mankind is at present passing. For the placing of a social stigma upon home-baking, one of the most important activities of woman in the past, has been largely accomplished by advertising. In creating the new social attitude toward home-baking, advertising has served to increase the number of factories baking bread precisely as it has increased the number of factories generally.
Home-baking used to have the social standing of a useful art, an applied science, a means of self-expression. It was a contribution to the comfort and well-being of society quite within the capacities of most women. As a means of self-expression it is certainly not to be rated inferior to ironing shirts in a steam laundry or typing letters in a factory office.
The modern woman looks upon the rapid development of the commercial baking industry, (the factory system applied to the baking of bread and other bakery products), as a blessing and looks forward hopefully to the day when all baking will be done in factories and none in homes. In spite of what modern kitchen ranges and modern kitchen implements have done to reduce the labor involved in home-baking, the advertising of the baking industry, with the cumulative repetition of one idea millions of times, has made her feel that home-baking is drudgery. In this way advertising has built into the mental habits of women one of those great transvaluations of values which profoundly change the social history of mankind.
One does not need to be very old to remember when an altogether different set of values governed the attitude of women to ward baking. A report such as that of the Federal Trade Commission on the bread industry, in which it was stated that half of the bread of the country was no longer being baked in homes, would have been regarded by the women of the last generation as a calamity. The woman of those days who abandoned this particular household art would have been considered shiftless, without pride in her occupation as homemaker, and indifferent to the welfare of her family.
It is not necessary to be wholly in favor of a return to a state of mind and a set of values which, in spite of some compensations, tended to overload women with heavy work. The modern woman’s demand for comfort is thoroughly justified but this does not justify abandonment of domestic production, especially when comfort can be attained without necessarily turning to the factory to provide the home with its breadstuffs.
There are two methods, both of which might be used by the modern woman, to provide her family with breadstuffs superior in quality and lower in price than those provided by the baking industry. Yet neither involves labor as arduous as that performed by the women who work in factories, stores and offices. If a large number of these women were to turn to these methods of supplying their families with breadstuffs, 18,739 large bakeries—the numerous small bakeries doing less than $5,000 worth of business per year are not included—would be put out of business and 202, 142 persons engaged in the factory production of bakery products would be released for other work.
First, machinery can be used to make home bread-baking very much less burdensome than it has been in the past. There are dough mixers now on the market which very largely reduce the labor of preparation for baking in spite of the fact that they are still relatively primitive in design. What is needed is inexpensive equipment and machinery, electrically driven, which will do for the home-baker what the elaborate and ingenious labor-saving machinery in the bread factory does for the commercial baker. The housewife who uses existing equipment, utensils, mixers, ranges, can bake bread with an ease that would have seemed quite marvelous to the colonial housewife. If, however, our inventors were really to put their minds to the task of developing machines for domestic use equal in ingenuity to those already developed for factory use, home bread-baking would experience a renaissance of portentous import to the commercial baking industry.
The second method by which the housewife can solve the problem of greater ease in home production of breadstuffs is even more simple.
Let her give up bread-baking altogether. Or let her at least greatly reduce the family consumption of yeast bread because of the relatively great labor its production entails. The art of bread baking, of making a dough, of putting in a yeast or ferment and then of baking the loaf, is an old one. But mankind throve before the art was developed, and could thrive just as much even if it were to be abandoned.
Abandonment of bread-baking itself is easy, as the modern housewife has already demonstrated, but breaking old habits of eating as I now suggest is not. But the temporary discomfort involved in abandoning the bread platter at all meals would be amply compensated for by the permanent comfort of eating a greater variety of breadstuffs.
A household mill, such as was previously described, is desirable though not essential to the adoption of this proposal. The domestic mill would provide whole wheat flour, whole rye flour, whole cornmeal, whole cracked oats, in fact the cereals generally, in the freshest, the healthiest, the most nutritious and the most appetizing condition and at a lower cost than the factory product into the bargain. Without a mill in the home it is difficult today to procure the cereals as nature, so to speak, made them to be eaten. But whether the various flours be home produced or purchased from dealers, they make it possible for the housewife to furnish her family with an endless variety of breadstuffs without once baking bread.
There is, for one thing, “johnnycake.” Let a family once eat cornbread made from whole cornmeal—not from the pale, dessicated product that the factories are now turning out and miscalling cornmeal; not from the cornmeal of ordinary commerce, from which the toothsome germ of the kernel has been extracted, but made from the whole corn which includes the starch, the gluten, and the fibrous part of the kernel, and the universal popularity of johnnycake before the factory came along and destroyed the tastiness of the meal out of which it was originally made is understandable.
Then there are biscuits, pancakes and waffles. In the South to this day the hot biscuit is called bread. It is made from dough that is quickly and easily mixed. The baking is a part of the work of preparing the meal and the “bread” comes hot to the table. There is no more reason for our fear of hot bread than for fear about hot meat, or hot potatoes, or hot vegetables. Unfortunately, Southern hot bread today is generally made of white flour. If made of whole grain flour it would furnish an admirable, nutritions and palatable breadstuff without all the labor of making yeast bread.
But the waffle offers an even more appetizing breadstuff and involves an even less laborious process of production. Waffle batters can be mixed in a few minutes before a meal. If the fat is put into the batter while it is being mixed and an electric waffle iron used, the waffle can be baked right on the table—at breakfast, luncheon and dinner—without the annoyance of greasing the iron or of forcing the housewife to stand over a hot stove turning the old fashioned waffle irons while the rest of the family ate at the table. An infinite variety of waffles can be made. A single meal of whole wheat flour waffles will make the soggy, mushy white flour waffle distasteful to the average person. The whole wheat waffle is crisp, where the other is tough. It has flavor, the natural flavor of the wheat, where the other has none. It nourishes the whole body where the other merely furnishes heat. It is healthy, where the other is constipating.
In addition all sorts of waffle batters can be made. “The waffling family” does not have to rely upon a monotonous repetition of the same breadstuff. Mixtures of wheat flour and cornmeal are delightful. The waffle makes it possible to serve an infinite variety of breadstuffs without having to mix yeast dough and bake bread at home or abandoning home baking to the commercial bread bakery.
Let us now turn to another branch of the food industry and consider canned goods.
The canned goods industry is largely founded upon two self delusions of the American people: one delusion, that factory canned goods are cheaper than the goods which are canned and preserved at home—that if they are not actually cheaper the possible saving is not worth the labor and annoyance involved in home canning; and another delusion, that factory canned foods are a very desirable type of foodstuff.
Before discussing these delusions, which are largely responsible for the failure of American inventive brains to function upon the problem of how to make it possible for the home to preserve foodstuffs efficiently and economically, a bird’s eye view of the canned goods consumed by the American people will be helpful.
