On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures by Charles Babbage 1832
The present volume may be considered as one of the consequences that have resulted from the calculating engine, the construction of which I have been so long superintending. Having been induced, during the last ten years, to visit a considerable number of workshops and factories, both in England and on the Continent, for the purpose of endeavouring to make myself acquainted with the various resources of mechanical art, I was insensibly led to apply to them those principles of generalization to which my other pursuits had naturally given rise. The increased number of curious processes and interesting facts which thus came under my attention, as well as of the reflections which they suggested, induced me to believe that the publication of some of them might be of use to persons who propose to bestow their attention on those enquiries which I have only incidentally considered. With this view it was my intention to have delivered the present work in the form of a course of lectures at Cambridge; an intention which I was subsequently induced to alter. The substance of a considerable portion of it has, however, appeared among the preliminary chapters of the mechanical part of the Encyclopedia Metropolitana.
I have not attempted to offer a complete enumeration of all the mechanical principles which regulate the application of machinery to arts and manufactures, but I have endeavoured to present to the reader those which struck me as the most important, either for understanding the actions of machines, or for enabling the memory to classify and arrange the facts connected with their employment. Still less have I attempted to examine all the difficult questions of political economy which are intimately connected with such enquiries. It was impossible not to trace or to imagine, among the wide variety of facts presented to me, some principles which seemed to pervade many establishments; and having formed such conjectures, the desire to refute or to verify them, gave an additional interest to the pursuit. Several of the principles which I have proposed, appear to me to have been unnoticed before. This was particularly the case with respect to the explanation I have given of the division of labour; but further enquiry satisfied me that I had been anticipated by M. Gioja, and it is probable that additional research would enable me to trace most of the other principles, which I had thought original, to previous writers, to whose merit I may perhaps be unjust, from my want of acquaintance with the historical branch of the subject.
The truth however of the principles I have stated, is of much more importance than their origin; and the utility of an enquiry into them, and of establishing others more correct, if these should be erroneous, can scarcely admit of a doubt.
The difficulty of understanding the processes of manufactures has unfortunately been greatly overrated. To examine them with the eye of a manufacturer, so as to be able to direct others to repeat them, does undoubtedly require much skill and previous acquaintance with the subject; but merely to apprehend their general principles and mutual relations, is within the power of almost every person possessing a tolerable education.
Those who possess rank in a manufacturing country, can scarcely be excused if they are entirely ignorant of principles, whose development has produced its greatness. The possessors of wealth can scarcely be indifferent to processes which, nearly or remotely have been the fertile source of their possessions. Those who enjoy leisure can scarcely find a more interesting and instructive pursuit than the examination of the workshops of their own country, which contain within them a rich mine of knowledge, too generally neglected by the wealthier classes.
It has been my endeavour, as much as possible, to avoid all technical terms, and to describe, in concise language, the arts I have had occasion to discuss. In touching on the more abstract principles of political economy, after shortly stating the reasons on which they are founded, I have endeavoured to support them by facts and anecdotes; so that whilst young persons might be amused and instructed by the illustrations, those of more advanced judgement may find subject for meditation in the general conclusions to which they point. I was anxious to support the principles which I have advocated by the observations of others, and in this respect I found myself peculiarly fortunate. The reports of committees of the House of Commons, upon various branches of commerce and manufactures, and the evidence which they have at different periods published on those subjects, teem with information of the most important kind, rendered doubly valuable by the circumstances under which it has been collected. From these sources I have freely taken, and I have derived some additional confidence from the support they have afforded to my views. *
Charles Babbage Dorset Street Manchester Square 8 June, 1832
[*Footnote: I am happy to avail myself of this occasion of expressing my obligations to the Right Hon. Manners Sutton, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to whom I am indebted for copies of a considerable collection of those reports.]
