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The Changing Workplace. The Rise of Factories and the Issues of Labor Conditions. Rural Manufacturing. Most manufacturing was done in what was known as the cottage industry . This was when thread was supplied by factories to homes where skilled women would use looms to turn it into cloth.

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The changing workplace

The Changing Workplace

The Rise of Factories and the Issues of Labor Conditions

Rural manufacturing
Rural Manufacturing

Most manufacturing was done in what was known as the cottage industry.

This was when thread was supplied by factories to homes where skilled women would use looms to turn it into cloth.

The finished product would be brought back to factories for money and more materials for the next batch of goods.

When Nathan Appleton, Patrick Jackson, and Francis Cabot Lowell opened the first weaving factories in Waltham, Mass. the cottage industries were replaced.

The time of production, as well as the cost, was cut down substantially due to mechanization.

By the 1830’s, Lowell had opened 8 factories throughout Massachusetts with 6,000 employees, accounting for a $6 million investment.

Early factories
Early Factories

Textile factories were the first to emerge, but were soon followed by other factories that manufactured furniture and tools.

The factories also did away with the system of training skilled laborers as seen in the cottage industry:

1) Master- most skilled artisan.

2) Journeymen- skilled worker employed by Master.

3) Apprentice- young worker learning the craft.

How did factories change the ‘face’ of the workforce?

Factory production revolutionized industry and the new machines allowed for unskilled laborers to perform tasks previously reserved for artisans.

Farm worker to factory worker
Farm Worker to Factory Worker

The factories in Massachusetts began filling with unmarried farm girls, who were under the close supervision of female supervisors that monitored their every move.

The “mill girls” lived at boarding houses and were expected to attend church and abide by strict curfews.

By 1830, women made up 90% of the mill workers in New England and 4 out of 5 of these women were not even 30 years old.

Mill owners hired females because they could pay them lower wages then they would have to pay, but offered higher pay then the only available jobs for women at the time– teaching, sewing, and domestic work.

Most mill workers would only stay for a few years before pursuing other careers.

Conditions at lowell
Conditions at Lowell

The women of the mill were woken by a bell at 5am, began work at 7am and worked until 7pm everyday.

The combination of heat, darkness, and poor ventilation led to many cases of illness as well as general discomfort.

Windows were nailed shut to keep humidity in and whale oil lamps made the air smoky.

As factories matured, their rules became more strict. Fines were dispensed for lateness, more looms and spindles were brought in but less people were used to operate them, and the workers were pushed to a rigorous pace.

When Lowell announced a 15% wage cut, 800 mill workers conducted the first strike in 1834.

Strikes at lowell mill
Strikes at Lowell Mill

The strike of 1834 ultimately failed due to pressure received from the owners, Lowell press, and church.

Most women returned to work at the reduced rate of pay, and the strike leaders were fired.

In 1836, an increase in their boarding fee amounting to a 12.5% pay cut led to another, bigger strike.

Lowell factories were victorious over the strikers again and this led to the rise of the unions of the 1840’s.

In 1845, Sarah Bagley founded the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association and fought for a 10hr work day. Although it failed, this was the beginnings of the labor unions to follow.

Workers seek better conditions
Workers Seek Better Conditions

As conditions in factories worsened, skilled artisans began to aid the unskilled in forming general strikes. In 1835, carpenters, painters and other artisans joined coal workers in Philly for the 1st general strike in the U.S.

Dozens of strikes occurred between 1830 and 1840, many for more pay or for shorter work days. But employers usually won these battles by hiring strikebreakers– especially immigrants.

Between 1830 and 1860, European immigrants flooded the U.S. 3 million immigrants arrived between the years of 1845 and 1854.

Irish and German were the most common, and these immigrants avoided the South. Why?

Slavery limited opportunities and Southerners were hostile to immigrants.

A second wave
A Second Wave

The Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century killed over 1 million Irish and sent another 1 million to America’s shores.

They were discriminated against due to their Roman Catholic beliefs and because they were poor.

Protestant mobs in NY, Philly, and Boston rioted in Irish neighborhoods.

Irish were ideal strikebreakers who would work for very low wages, so skilled artisans who had already lost wages were upset about their arrival.

National trades union
National Trades’ Union

Trade Unions began to form around each various trade. These had appeared as early as 1806 and by the 1830’s they flourished.

These unions sought to standardize wages and conditions throughout the country.

Some formed federations with other trades, and this was seen when six industries united in 1834 to form the National Trades’ Union.

These early unions faced fierce opposition from banks, owners, and the courts who declared their strikes illegal.

Court backs strikers
Court Backs Strikers

Commonwealth v. Hunt became the first case in which a court backed strikers. Chief Justice Shaw ruled for the boot makers trade union to strike.

Although only 5,000 workers were part of unions, they organized over 20,000 workers to strike in the 1860’s.

These strikes were a byproduct of the time of reform spurned by the Second Great Awakening, and would lay the foundations of modern American economics.


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