The following table is divided into two sections, one of them listing the “natives” among canned foods and the other the “exotics.” Native canned goods are manufactured primarily for sale in sections where similar fruits, vegetables and other foods are produced. Exotics are canned primarily for sale in sections where the exotics are not capable of being grown. When the place of production and the place of consumption is the same, the product is native; when the two places are not the same, the product is exotic. Canned grapefruit is an exotic in most parts of the country although a native in Florida and California. Canned fish, crabs and shrimp while exotics in most parts of the country, are native in most of the coastal states. Canned tomatoes, on the other hand are natives in practically every state of the union.
If we locate ourselves in the state of Indiana, which is very nearly the geographical center of the country, we get a table of natives and exotics something like this:
|Native Canned Goods||Exotic Canned Goods|
Beans, other than baked
Sausages and other meats
Condensed and evaporated milk
Preserves, jellies, jams, etc.
Pickles, sauces, etc.
A glance at this table makes it very clear that native canned goods constitute the great bulk of the canned goods consumed in Indiana homes—canned goods which could be, but are not, produced and canned by Hoosier households for their own consumption. Yet with an unholy ingenuity, the factory has persuaded most of the families of Indiana to buy factory canned goods rather than to consume home canned goods even though they have to pay a higher price for an inferior product in doing so.
I can see little advantage, and less from the standpoint of the palate than from the standpoint of economics, in the canning of many of the exotics. But even though the desirability of enabling the Hoosier household to buy canned pineapple be conceded, there is no possible desirability in enabling the Hoosier household to buy canned sweet corn. In Indiana canned pineapple is an exotic; in Hawaii where the fresh pineapple can be secured and canned at home, canned pineapple is a native. It is in my opinion just as silly for the Hoosier to eat factory canned corn or peas or tomatoes, as it is for the Hawaiian to eat factory canned pineapple.
Whatever sense there may be in the eating of factory canned goods is confined to the eating of what I have called the exotics.
The exotics, of course, come to Indiana from “elsewhere.” They are produced and canned abroad or in some one geographical section of the country adapted to their production. If not canned in that particular section, and shipped to Indiana where they are not produced, the people of Indiana might not be able to secure them at all. Thus the exotics may be said to lend themselves rationally and logically to canning in factories. Factory canning, so far as it is essential and desirable in a rational scheme of life, should be confined to the exotics. It should be limited to those foodstuffs which furnish the variety and the spice in our dietary. It should include only those products which would be too expensive for the average family if they had to be brought in the fresh state clear from a distant place of production to the point of consumption.
But the exotics represent a relatively small part of the pack of the canneries of the country. The great bulk of our canned goods production consists of condensed and evaporated milk, of vegetables like tomatoes, corn and peas, and fruits like peaches and cherries, native in practically every section of the country, and which can be grown in nearly every backyard garden in the nation. It seems to be folly of the rankest kind for us to buy the factory-made product when it is possible to can and preserve the same commodities so much more tastily at home.
Canning, preserving and pickling by the old-fashioned methods which generally prevailed fifty or more years ago was one of the most arduous of the tasks of our homemakers. The equipment was primitive in the extreme. The use of the appliances then available, including the use of the all-important apparatus for boiling and heating, was laborious in the extreme. Water, for instance, which was so necessary for the various boiling processes, had to be drawn from wells by hand, and this laborious work was typical of the hard labor involved in every stage of the work. Hours of standing and working in a steaming hot kitchen and of stirring boiling pots and kettles over a broiling hot stove was a part of the drudgery of the preserving season.
The packer and canner came along and relieved most of the women of the country of this labor. Grocery stores began to blossom out with every variety imaginable of canned goods—canned milk, canned fruit, canned vegetables and canned meat. During the harvest time, the canneries worked day and night, stacking up in cases the foodstuffs which consumers were to eat the year following. Home preservation of food stuffs began to shrink in volume. National advertising, brightly colored labels, new and ingenious ways of flavoring and cooking the products, and also adulterating them, all combined to persuade women to abandon the hard work of canning.
As a result most of us today have little idea of the extent to which modern methods of home canning and preserving have eliminated the drudgery of the old methods. We have little notion of the extent to which modern appliances reduce labor, improve quality and save money in the home preserving of foods. Domestic canning and preserving offer the average home-making woman the opportunity to “earn” more money for her family, per hour, than she could possibly earn in a factory or office and at the same time enable her to serve products far superior to all except the best canned goods now on the market.
Let us consider some of the modern appliances which have made this reduction in the labor of home canning possible. They are by no means as efficient as they should be, and as they will be if the ingenuity of America ever really directs itself to the solution of the problems involved. Yet the available appliances have already cut down the time involved in canning by one-third. Or, to put it in another way, with the best of the existing methods the homemaker can preserve three times as much in the same length of time, as was possible twenty years ago.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. list in their 1927-28 catalog a variety of steam pressure cookers. The best type made from heavy aluminum costs from $11.85 to $21.90 depending upon the size. This particular cooker is an improvement upon the original models of the same type. It has a new and greatly simplified locking device—a single quick-tightening screw instead of the four screws with wing nuts which were formerly used. Some of that ingenuity, of which so much more is needed in the field of domestic machinery, has evidently been put upon the problem of eliminating what used to be the most undesirable feature of this very efficient appliance. Yet the improved cooker costs less than half as much as the old style cooker cost ten years ago.
The smallest of these cookers will hold five pint jars or three quart jars. (Incidentally, the old-fashioned screw-top Mason jar has in recent years been replaced by a very much better clamp-type glass-top jar which makes the opening of a tin can even with the most ingenious can openers a difficult labor by comparison). The largest of these steam pressure cookers will hold eighteen pint glass jars or seven quart jars.
The same catalog lists less efficient devices, steam cookers which cost from $2.75 to $3.95, and a cold pack canner, including the boiler, for only $2.80. I mention these less efficient devices merely to make it very clear that the equipment for canning is not beyond the purse of even the poorest of families.