Preface to the Second Edition
In two months from the publication of the first edition of this volume, three thousand copies were in the hands of the public. Very little was spent in advertisements; the booksellers, instead of aiding, impeded its sale; * it formed no part of any popular series and yet the public, in a few weeks, purchased the whole edition. Some small part of this success, perhaps, was due to the popular exposition of those curious processes which are carried on in our workshops, and to the endeavour to take a short view of the general principles which direct the manufactories of the country. But the chief reason was the commanding attraction of the subject, and the increasing desire to become acquainted with the pursuits and interests of that portion of the people which has recently acquired so large an accession of political influence.
[*Footnote: I had good evidence of this fact from various quarters; and being desirous of verifying it, I myself applied for a copy at the shop of a bookseller of respectability, who is probably not aware that he refused to procure one even for its author.]
A greater degree of attention than I had expected has been excited by what I have stated in the first edition, respecting the 'Book-trade'. Until I had commenced the chapter, 'On the separate cost of each process of a manufacture', I had no intention of alluding to that subject: but the reader will perceive that I have throughout this volume, wherever I could, employed as illustrations, objects of easy access to the reader; and, in accordance with that principle, I selected the volume itself. When I arrived at the chapter, 'On combinations of masters against the public', I was induced, for the same reason, to expose a combination connected with literature, which, in my opinion, is both morally and politically wrong. I entered upon this enquiry without the slightest feeling of hostility to that trade, nor have I any wish unfavourable to it; but I think a complete reform in its system would add to its usefulness and respectability. As the subject of that chapter has been much discussed, I have thought it right to take a view of the various arguments which have been advanced, and to offer my own opinion respecting their validity—and there I should have left the subject, content to allow my general character to plead for me against insinuations respecting my motives—but as the remarks of some of my critics affect the character of another person, I think it but just to state circumstances which will clearly disprove them.
Mr Fellowes, of Ludgate Street, who had previously been the publisher of some other volumes for me, had undertaken the publication of the first edition of the present work. A short time previous to its completion, I thought it right to call his attention to the chapter in which the book-trade is discussed; with the view both of making him acquainted with what I had stated, and also of availing myself of his knowledge in correcting any accidental error as to the facts. Mr Fellowes, 'differing from me entirely respecting the conclusions I had arrived at', then declined the publication of the volume. If I had then chosen to apply to some of those other booksellers, whose names appear in the Committee of 'The Trade', it is probable that they also would have declined the office of publishing for me; and, had my object been to make a case against the trade, such a course would have assisted me. But I had no such feeling; and having procured a complete copy of the whole work, I called with it on Mr Knight, of Pall Mall East, whom until that day I had never seen, and with whom I had never previously had the slightest communication. I left the book in Mr Knight's hands, with a request that, when he had read it, I might be informed whether he would undertake the publication of it; and this he consented to do. Mr Knight, therefore, is so far from being responsible for a single opinion in the present volume, that he saw it only, for a short time, a few days previous to its publication.
It has been objected to me, that I have exposed too freely the secrets of trade. The only real secrets of trade are industry, integrity, and knowledge: to the possessors of these no exposure can be injurious; and they never fail to produce respect and wealth.
The alterations in the present edition are so frequent, that I found it impossible to comprise them in a supplement. But the three new chapters, 'On money as a medium of exchange'; 'On a new system of manufacturing'; and 'On the effect of machinery in reducing the demand for labour'; will shortly be printed separately, for the use of the purchasers of the first edition.
I am inclined to attach some importance to the new system of manufacturing; and venture to throw it out with the hope of its receiving a full discussion among those who are most interested in the subject. I believe that some such system of conducting manufactories would greatly increase the productive powers of any country adopting it; and that our own possesses much greater facilities for its application than other countries, in the greater intelligence and superior education of the working classes. The system would naturally commence in some large town, by the union of some of the most prudent and active workmen; and their example, if successful, would be followed by others. The small capitalist would next join them, and such factories would go on increasing until competition compelled the large capitalist to adopt the same system; and, ultimately, the whole faculties of every man engaged in manufacture would be concentrated upon one object—the art of producing a good article at the lowest possible cost—whilst the moral effect on that class of the population would be useful in the highest degree, since it would render character of far greater value to the workman than it is at present.
