Urban artisans
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URBAN ARTISANS. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing was done by urban artisans Skilled craftsmen who lived in cities Worked with simple tools Worked in their homes or in small shops Apprentices performed menial work Most of the rest of the work done by the artisan himself

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Urban artisans

  • Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing was done by urban artisans

    • Skilled craftsmen who lived in cities

    • Worked with simple tools

    • Worked in their homes or in small shops

    • Apprentices performed menial work

    • Most of the rest of the work done by the artisan himself

    • Real skill was required

      • Necessitating a period of training

One big family

  • Family life and work were intertwined

    • Wives sometimes helped with work, kept accounts, and sold finished products

    • Family lived in the shop

      • Either in a back room or in the attic

    • Masters often housed and fed their journeymen and apprentices

      • Creating a large extended family

      • Little life outside this extended family

Premodern work culture

  • Artisans only worked intensely for short periods

    • Followed by slower work that allowed talking and singing

  • Artisans who worked in heat drank alcohol on the job

  • Did not have a modern work culture since artisans routinely mixed recreation and labor together

Career stages

  • Divided into three categories

    • Apprentices

    • Journeymen

    • Masters

  • Tradition held that each artisan should have the opportunity to pass through all three stages during his productive life


  • Apprenticeship began in early teens and provided essential training for individual’s specialty

    • Fee had to be paid for entering an apprenticeship and an iron clad contract bound the apprentice to his master for a specified period of time

    • Tradition attempted to insure fair treatment for the apprentice

      • Master was required to feed and house him and provide necessary level of training for participation in the trade


  • Apprentice usually became a journeyman after training was completed

    • Worked for wages, often supplemented by food and housing provided by the master

  • After an appropriate number of years, during which the journeyman was supposed to save money, he might be able to buy or inherit a shop and equipment and become a master

  • Artisans had a social and economic ladder that they climbed as they gained skill and capital

Guilds i

  • Each urban trade had its guild and most had the legal power to deny a worker the right to practice a trade unless he was a member of the organization

    • In an attempt to limit the number of workers in a given trade in a city

  • Guilds existed to protect the standard of living and economic opportunities of its members, not to maximize production

Guilds 2

  • Also tried to restrict production so the artisans would receive decent prices for their products

    • Maintained strict controls over methods of work and prevented innovation in techniques

      • Stabilized earnings and upheld value of traditional skills

      • Part of primary goal of protecting the welfare of its members

Guilds 3

  • Also social groups

    • Sponsored a variety of social functions and supervised trade rituals

      • Organized funerals for deceased members and provided benefits to their families

      • Organized parades and celebrations of trade holidays

      • Ran initiation rituals for apprentices

    • Had a large influence on artisan’s leisure time as well as his work

Limitations i

  • Not all artisans belonged to guilds

  • Guild traditions occasionally broke down

    • When large numbers of urban newcomers overwhelmed guild traditions and created competition for jobs and wages among journeymen

    • When journeymen were overabundant, masters were tempted to convert guilds to serve their own interests—not those of the trade at large

Limitations ii

  • Guild regulations held that masters should be roughly equal and therefore limited the number of journeymen any single master could employ

    • But when journeymen were overabundant and cheap, masters sometimes sought to hire more of them than the regulations allowed

    • Also used guild regulations to block journeymen, except their own sons, from rising to the position of master

      • Strangled upward mobility within the trade

      • Journeymen sometimes responded by forming organizations of their own

  • Guild system never broke down entirely in the 18th century, although it did begin to show signs of weakness


  • Journeymen were intensely dependent on masters

    • Bossed around by them all day

    • Often could never afford to marry

  • Many artisans, even masters, were poor

    • Only ate starchy, often spoiled, food

    • Housing was often overcrowded

    • Suffered from occupational health problems

      • Lead poisoning for painters and printers

      • Blindness for tailors

      • Many were deformed by their work

  • Not an easy nor secure life, but artisans valued it highly and would struggle to maintain it


  • Industrialization did not immediately destroy the artisans

    • Remained largest urban social group for a long time

    • As late as 1850, there were as many artisans in England as factory workers

    • Until the mid to late 19th century, they increased in proportion to overall population growth


  • As population expanded and wealth increased with industrial and agricultural improvements, need for artisans actually rose

    • New crafts such as machine building created by industrialization

    • Growing cities required more artisans of various types

    • Early mechanical processes not applicable to urban artisan trades

      • Mechanization affected rural spinners and weavers more

  • Artisans continued to dominate working class of the 19th century in terms of numbers, income, social cohesion, and purpose