The best part of the story of what the steam pressure cooker has done to home canning can be told in the following tables, taken from Extension Bulletin 56 and 64 of the New Jersey State College of Agriculture.1) The editor recommends referencing materials produced by trustworthy sources within the last few decades. A great deal has been learned about food preservation and safety since these charts and information gathered. One trustoworthy and comprehensive source is Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration by Christina Ward (Process Media, 2017).
|Time Tables for Canning|
|Fruits:||In Boiling Water 212°F|
|Pressure Cooker 5lbs|
|Apples||20 minutes||10 minutes|
|Apricots||16 minutes||8 minutes|
|Blackberries||12 minutes||6 minutes|
|Blueberries||12 minutes||6 minutes|
|Cherries||12 minutes||6 minutes|
|Gooseberries||16 minutes||8 minutes|
|Grapes||16 minutes||8 minutes|
|Peaches & Pluma||16 minutes||8 minutes|
|Pears||20 minutes||10 minutes|
|Pineapple||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Quince||30 minutes||15 minutes|
|Raspberries||8-10 minutes||4 minutes|
|Rhubarb||12 minutes||8 minutes|
|Strawberries||10-12 minutes||6 minutes|
|Vegetables:||5-10 lbs. pressure|
|Asparagus||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Beans, lima||1¾ hours||45-60 minutes|
|Beans, string||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Cauliflower||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Celery||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Corn||3 hours||1-1½ hours|
|Kohlrabi||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Mushrooms||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Onions||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Peas||1¾ -2¼ hours||45 min. – 1 hour|
|Pumpkin||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Salsify||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Squash||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Sweet potato||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Turnip||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Beets||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Brussels sprouts||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Cabbage||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Carrots||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Parsnips||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Peppers||1¾ hours||45 minutes|
|Tomatoes||1¾ hours||8 minutes|
|Poultry and game||3 hours||1 hour|
|Beef, lamb, mutton,veal and pork||3 hours||1 hour|
|Soup stock||1½ hours||45 minutes|
These tables make clear what so simple and inexpensive a piece of machinery as the steam pressure cooker can do to redress the balance of economy and comfort between domestic production and factory production. There is a clean saving of from one-half to one-third the time in processing. Sweet corn, which used to take three hours to process, can be finished in one hour. The saving, if the cooker is used for everyday cooking, is equally large. A ham which it takes three hours ordinarily to cook, can be done to a turn in 45 minutes.
In the competition between the cannery and the open fire-place and the old brick oven of colonial days, the cannery deserved to win on the score of comfort, labor-saving, and economy. But in the competition between the cannery and the modern kitchen—equipped with modern appliances and a modern wood or coal range or an efficient on stove, gas range or electric stove—domestic production deserves to win because it makes cooking as pleasant as any other kind of highly skilled manual labor in which human beings can engage.
According to the claims of one of the manufacturers, a half million steam pressure cookers have already been sold in cannery ridden America. If, instead of this pitifully small number, twenty five million were to be sold, one to every family in the country, and every family began to use them, most of the 2,177 packers and canners doing a minimum business of at least $5,000 a year would be put out of business and the 106,492 persons working for them would turn to some more useful work.
This ugly civilization, I believe, would be made less ugly by the change.
There is, however, little chance of this renaissance of domestic canning and preserving until the two delusions of which mention has been previously made are somehow or other exorcised: namely, the delusion that factory canned foods represent a very desirable type of foodstuff, and the delusion that the factory product is so economical that the labor and trouble of domestic canning is not worthwhile.
Upon the second of these delusions let me quote from Frederick Frye Rockwell’s book entitled Save It for Winter.
To anyone who has had much experience with the real modern methods of keeping food for future use there can be no doubt that it does pay, and pay handsomely. The new methods require very much less time and involve much less work than those which have been in general use up to the present time. The practice of both canning and drying has been practically revolutionized within the last few years. The new methods compared with those formerly in vogue are so simple that many persons have been inclined to doubt their efficacy until they become convinced by actual trial. The saving of food by these methods does pay even those who are located in cities and have not the facilities for producing the vegetables and fruit they can easily save for winter.
Saving food for winter pays because it prevents waste. The surplus from the home garden, or cheap products of a glutted summer market, may be kept for the time when vegetable food is scarce and high in price.
Saving food for winter pays because it enables you to make use of your garden, if you have one, to help support your family during twelve months of the year instead of only six or seven. The commonly held idea that these methods of saving foodstuffs apply wholly or chiefly to surplus garden products is erroneous. To take full advantage of the benefits which food-saving makes available one should grow crops especially for this purpose. This not only makes the work easier but permits making the most profitable second use of the ground occupied by the summer garden and allows one to plan systematically for the winter’s requirements instead of just having what is left over from the summer garden.
Saving food for winter pays because it furnishes a healthier diet. Home saved products, if carefully prepared, will be better than those which you are liable to buy, and so much cheaper that a greater proportion of them in the daily menu will be used. We Americans have been, next to the Australians, the greatest meat eaters in the world—not because so much meat constituted a healthy diet, but because, owing to our prairie ranges and other cheap sources of production, meat was more inexpensive to get and easier to produce and prepare than vegetables. Times have changed; meat in America, in comparison with vegetable products, will never be so cheap again. Those who prepare to take advantage of the cheap vegetable supplies of summer, will be on the road to more hygienic as well as more economical living.
Saving food for winter pays because the actual expense for preparing and keeping vegetable food for this purpose has been greatly decreased by the new method, in spite of the higher prices of many things used. Dehydrated vegetables of many kinds will largely take the place of canned vegetables. This means a tremendous saving in the cost of containers and in the amount of space required to keep products. Improved utensils have cut down the labor required in preparing and putting up the food. The percentage of food lost by “spoiling” has been cut from a very considerable amount to almost nothing.
As to the delusion about the superior quality of cannery and packing house products, it would be easiest to dispel it by a little historical review of the hygienic practices of the packing industries, were such a method necessary. Upton Sinclair, in his unforgettable novel The Jungle, gave a vivid picture twenty years ago of this aspect of the packing industries. The records of the administration of the pure food laws by the federal government, and the records of state and municipal boards of health show that the conditions which The Jungle described are by no means entirely eradicated. “The less the public knows about candy making the better,” said the manager of one of New York City’s largest candy factories during the course of an investigation made by the Consumers League of New York early in 1928. Public delusion about the desirability of factory foodstuffs can, however, be dispelled upon the ground of palatability alone.
Mass production of foodstuffs is essentially an outrage upon the human stomach. Upon the theory that the common and ordinary occupations of life should yield all the satisfactions which it is possible by art and science to secure from them, eating ought to be a pleasure. The palate should be cultivated for the sake of enjoyment in eating just as the hearing is cultivated for the sake of enjoyment of music. But cultivation involves appreciation of fine distinctions. With mass production, of course, fine distinctions are impossible. When foods are prepared in the mass, they are prepared for a mythical average taste—for the least common denominator of taste. Not only that, but the methods used in mass production tend to destroy those fine bouquets in foodstuffs which ought at all hazards to be preserved if the most is to be secured in the way of enjoyment from eating. Factory canning and preserving tends to destroy these fine flavors, and to that extent cheats us of what should be a part of the joy of living.
