Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change

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Cornell University Press, Apr 30, 1980 - Business & Economics - 363 pages
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Focusing on the day-to-day operations of the U.S. armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, from 1798 to 1861, this book shows what the "new technology" of mechanized production meant in terms of organization, management, and worker morale. A local study of much more than local significance, it highlights the major problems of technical innovation and social adaptation in antebellum America.

Merritt Roe Smith describes how positions of authority at the armory were tied to a larger network of political and economic influence in the community; how these relationships, in turn, affected managerial behavior; and how local social conditions reinforced the reactions of decision makers. He also demonstrates how craft traditions and variant attitudes toward work vis--vis New England created an atmosphere in which the machine was held suspect and inventive activity was hampered.

Of central importance is the author's analysis of the drastic differences between Harpers Ferry and its counterpart, the national armory at Springfield, Massachusetts, which played a pivotal role in the emergence of the new technology. The flow of technical information between the two armories, he shows, moved in one direction only— north to south. "In the end," Smith concludes, "the stamina of local culture is paramount in explaining why the Harpers Ferry armory never really flourished as a center of technological innovation."

Pointing up the complexities of industrial change, this account of the Harpers Ferry experience challenges the commonly held view that Americans have always been eagerly receptive to new technological advances.


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User Review  - mdobe - LibraryThing

In his "Introduction," Smith points to labor saving machinery is America's genius. As Hindle and Lubar describe in their Engines of Change, for many reasons, mechanization found a welcome environment ... Read full review


The Craft Origins of Production 17981816
Production Labor and Management 18011816
Early Manufacturing Techniques 1816
Cooperation between the Armories 18151829
Virginia Entrepreneur 18151829
Yankee in the Garden 18191841
Hall and the American System 18241840
Politics and Technology 18291859
The Community in Crisis 18591861
In Retrospect

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Page 3 - ... the eagerness with which they call in the aid of machinery in almost every department of industry. Wherever it can be introduced as a substitute for manual labour, it is universally and willingly resorted to.
Page 3 - ... where one woman does the work of 100. It is this condition of the labour market, and this eager resort to machinery wherever it can be applied, to which, under the guidance of superior education and intelligence, the remarkable prosperity of the United States is mainly due.

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About the author (1980)

Merritt Roe Smith is Leverett Howell and William King Cutten Professor of the History of Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.