  • Artisans were distinct from factory labor

    • Worked in different places

    • Artisans tended to live in city centers while factory workers lived in nearby suburbs

    • Most artisans viewed factory workers with suspicion and did not want to live near them

      • Hated factory system and coarseness and violence of factory workers

      • Never completely identified with factory workers


  • Artisans had a sense of pride of work, status, and dignity that few factory workers possessed

    • Avoided showy spending on clothing and drink

    • More inclined to save money than factory workers

    • Family structure was tighter

    • Retained an interest in establishing their children in a trade and educated them accordingly

    • Limited the size of their families by delaying marriage

      • In the interest of maintaining their material well being and caring properly for their children

French cabinet maker and family

Material conditions

  • Material conditions of artisans still varied greatly

    • Single women had to work long hours to survive

    • Craftsmen faced with industrial competition had to work longer and longer hours at lower and lower wages to remain competitive

      • In 1830, silk workers in Lyon had to work 16-18 hours a day to survive

      • But at the same time, pay levels of carpenters and butchers increased

Insecure but solid

  • Overall, the artisan did not have an easy life

    • Construction workers suffered from seasonal unemployment

    • Personal disasters could quickly reduce an artisan family to poverty

    • Suffered severely during economic crises

      • Demand for semi-luxury artisan produced products fell more rapidly than demand for factory produced necessities

      • Food prices always went up

      • Forced to reduce purchases, pawn possessions, or appeal to charity

  • Artisans were not destitute in normal times and possessed a small, though insecure, margin above the subsistence level

Clash of values

  • Artisans still saw their economic and social values undermined by the spread of industrialization

    • The principles of the new industry clashed with principles of an artisan economy


  • Artisans relied on stable skills

    • Industry involved rapidly changing methods and the use of large numbers of unskilled workers

      • Skill and training were not completely eliminated but, on the whole, industrial skills were quickly and easily learned and apprenticeship was unnecessary

Limits removed

  • Artisans’ traditional pace of work, involving frequent breaks and holidays, was threatened by new machines

  • Artisans traditionally had protected themselves against competitive pressure by restricting innovation in techniques and limiting the size of the labor force

    • These limitations were removed by industry and workers were hired as they were needed and machines introduced at will

Urban artisans

  • Artisan interest in reducing the degree of inequality in the workplace was also ignored by the new factories

    • Factory owners acquired great wealth and tried to expand it without limit

      • The gap between them and their workers was huge

      • Very rare for a worker to rise to be a factory owner

  • All the new innovations of the factory system represented a real shock to the artisan emphasis on stability

The real threat

  • Few urban artisans were forced into factories during the early Industrial Revolution

    • Most factory workers came from the ranks of dispossessed peasants and unskilled urban poor

  • The threat of the factory system threatened artisans in a more subtle way

    • It displaced them from their fundamental control of the urban economy

Relative decline

  • Number of artisans grew during this period and their average earnings increased

    • But their relative position declined

      • Factory working class grew faster than number of artisans did

      • Wealth of entrepreneurial middle class overshadowed any increase in artisan pay

        • Even some factory workers earned more than artisans

  • Industry was dynamic and expanding

    • There was concern that new principle would sooner or later spread into yet unaffected trades


  • It was fear of displacement, more than actual displacement, that dominated artisan activity during the first half of the 19th century

    • Caused some artisans to attack the factory system

      • Luddites

  • Artisans newspapers, pamphlets, and petitions to the government often demanded an end to machines in manufacturing

Changing conditions

  • Rise of the upper middle class to dominance after the French Revolution (and their emphasis on “free trade”) allowed them to abolish guilds

    • Changed relationship between masters and journeymen

      • Masters began to protect their social and economic position in a changing economy by limiting their ranks

        • Some became employers and stopped performing any manual labor

More change

  • Social relations between masters and journeymen also changed

    • Became less common for masters to house and feed journeymen

    • Masters also intensified practice of reserving masterships only for their sons

  • Gradual development of permanent wage-earning statusfor journeymen was a shock to the artisan tradition

    • Which had formerly valued upward mobility, rough equality, and a family-like relationship between master and journeymen

Decline of apprenticeship

  • Apprenticeship also declined

    • Masters now expected the children they hired to work, not learn

    • Journeymen became increasingly reluctant to delay their work by training a kid

  • Aspects of industrial organization were being applied to the skilled trades without the actual introduction of machine


  • The artisan lost the social and economic protection of his guild at the same time as the personal ties between master and journeyman were weakening

  • The place of the city of the artisan in the city also slipped as factory workers became more numerous and the upper middle class seized exclusive control of urban governments