Furthermore, mass production, which cannot cater to the individuality and personality of each consumer, robs us of one of the attributes that make life significant and less tragic than nature itself has made it. The food prepared in the home expresses the housewife’s personality and caters to the personality of each member of the family. Personality is inextricably entangled in every dish and every meal. The very atmosphere of a real home gives to the meals eaten there values which cannot be duplicated in meals eaten in restaurants where the food is prepared in the mass and eaten in the mass. Those who habitually eat at home and who eat at restaurants occasionally, certainly do enjoy the novelty of a restaurant meal. But those who eat regularly in restaurants, who live perhaps altogether in hotels, very soon lose the ability to secure from their eating this kind of enjoyment. No matter how varied the bill of fare, a perpetual round of restaurant meals sooner or later ends in making all meals monotonous. The diners-out are a restless folk, shifting from one restaurant to another, seeking what is not to be found in the product of even the most skillful restaurant kitchen—the personal atmosphere of the home.
The possibilities of scientific domestic production have been indicated with, regard to only a few foodstuffs. The branches of our premier industry which we have been discussing—those making flour and cereals, baked goods and canned goods—are among the largest in the industry. Yet to them can be added many others if the production of every foodstuff that is adaptable to domestic production were to be discussed.
Domestic production is possible in milk, butter and cheese. In every branch of the dairy industry there are gains to society to be won by eliminating the non-essential factory, and re-establishing with new methods and modern equipment the domestic production of this group of immensely important foodstuffs.
Domestic production is possible in the packing of meat products. What a blessing it would be if all the stockyards and packing houses could be removed from the sight and from the nose of mankind! By concentrating the preparation and packing of much of the meat supply for twenty-five millions of families in Chicago and a few other packing house centers, a series of concentrated stenches are produced that make a farce out of our pretentions to being a really civilized people. If the stenches were resolved into their component parts in the twenty-five million homes of the country, each would become so small that it could be liberated without offense to the countryside. Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, (Kan.), and other packing house centers would then become fit for the habitation of a really civilized people.
A glimpse at the probable future of factory production of foodstuffs may be worthwhile before we turn to the products of the textile industry, the next largest of our industries.
No Daniel is needed to read that future. The handwriting, already on the wall, is plainly to be read. The days of the farmer are numbered. Agricultural production of foodstuffs has been weighed in the balance by factory science and found wanting. The food factory of the future will make its products synthetically. It will soon cease to be a mere processor and packer of foodstuffs.
The factories are already making semi-synthetic foods of many kinds. For instance, they are making various vegetable “fats.” These are semi-synthetic substitutes for lard. They look like lard, serve the same purpose as lard, and for all the purposes of business are lard. Lard, however, is after all an organic food—while the semi-synthetic fats, after having undergone chemical treatment in the factory, are an inert, if not an inorganic substance, of doubtful value to organic creatures.
What the factories have done with the fats, they have also done with the syrups. Enormous quantities of starchy cereals such as corn are now being chemically transformed into syrup. The semi-synthetic syrups, such as corn syrup, taste like molasses or like maple sugar, especially when suitably flavored with synthetic ex-tracts; they can be used for the same purposes on our tables, and they have most of the qualities of natural syrups except, of course, the quality of being natural—of being, in short, organic substances, and therefore, without question suitable for the consumption of organic beings.
In the future we shall erect factories that will go one step further.
Sugar, the factory-obsessed scientists have determined, is nothing but carbon dioxide and water, irradiated by sunlight. Professor E. C. C. Baly of Liverpool University is now producing sugar in his laboratory synthetically, Professor Baly turns the chemically powerful ultra-violet rays of a lamp on quartz vessels of water in which carbon dioxide is dissolved and which contains either iron or aluminium compounds—catalysts that provide a large active surface—and he obtains sugar. The proceeding is not entirely new. Daniel Berthelot was the first to synthesize sugar thus. Professor Baly’s achievement is notable because he has mimicked nature with greater fidelity; for in some of his experiments he used colored catalysts as substitutes for the green chlorophyll of plants.
On the strength of his own success Berthelot argued that “theoretically there is no reason why we should not conceive of a day when we shall produce some of our cereals and vegetables in ultra violet ray factories and manufacture foodstuffs out of nothing but the gases of the air.” And J. B. S. Haldane predicts that in the next century “sugar and starch will be about as cheap as saw dust” and foresees us making protein in the factory out of coal and atmospheric nitrogen, so that “agriculture will become a luxury and mankind will be completely urbanized.”
What a prospect!
Before the era of factory spinning and factory weaving which began with the first Arkwright mill in Nottingham in 1768, fabrics and clothing were made in the homes and the workshops of each community. Men raised the flax and wool and then did the weaving. Women did the spinning and later sewed and knitted the yarns and fabrics into garments of all kinds. The music of the spinning wheel and the rhythm of the loom filled the land. Perhaps one third of the time of men and women—one-third of the total labor of the nation—was devoted to producing the yarns and fabrics which they consumed.
In America and industrialized Europe this is all gone. Only in India and in the Orient is the song of the spinning wheel and the weaver’s loom still heard. Slowly but surely the mills took over this work from the protesting and embattled spinners and weavers. As late as 1810, for every yard of cotton woven in a factory in the United States, 112 yards were fabricated by families.9
In place of the loom rooms in its homes, America now has 7,816 factories employing 1,164,638 wage earners, not including owners and salaried employees. Many of the wage earners in these textile mills are children. And the wages paid by these mills are notoriously the lowest which prevail in any industry in the country. Yet in numbers gainfully employed, the manufacture of cotton, wool, silk and other fabrics is the leading industry in the United States.
A trifle over a third of the production of the cotton industry is used for industrial purposes. It is used in the fabrication of tires, car-bodies, etc. Two-thirds of the production of cotton and nearly all of the production of other branches of the industry goes to the consumer either as piece-goods or cut-up into wearing apparel by clothing manufacturers. This means that probably from ten to fifteen percent of the total number of factories and workers in the entire industry are engaged in producing for the needs of other industries. All the rest are doing work which used to be done in the home and much of which might still be done there.
Experiments with weaving in my own home show that if looms were equipped with flying-shuttles and modernized warping-beams, there would be no drudgery in the home weaving of most of the fabrics used by the average family today; there would be a substantial saving between the time needed for weaving and that now needed for earning the money to buy fabrics, and at the same time vast numbers of men and women without high talents for the fine arts would have the opportunity to express their creative spirit in a functional art.