To one criticism which has been made, this volume is perfectly open. I have dismissed the important subject of the patent-laws in a few lines. The subject presents, in my opinion, great difficulties, and I have been unwilling to write upon it, because I do not see my way. I will only here advert to one difficulty. What constitutes an invention? Few simple mechanical contrivances are new; and most combinations may be viewed as species, and classed under genera of more or less generality; and may, in consequence, be pronounced old or new, according to the mechanical knowledge of the person who gives his opinion.
Some of my critics have amused their readers with the wildness of the schemes I have occasionally thrown out; and I myself have sometimes smiled along with them. Perhaps it were wiser for present reputation to offer nothing but profoundly meditated plans, but I do not think knowledge will be most advanced by that course; such sparks may kindle the energies of other minds more favourably circumstanced for pursuing the enquiries. Thus I have now ventured to give some speculations on the mode of blowing furnaces for smelting iron; and even supposing them to be visionary, it is of some importance thus to call the attention of a large population, engaged in one of our most extensive manufactures, to the singular fact, that four-fifths of the steam power used to blow their furnaces actually cools them.
I have collected, with some pains, the criticisms* on the first edition of this work, and have availed myself of much information which has been communicated to me by my friends, for the improvement of the present volume. If I have succeeded in expressing that I had to explain with perspicuity, I am aware that much of this clearness is due to my friend, Dr Fitton, to whom both the present and the former edition are indebted for such an examination and correction, as an author himself has very rarely the power to bestow.
[*Footnote: Several of these have probably escaped me, and I shall feel indebted to any one who will inform my publisher of any future remarks.]
22 November, 1832.
The object of the present volume is to point out the effects and the advantages which arise from the use of tools and machines;—to endeavour to classify their modes of action;—and to trace both the causes and the consequences of applying machinery to supersede the skill and power of the human arm.
A view of the mechanical part of the subject will, in the first instance, occupy our attention, and to this the first section of the work will be devoted. The first chapter of the section will contain some remarks on the general sources from whence the advantages of machinery are derived, and the succeeding nine chapters will contain a detailed examination of principles of a less general character. The eleventh chapter contains numerous subdivisions, and is important from the extensive classification it affords of the arts in which copying is so largely employed. The twelfth chapter, which completes the first section, contains a few suggestions for the assistance of those who propose visiting manufactories.
The second section, after an introductory chapter on the difference between making and manufacturing, will contain, in the succeeding chapters, a discussion of many of the questions which relate to the political economy of the subject. It was found that the domestic arrangement, or interior economy of factories, was so interwoven with the more general questions, that it was deemed unadvisable to separate the two subjects. The concluding chapter of this section, and of the work itself, relates to the future prospects of manufactures, as arising from the application of science.
Sources of the Advantages arising from Machinery and Manufactures
1. There exists, perhaps, no single circumstance which distinguishes our country more remarkably from all others, than the vast extent and perfection to which we have carried the contrivance of tools and machines for forming those conveniences of which so large a quantity is consumed by almost every class of the community. The amount of patient thought, of repeated experiment, of happy exertion of genius, by which our manufactures have been created and carried to their present excellence, is scarcely to be imagined. If we look around the rooms we inhabit, or through those storehouses of every convenience, of every luxury that man can desire, which deck the crowded streets of our larger cities, we shall find in the history of each article, of every fabric, a series of failures which have gradually led the way to excellence; and we shall notice, in the art of making even the most insignificant of them, processes calculated to excite our admiration by their simplicity, or to rivet our attention by their unlooked-for results.