Rugs, blankets, linens, draperies, and fabrics for dresses, coats, and men’s suits, can be woven at home. With good equipment, it is possible for an inexperienced weaver to produce a yard of cloth an hour, while a rapid weaver can produce more. Enough cloth for a man’s suit can readily be woven in one day. All the fibers can be used—wool, cotton, flax, silk, and an infinite variety of types of weaves produced on the same loom—satins, serges, herringbones, plaids, and plain weaves.
If antiquarian and “arty” worship of handicraft methods is avoided, and weaving undertaken with the same determination to be efficient which we take for granted in sewing or cooking or gardening, domestic weaving would not only prove practical and economical; it would furnish a liberal education in color and design to every member of the family. Eventually our homes would become filled with textiles of charm and beauty, and we ourselves would begin to wear costumes of a quality and durability well-nigh unknown today.
It is easy to make glowing claims and to demand excessive credit for the modern factory product. Modern designs, modern constructions, modern colorings and finishings, afford an amazing and entrancing variety. But how much of this credit is due to the factory and the factory system itself, and how much to the progress of the arts and sciences, which would have resulted in an equal improvement in domestic and handicraft yarns and fabrics, it is difficult to say.
The myriads of improvements which the factory has introduced into this branch of production have not been without some offsetting disadvantages. Recent developments in fabrics illustrate one of the disadvantages to which the pressure for continuous production subjects textile products as it does all other factory products. A certain poverty of invention is reflected in these new fabrics. Cotton has for many years been made to imitate silk by mercerizing, or to imitate woolen fabrics by fluffing the nap. But this was done largely in order to persuade the consumer to use a cheaper product instead of the dearer one—not infrequently in order to make it possible to sell the cheaper product as the dearer and secure a silk price for cotton goods. Such practices are not unknown in business. But this modern development is of a different order. It is a new form of factory art. Silk fabrics are now being produced which can hardly be distinguished by the eye, from woolens, and woolens which look exactly like silks. The wool is spun finely. It is woven into a sheer fabric, and then finished so as to have the luster that comes naturally to silk. Silk, on the other hand, is spun so as to be bulky and fluffy, and finished dull instead of lustrous, so that it looks like a wool fabric, feels like one, and is used in place of a wool fabric—in fact, it is in all ordinary respects a wool fabric but for the humor of the fact that it is not. Instead of the manufacturer striving to develop the natural characteristics of the fiber with which he is working into as beautiful a form as possible, he exerts all his ingenuity into making his fiber masquerade as another. Silk masquerades as wool; wool as silk; cotton as silk or wool; and rayon, invented by the chemists as an artificial silk, is made to masquerade not only as silk, but as the much less expensive wool.
Why this invasion of each other’s natural fields? Why, in other words, does the manufacturer of wool raid the region of demand for silk, and vice versa? Partly, perhaps, as an outlet for the exercise of his ingenuity and a means of escape from the endless monotony of uniformity; mainly as a means of enabling the manufacturer of woolens, for instance, to keep his looms operating all the time by securing some of the normal demand for silk, and vice versa.
What this means esthetically can be better appreciated if the tendency is transferred to another field—to the realm of architecture and the building material industries. Its absurdities and incongruities are then more easily recognized. It is as though the steel men were to fabricate their building material into an imitation of lumber, brick, granite, and concrete; the lumber mills to fabricate lumber to imitate steel, brick, and stone, and all building material made to simulate competing building materials entirely unlike them in their natural appearance, in their composition, in their strength, in fact, in all their architectural qualities. Does this sound absurd? It is absurd, but that hasn’t prevented the manufacturers of these materials from actually doing these things. Steel mouldings, columns, and sheets can be purchased that look like carved wooden mouldings, carved stone columns, and plaster cast imitations of carved ceilings. Wooden mouldings and columns are made that look like stone, and composition materials that imitate every imaginable other building material. This, of course, merely proves that when one turns to other products to illustrate the absurdity of what is now being done in textiles, the fact that the other products are equally the produce of the factory and factory system makes it almost certain that one will find similar absurdities in that product as well. The factory influence upon products evidently produces similar progeny no matter what the industry in which it is exerted.
In foodstuffs this masquerade of one product as another takes the sinister form, in many cases, of ingenious substitutions and adulterations. Molasses, maple sugar, and honey are made of corn. Flavors, extracts, spices are made by chemical factories—not food factories—out of inert substances. Preserves, jams, and jellies, which contain none of the fruits of which they are supposed to be made, are evolved out of concoctions consisting of glucose, apple pulp and hayseed and made to imitate genuine foodstuffs with the aid of artificial coloring matter, artificial flavor and artificial pectin. Manufacturers in one branch of an industry are not satisfied with the gross profit or the total volume of business that they can secure by selling what they apparently erected their factories to make: they try to add to their profits by imitating the products of other branches of industry with the aid of chemists who are disgraces to their profession.
That the sugar refiner should persuade the public to substitute what he makes in his factory for other sweets, such as molasses, is natural. If the public prefers the sugar, the fact that the business of the molasses maker is transferred to the sugar refiner is sound in both economics and ethics.
But when the sugar refiner inverts his sugar and flavors it so as to make it indistinguishable from honey in order to keep his factory busy, he poaches on the demand for the genuine product of our apiaries. What he thus does is bad ethics and bad economics no matter how profitable it may be to him.
Unfortunately there is a sort of Gresham’s law operating in inter-industrial competition. Just as poor money tends to drive good money out of circulation, so poor products tend to drive good products out of the market.
The hope of any renaissance of domestic spinning and weaving in factory-ridden America and Europe seems slender indeed. The arts upon which this most fascinating and expressive of all economic activities is based are almost as dead as the arts of the temple and pyramid builders of Egypt. Spinning and weaving were the first of the domestic activities to feel the crushing competition of the factory system; they will probably be the last to experience a revival.
But that a revival is not impossible is indicated by two developments of recent times, one in the realm of industry and the other that of politics. One has to do with the rise of the electric power industry. Here is something which our non-essential factories will do well to consider prayerfully: the electric power industry is beginning to discover that domestic production furnishes an almost unlimited market for its product. The other is the fascinating page in history which Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is engaged in writing in India.
In India domestic and craft production of textiles is not yet extinct. The village is still the chief industrial unit in India. The villages still contain workers whose chief occupations are, or were until very recently, weaving, pottery-making, iron-working and oil-pressing, nearly always in connection with the working of a piece of land. The highly specialized spinning of yarn and weaving of fabrics which existed in the larger towns of India at the time of the conquest by Great Britain, the making of muslin in Dacca and of calico at Calicut, has, of course, been destroyed. It was destroyed by the competition of British factories and the competition of factories which in recent years have been erected in India itself.
In the villages, however, spinners and weavers still are to be found. The tradition is still alive. And while the tradition survives, it is still possible to produce a revival. In the Indian village, too, the pre-industrial family is still to be found. Relatives still live together as members of the family in a communal organization. In come from the farm or workshop is collective—the joint income of the family. It is only when mills and factories appear upon the scene that this type of family begins to break down. Wages are then earned individually, and when wage-earning begins, jealousies, dissensions and differences in earning powers rend apart the group upon which the old system of domestic or workshop economy was erected.
Gandhi’s searching analysis of the technique by which a relatively small number of Britishers were able to seize political power in the whole Indian peninsula and to keep under their dominion three hundred million human beings enjoying a very high state of civilization reveals the fact that the real British strategy was not martial but commercial and industrial.
The cheap and flashy cotton goods introduced by the British tradesmen destroyed the occupation of practically one-third the population of India. India was “persuaded” to consume imported fabrics even though importation of factory-made textiles deprived a third of the Indians of their means of livelihood. The British factories forced the greater part of the population of India to devote itself exclusively to agriculture. Indians were made to engage in the production of raw materials. Ex-spinners and ex weavers were forced to become growers of opium, indigo, and other agricultural products, or they were forced into the cities where they helped to form the reservoirs of unemployed labor, which made it so much easier for the factory system to establish itself,
Gandhi and his followers may meet defeat. A gallant group of patriotic men may suffer a crucifixion at the hands of quantity minded business men who are determined that the whole world shall be made safe for the factory. They will certainly be defeated if they rely too much upon the nationalistic interests of the Indians, and too little upon their economic interests. Patriotism and religion are able to move large masses of men and women to heroic and seemingly impossible achievements, it is true, but they cannot indefinitely suspend the normal economic life of any people. Christianity became powerful only after it recognized this fact. During the Middle Ages Catholicism was accepted in large part because its policy of land appropriation and monastic production made it easy for all classes to do so. The spirit of the church may have been religious, but its activities were economic. If Gandhi is to succeed he will have to rely less upon emotion and more upon economics, He will have to inspire his followers to solve the technical and mechanical problems involved in domestic production, to evolve superior styles both in design and in fabric construction, and finally, to build a distribution system that will make it possible for the Indian spinners and weavers to out-produce, out-design, and out-sell the best businessmen in the world.
“Slowly but surely,” says Gandhi, “the music of perhaps the most ancient machine of India is once more permeating society.”
Evidently the stage is being set in India for a pitched battle between individual production of yarn and fabrics and factory production. All the odds are in favor of the factory—ample capital, government support, accumulated technical skill, a distribution system built for the factory and not the individual producer; above all, direction by experienced, ruthless, and sometimes desperate business men. All the odds are against the individual producer—lack of capital, government opposition, his own hostility toward new methods and techniques; above all, a tendency to appeal to sentiment rather than self-interest in approaching the consumer. If better domestic machinery were introduced, if design and quality were improved, and if the economic and marketing problems were solved even in a rudimentary fashion, the basic sound ness of domestic production is so great that it is not beyond the possibilities that it would fully re-establish itself.
If all the resources of modern science and industry were to be tapped for the purpose of making the spindle, the reel, and the loom really efficient domestic machines—as efficient, relatively, as is the average domestic sewing machine—the number of textile mills which could survive the competition of the domestic producer would be insignificant. What is needed, if the industrial counter-revolution is to take place in the production of fabrics, of draperies, of rugs, of tapestries, is the development of electric-motor driven spindles, reels and looms, which would occupy relatively little space and make the loom room practicable in every home.
If the music of the spinning wheel is again to become a factor in the economic life of the world, the spinning wheel must be improved. In some of the Indian schools of spinning and weaving this is already recognized. Improvements, such as the change from the thick spindle to the thin spindle, are indicative of what is needed. This one improvement increases the number of revolutions of the spindle by from 50 to 100 for every revolution of the driving wheel, and correspondingly increases the amount of yarn spun with the same labor and in the same amount of time. A really “modern” domestic spinning machine should be no larger than a sewing machine. The motor should be started and stopped as the sewing machine motor now is, by a rheostat operated by the foot, leaving both hands free to manipulate the fiber and the yarn. The yarn produced would then cost the family hardly much more than the cost of the raw material.
If there is to be a renaissance of weaving, as craft and as art, and the craft woven textile is to compete in value with the mill woven product, the “hand” loom must undergo a similar series of improvements. It must cease to be a clumsy, labor-wasting piece of machinery. It should be smaller. It should be attractive enough to serve as a piece of “furniture” and so fit naturally into a room in the home as the easel of a painter fits into a studio.
If the human ingenuity which has built automatic machinery for our factories were to be directed to the development of simple tools and machines for knitting, or if the old-fashioned habit of carrying knitting around were to be revived among women, the battle between the knitting needle and the shuttle would be staged upon another plane, and no matter which won, the factory would lose.
If the non-essential textile mills of the country were to be subjected to domestic competition in which the individual producer used machines and equipment as efficient as those I have sought to describe a large number of our textile mills would be eliminated. Perhaps 4000 factories would disappear from the American landscape. New England mill towns would receive their final and well deserved quietus, while southern mill towns would cease to make the cotton regions hideous,
Now let us turn to the production of clothing.
In the sewing machine we have a piece of machinery which is ideally adapted for domestic production—a piece of machinery which represents the application to domestic machinery of some of that ingenuity and persistence in the solution of mechanical problems which has usually been devoted to the development of factory machinery. Howe and Singer, Wilcox and Gibbs, did for the housewife and her sewing what Arkwright, Crompton, Hargreaves and those who developed spinning machinery and power looms did for the factory and factory production.
It is no coincidence that the relationship of the actual invention of the sewing machine and the business men who saw fortunes in its production and sale almost exactly paralleled that of the inventors and the exploiters of the power-driven spindle. Howe, the real inventor of the sewing machine, had his invention filched from him by capable business men like Singer. More fortunately than Wyatt, Paul, Kay and Highs, upon the adaptation of whose ideas Arkwright built his fortune, Howe finally was able to vindicate his patent right and thus force Singer and the various manufacturers of sewing machines to pay him royalties during the life of his patent.
There are 16,904 establishments engaged in manufacturing wearing apparel from purchased fabrics according to the Census of Manufacturers for 1923. There are 499,413 wage earners employed in these factories. If the domestic production of the clothes that men, women and children wear were to be really inaugurated, most of these factories would disappear and most of the workers in them freed to lead more rational existences. The gain to society would be incalculable.