2. The accumulation of skill and science which has been directed to diminish the difficulty of producing manufactured goods, has not been beneficial to that country alone in which it is concentrated; distant kingdoms have participated in its advantages. The luxurious natives of the East,(1*) and the ruder inhabitants of the African desert are alike indebted to our looms. The produce of our factories has preceded even our most enterprising travellers.(2*) The cotton of India is conveyed by British ships round half our planet, to be woven by British skill in the factories of Lancashire: it is again set in motion by British capital; and, transported to the very plains whereon it grew, is repurchased by the lords of the soil which gave it birth, at a cheaper price than that at which their coarser machinery enables them to manufacture it themselves.(3*)
3. The large proportion of the population of this country, who are engaged in manufactures, appears from the following table deduced from a statement in an Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, by the Rev. R. Jones:
For every hundred persons employed in agriculture, there are:
In Bengal 100 25 In Italy 100 31 In France 100 50 In England 100 200
The fact that the proportion of non-agricultural to agricultural persons is continually increasing, appears both from the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons upon Manufacturers' Employment, July, 1830, and from the still later evidence of the last census; from which document the annexed table of the increase of population in our great manufacturing towns, has been deduced.
Increase of population per cent
Names of places 1801-11 1811-21 1821-31 Total Manchester 22 40 47 151 Glasgow 30 46 38 161 Liverpool(4*) 26 31 44 138 Nottingham 19 18 25 75 Birmingham 16 24 33 90 Great Britain 14.2 15.7 15.5 52.5
Thus, in three periods of ten years, during each of which the general population of the country has increased about 15 per cent, or about 52 per cent upon the whole period of thirty years, the population of these towns has, on the average, increased 132 per cent. After this statement, there requires no further argument to demonstrate the vast importance to the well-being of this country, of making the interests of its manufacturers well understood and attended to.
4. The advantages which are derived from machinery and manufactures seem to arise principally from three sources: The addition which they make to human power. The economy they produce of human time. The conversion of substances apparently common and worthless into valuable products.
5. Of additions to human power. With respect to the first of these causes, the forces derived from wind, from water, and from steam, present themselves to the mind of every one; these are, in fact, additions to human power, and will be considered in a future page: there are, however, other sources of its increase, by which the animal force of the individual is itself made to act with far greater than its unassisted power; and to these we shall at present confine our observations.
The construction of palaces, of temples, and of tombs, seems to have occupied the earliest attention of nations just entering on the career of civilization; and the enormous blocks of stone moved from their native repositories to minister to the grandeur or piety of the builders, have remained to excite the astonishment of their posterity, long after the purposes of many of these records, as well as the names of their founders, have been forgotten. The different degrees of force necessary to move these ponderous masses, will have varied according to the mechanical knowledge of the people employed in their transport; and that the extent of power required for this purpose is widely different under different circumstances, will appear from the following experiment, which is related by M. Rondelet, Sur L'Art de Batir. A block of squared stone was taken for the subject of experiment:
1. Weight of stone 1080 lbs
2. In order to drag this stone along the floor of the quarry, roughly chiselled, it required a force equal to 758 lbs
3. The same stone dragged over a floor of planks required 652 lbs
4. The same stone placed on a platform of wood, and dragged over a floor of planks, required 606 lbs
5. After soaping the two surfaces of wood which slid over each other, it required 182 lbs
6. The same stone was now placed upon rollers of three inches diameter, when it required to put it in motion along the floor of the quarry 34 lbs
7. To drag it by these rollers over a wooden floor 28 lbs
8. When the stone was mounted on a wooden platform, and the same rollers placed between that and a plank floor, it required 22 lbs
From this experiment it results, that the force necessary to move a stone along
Part of its weight
The roughly chiselled floor of its quarry is nearly 2/3 Along a wooden floor 3/5 By wood upon wood 5/9 If the wooden surfaces are soaped 1/6 With rollers on the floor of the quarry 1/32 On rollers on wood 1/40 On rollers between wood 1/50
At each increase of knowledge, as well as on the contrivance of every new tool, human labour becomes abridged. The man who contrived rollers, invented a tool by which his power was quintupled. The workman who first suggested the employment of soap or grease, was immediately enabled to move, without exerting a greater effort, more than three times the weight he could before.(5*)
6. The economy of human time is the next advantage of machinery in manufactures. So extensive and important is this effect, that we might, if we were inclined to generalize, embrace almost all the advantages under this single head: but the elucidation of principles of less extent will contribute more readily to a knowledge of the subject; and, as numerous examples will be presented to the reader in the ensuing pages, we shall restrict our illustrations upon this point.