A modern sewing machine equipped with a small electric motor, a good dress form and a supply of paper patterns, enable the house wife to produce garments that are superior to those that are produced in factories, and at a lower cost. A sewing room thus equipped affords a complete demonstration of the proposition which I have been arguing: that the factory cannot meet the competition of the home producer if both are equipped with modern machinery and both use modern methods, Upon this point let me quote from an interview with Mr. Hubert M. Greist, Executive Secretary of the National Costume Art Association:
Home sewing enables women whose expenditures are limited to obtain four things in combination which they cannot secure in any other way. The first of these is individuality—smart, distinctive styles and fabrics, interpreted in the exact lines, colors and textures which best suit their types and tastes. This demand is real even when it is inarticulate.
The second thing, quality, is in growing demand. This means not only good material but painstaking workmanship, as distinguished from garments “thrown together,” relying for their sale on a smart first appearance. Imitation of the better thing is rejected by many a woman of a type it would pay the merchant to cultivate. Her self-respect and refinement of taste prompt her to refuse a ready-made imitation of the real thing and to buy, within her means, piece goods of quality, good trimmings, findings and accessories and to fashion a garment which will accord with her own critical judgment and that of others with whom she has contact.
A better fit is the third consideration. Skimpy dresses, or garments often shapeless where proper cut and line are important, frequently offend.
The fourth objective is economy. Practically all women, when purchasing clothes, have that in mind. Ninety percent of all the women who sew at home, according to a recent Government survey, sew to save. When we consider that 85 percent of the families of the United States have incomes of less than $2,500 a year, we can appraise the possibilities of a well directed stimulation of interest in home dressmaking.10
Here is an occupation for the homemaker that has fallen steadily into disuse as the factories which comprise the “needle trades” have multiplied in numbers and increased in size. In a factory-dominated civilization, countless numbers of women take jobs of all kinds, both in factories and offices, in order to earn money over and above that which they receive from their parents or their husbands, to buy factory-made clothing. They buy an inferior product, skimpily cut and often ill-fitting; made of the cheapest fabrics which the manufacturer can buy and still keep his garments in the price-class at which he aims; exactly duplicating millions of other garments, and for it they often pay an outrageously high price into the bargain, That they could make the garments themselves, of better quality and at a great saving of money, and without the need of abandoning homemaking in order to do so, does not, of course, enter the heads of the great majority of them, If it did, the “needle trades” would perish. With them would disappear the industrial maladjustments of these trades. Hundreds of thousands of garment workers would no longer suffer from alternations of seasonable overwork and lack of work; they would cease to live under uncivilized conditions in congested centers like New York and Chicago; they would no longer endure packing like sardines in the subways and street cars which take them back and forth to their work. They would no longer be the slaves of the sewing machine.
For whenever men domesticate the machine, the machine ceases to be their master. The machine is made their slave—a labor saving device to be used when they need it, and to be laid aside when they are through with it.
Not all of the products of the “needle trades” lend–themselves to domestic production. The making of coats and suits, both for men and women, requires a degree of skill beyond the powers of the average homemaker. In a sensibly ordered civilization this work would be done by craftsmen in innumerable shops in every community of the land. If the custom tailor and the custom dressmaker were to realize the possibilities of their crafts, the factories could not compete with them. They cannot, however, hope for a revival of craftsmanship until their customers are re-educated to the niceties of the art; niceties to which consumers are made insensitive by the factory product; niceties which the factory system makes it easy for the public to ignore. If domestic sewing was a part of the life of every home; if custom tailoring was the rule in every part of the country, opportunities for direct observation of workmanship and for contact with actual tailors would be frequent. Men and women would automatically receive an education in quality of materials and workmanship which would make them reject the tawdry product with which the factory now is able to satisfy them. This is by no means the least of the many advantages which flow from domestic and craft production—the education of the consumer.
It is a pathetic commentary upon the pass to which the factory has brought us, that modern pedagogy has had to discover the crippling effect upon the mind of this ignorance about the production of the goods we consume. The progressive schools furnish our children a substitute education for the direct education which the factory has taken from them. They grind grain so that their pupils may know something about the flour and cereals they eat; they make paper, spin yarn, weave rugs and cloth, work in wood and iron all in order that their pupils may have some understanding of the myriad of things which the factory sets before them and about the production of which they otherwise would know absolutely nothing. The factory having cheated the children of the factory age of any normal education in the crafts, the school is stepping into the breach and trying to reintegrate their personalities with a school-made substitute.
It is hardly necessary to further pursue the subject in detail, The results of this rather sketchy analysis of some of the most important products of our two largest industries—foods and textiles —and of the possibilities of supplying ourselves with them through domestic and custom production can be duplicated in most of the other industries of the country.
Most of the factory products which are desirable can be made just as well, and sometimes better, outside of the factory while large quantities of the products which we consume are actually undesirable. All of the factories making these products, and all of the factories making supplies and equipment for these non essential factories, could be eliminated without any lessening in our standards of material well-being.
Add to these products all those which it were better for society not to make at all, and the conclusion is irresistible: factory production is in large part unnecessary.
If we might develop a more beautiful and more comfortable civilization by producing things we need and desire outside of the factory, and if it is possible to use domestic machinery to furnish us a sufficiency of equally desirable and perhaps superior commodities to those which we now make in the factory, why should we hesitate to abandon the buying of undesirable and non-essential factory products? To answer this question conclusively we shall have to ask ourselves about the influence of the factory upon the quality and quantity of the “goods, wares, and utensils” which we now consume.
In what respects are factory products better; in what respects worse than the products which might be produced under a non-factory system of production? Would the non-factory product be as satisfying, as enduring, as beautiful as the existing state of science and art makes it possible for the factory product to be?
What about the enormous increase in the quantity of things which the factory makes it possible, and almost requires, that we consume today?
Finally, is the price which consumers have paid, now pay and will pay for the advantage which the factory confers upon them worth while?
First, the factory has substituted uniformity for variability in the commodities we use, and wear, and consume. It has not only produced for us a greater number of things of all sorts, but it has produced them of a uniform quality in material, workmanship, and size.
Uniformity, however, except in the case of machinery where interchangeability of parts is of great practical importance, and of course in the case of raw materials and products for refabrication, is a doubtful virtue. The factory has so accustomed us to this absolute uniformity that most people now attach a ludicrous importance to it. We have tended to transfer the unquestioned desirability of quantitative and qualitative standardization—that is, uniformity in sizes, materials, and workmanship—to the very questionable desirability of absolute uniformity in the execution of every detail of the product. There are good reasons why the collars men wear should be absolutely uniform in size. Variations in collars presumably of the same size would be a first rate nuisance since the collars must fit the collar-bands of the shirts to which they are to be attached. But there is no good reason why every collar that a man buys should be absolutely uniform in every detail of its design and fabrication. Small variations in height, in the peaks, and in the openings may be accounted virtues, since they not only relieve the monotony of absolute uniformity, but make possible more delicate discrimination in dress. What is true of the collar, is true of nearly everything that is purchased on esthetic grounds. Variety, not uniformity, is the real good. This tends to explain the present vogue for the hand-made product. The very imperfections in hand-made products and in the antiquities with which our homes are being furnished are accounted charming, intriguing, delightful, beautiful.
The factory, however, with its system of serial production can operate most efficiently only on the basis of absolute uniformity in the execution of every detail of fabrication, “No plant is big enough to make two articles,” says Henry Ford, “Departures from uniformity create problems not only in production but also in marketing which can only be solved by abandoning most of the economies of the factory system.There is a certain Spartan beauty in the factory-made product when it does not purport to be anything but factory-made. Beauty of a certain sort undoubtedly is created by the skillful development of the sheer economy of line and form that is natural to the factory-made product. Unfortunately, beauty of this sort does not add to the costliness of the product. It tends to lessen costs—to strip off all extraneous ornamentation, especially any simulation of the ornamentation that is natural to the handicraft product. This acts as a very severe check upon the possibilities of profit for the factory. The factory, therefore, is under the strongest temptation to conceal the fact that the product is factory-made, and to use the factory-made product mainly as a skeleton which can be loaded down with an appliqué of imitation hand-decoration, because it is then possible to secure a higher price and a greater gross profit for it. Factory-made furniture is ornamented with imitation hand carvings. Textile designs are made to show systematically variations that are natural only to the handicraft fabric. Factory-made pottery and glassware, lamps and lighting fixtures, pictures and picture frames, carpets and rugs, all show in innumerable details of their design and execution the fact that the factory is deliberately sacrificing the beauty that may be said to be natural to the factory-made product in order that it may be sold at the higher price which imitations of the handmade product command.
Secondly, the factory influence upon the products we consume is responsible for the fact that goods have now to be designed for sale rather than for use. The factory’s products are designed to be made as cheaply as possible instead of as finely as possible. The real objective of the factory is not to make goods, but to sell enough so as to maintain the volume of production upon which its profits are dependent. Decisions as to the quality and quantity of material and labor put into the product, and the amount of ornamentation placed upon it, do not develop spontaneously out of the creative instinct and craft pride of the maker—although that is never entirely destroyed—but develop out of the marketing needs of the factory. The salesman and the advertising man thus tend to usurp the functions of the designer and the maker. The vulgar taste is imposed upon the actual design of the product. This tends to restrict the scope of the designer. Instead of the designer being given full opportunity to educate the public to the standards which intimate study of the factory-made product would enable him to evolve, he is forced to create on the plane which may be called the least common denominator of the taste of the consumers of his product,
The same force—the necessity of designing and making the product en masse and selling it at a low price—is responsible for the fact that the quality and quantity of material and labor used is reduced to a minimum, while the amount and kind of ornamentation is rigidly restricted to that which can be applied mechanically and therefore cheaply. There is no inconsistency in the apparent contradiction between this tendency and the tendency to over-ornament previously discussed. The manufacturer tends to over-ornament and to use wastefully material and labor in an effort to raise his product to the highest price-class in which he can sell it in profit able quantities. But within the price-class in which he operates there is the counter-tendency, to reduce and cheapen material and labor, ornamentation and design.
Third comes the very nearly absolute waste of labor and material which results from the factory’s inescapable tendency to continuous production. Only in the home can the owner of a machine afford the luxury of using it only when he has need of it. The housewife uses her washing machine only an hour or two per week. The laundry has to operate its washing machine continuously. Whether operating or not operating all of its machines, the factory has to earn enough to cover depreciation and obsolescence on them, office overhead, too, must be earned, whether the factory operates on full time or only on part time. Finally, continuous operation is necessary to enable the average factory to maintain a steady labor supply.
But with continuous operation of its machinery, much larger quantities of its products must be sold to the public. The public buys normally only as fast as it consumes the product. The factory is therefore confronted by a dilemma; if it makes things well, its products will be consumed but slowly, while if it makes them poorly, its products will be consumed rapidly.
It naturally makes its products as poorly as it dares.
It encourages premature depreciation. If a household heating plant depreciates at the rate of five percent per year, the house holder is in the market once every twenty years. If the walls of the boiler are thinned by half, depreciation is increased to ten percent per year. Cost to the factory is reduced at the same time that the householder is forced to buy a new boiler within ten years to replace his boiler twice as often as before.
The factory encourages premature obsolescence. It changes models and styles as often as it can and sets in motion an elaborate propaganda to persuade the public to replace still serviceable and still enjoyable types of its product with the new types which are presumably better because they are at least newer. The average life of the automobile of today is seven years. If the car lasted seven years in the hands of the original customer, we have been told, there wouldn’t be a market for the 5,000,000 cars now being produced annually. So the social pressure for the new models must be made so great that all the models become obsolete yearly.
Finally, it encourages the absolute waste by the consumer of products it makes in order to stimulate more frequent purchases and premature replacements. If the product can be packaged so that a considerable part of it is lost in the process of using it, (as is the case with toothpaste in tubes), or if the public can be encouraged to use it in ways that waste considerable parts of it, there is created what is called by advertising men “plus-consumption” with consequent increase of sales for the factory.
Plus-depreciation, plus-obsolescence and plus-consumption these there factors are built—as far as manufacturers dare, into the factory product. They constitute a sheer waste of the material used and the time put into fabricating the factory products for which sales are thus made.
The factory furnishes us products which are uniform by making us sacrifice the advantages of variety.
It furnishes us products which are cheap by depriving us of the advantages of quality.
It furnishes products which are plentiful by making us abandon the advantages of conserving labor and natural resources.
Plainly there are obverse aspects to every advantage which may be claimed for the factory product. Mankind may turn to non-factory production without losing as much as may at first appear.
So much for the factory products and their production. So much for the possibilities of replacing them with better products and better methods of producing them. These random notes make it sufficiently clear that many of the advantages claimed for factory-made products of general consumption are factitious and fictitious; that domestic and workshop production could furnish us superior products in many respects at a lower cost, and at the same time eliminate the social, political and economic problems that go with factories and factory production,
Now let us see whether the factory furnishes superior conditions for the worker; whether men and women and children are better off laboring in factories and offices than they would be producing under their own rooftrees or in their own workshops.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||The editor recommends referencing materials produced by trustworthy sources within the last few decades. A great deal has been learned about food preservation and safety since these charts and information gathered. One trustoworthy and comprehensive source is Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration by Christina Ward (Process Media, 2017).|