As an example of the economy of time, the use of gunpowder in blasting rocks may be noticed. Several pounds of powder may be purchased for a sum acquired by a few days' labour: yet when this is employed for the purpose alluded to, effects are frequently produced which could not, even with the best tools, be accomplished by other means in less than many months.
The dimensions of one of the blocks of limestone extracted from the quarries worked for the formation of the breakwater at Plymouth were 26 1/2 ft long, 13 ft wide, and 16 ft deep. This mass, containing above 4,800 cubic feet, and weighing about 400 tons, was blasted three times. Two charges of 50 lbs each were successively exploded in a hole 13 feet deep, the bore being 3 inches at top and 2 1/2 inches at bottom: 100 lbs of powder were afterwards exploded in the rent formed by those operations. Each pound of gunpowder separated from the rock two tons of matter, or nearly 4,500 times its own weight. The expense of the powder was L 6, or nearly 7 1/2d. per lb: the boring occupied two men during a day and a half, and cost about 9s.; and the value of the produce was, at that time, about L 45.
7. The simple contrivance of tin tubes for speaking through, communicating between different apartments, by which the directions of the superintendent are instantly conveyed to the remotest parts of an establishment, produces a considerable economy of time. It is employed in the shops and manufactories in London, and might with advantage be used in domestic establishments, particularly in large houses, in conveying orders from the nursery to the kitchen, or from the house to the stable. Its convenience arises not merely from saving the servant or workman useless journeys to receive directions, but from relieving the master himself from that indisposition to give trouble, which frequently induces him to forego a trifling want, when he knows that his attendant must mount several flights of stairs to ascertain his wishes, and, after descending, must mount again to supply them. The distance to which such a mode of communication can be extended, does not appear to have been ascertained, and would be an interesting subject for enquiry. Admitting it to be possible between London and Liverpool, about seventeen minutes would elapse before the words spoken at one end would reach the other extremity of the pipe.
8. The art of using the diamond for cutting glass has undergone, within a few years, a very important improvement. A glazier's apprentice, when using a diamond set in a conical ferrule, as was always the practice about twenty years since, found great difficulty in acquiring the art of using it with certainty; and, at the end of a seven years' apprenticeship, many were found but indifferently skilled in its employment. This arose from the difficulty of finding the precise angle at which the diamond cuts, and of guiding it along the glass at the proper inclination when that angle is found. Almost the whole of the time consumed and of the glass destroyed in acquiring the art of cutting glass, may now be saved by the use of an improved tool. The gem is set in a small piece of squared brass with its edges nearly parallel to one side of the square. A person skilled in its use now files away the brass on one side until, by trial, he finds that the diamond will make a clean cut, when guided by keeping this edge pressed against a ruler. The diamond and its mounting are now attached to a stick like a pencil, by means of a swivel allowing a small angular motion. Thus, even the beginner at once applies the cutting edge at the proper angle, by pressing the side of the brass against a ruler; and even though the part he holds in his hand should deviate a little from the required angle, it communicates no irregularity to the position of the diamond, which rarely fails to do its office when thus employed.
The relative hardness of the diamond, in different directions, is a singular fact. An experienced workman, on whose judgement I can rely, informed me that he has seen a diamond ground with diamond powder on a cast-iron mill for three hours without its being at all worn, but that, on changing its direction with respect to the grinding surface, the same edge was ground away.
9. Employment of materials of little value. The skins used by the goldbeater are produced from the offal of animals. The hoofs of horses and cattle, and other horny refuse, are employed in the production of the prussiate of potash, that beautiful, yellow, crystallized salt, which is exhibited in the shops of some of our chemists. The worn-out saucepans and tinware of our kitchens, when beyond the reach of the tinker's art, are not utterly worthless. We sometimes meet carts loaded with old tin kettles and worn-out iron coal-skuttles traversing our streets. These have not yet completed their useful course; the less corroded parts are cut into strips, punched with small holes, and varnished with a coarse black varnish for the use of the trunk-maker, who protects the edges and angles of his boxes with them; the remainder are conveyed to the manufacturing chemists in the outskirts of the town, who employ them in combination with pyroligneous acid, in making a black die for the use of calico printers.
10. Of tools. The difference between a tool and a machine is not capable of very precise distinction; nor is it necessary, in a popular explanation of those terms, to limit very strictly their acceptation. A tool is usually more simple than a machine; it is generally used with the hand, whilst a machine is frequently moved by animal or steam power. The simpler machines are often merely one or more tools placed in a frame, and acted on by a moving power. In pointing out the advantages of tools, we shall commence with some of the simplest.
11. To arrange twenty thousand needles thrown promiscuously into a box, mixed and entangled in every possible direction, in such a form that they shall be all parallel to each other, would, at first sight, appear a most tedious occupation; in fact, if each needle were to be separated individually, many hours must be consumed in the process. Yet this is an operation which must be performed many times in the manufacture of needles; and it is accomplished in a few minutes by a very simple tool; nothing more being requisite than a small flat tray of sheet iron, slightly concave at the bottom. In this the needles are placed, and shaken in a peculiar manner, by throwing them up a very little, and giving at the same time a slight longitudinal motion to the tray. The shape of the needles assists their arrangement; for if two needles cross each other (unless, which is exceedingly improbable, they happen to be precisely balanced), they will, when they fall on the bottom of the tray, tend to place themselves side by side, and the hollow form of the tray assists this disposition. As they have no projection in any part to impede this tendency, or to entangle each other, they are, by continually shaking, arranged lengthwise, in three or four minutes. The direction of the shake is now changed, the needles are but little thrown up, but the tray is shaken endways; the result of which is, that in a minute or two the needles which were previously arranged endways become heaped up in a wall, with their ends against the extremity of the tray. They are then removed, by hundreds at a time, with a broad iron spatula, on which they are retained by the forefinger of the left hand. As this parallel arrangement of the needles must be repeated many times, if a cheap and expeditious method had not been devised, the expense of the manufacture would have been considerably enhanced.
12. Another process in the art of making needles furnishes an example of one of the simplest contrivances which can come under the denomination of a tool. After the needles have been arranged in the manner just described, it is necessary to separate them into two parcels, in order that their points may be all in one direction. This is usually done by women and children. The needles are placed sideways in a heap, on a table, in front of each operator, just as they are arranged by the process above described. From five to ten are rolled towards this person with the forefinger of the left hand; this separates them a very small space from each other, and each in its turn is pushed lengthwise to the right or to the left, according to the direction of the point. This is the usual process, and in it every needle passes individually under the finger of the operator. A small alteration expedites the process considerably: the child puts on the forefinger of its right hand a small cloth cap or fingerstall, and rolling out of the heap from six to twelve needles, he keeps them down by the forefinger of the left hand, whilst he presses the forefinger of the right hand gently against their ends: those which have the points towards the right hand stick into the fingerstall; and the child, removing the finger of the left hand, slightly raises the needles sticking into the cloth, and then pushes them towards the left side. Those needles which had their eyes on the right hand do not stick into the finger cover, and are pushed to the heap on the right side before the repetition of this process. By means of this simple contrivance each movement of the finger, from one side to the other, carries five or six needles to their proper heap; whereas, in the former method, frequently only one was moved, and rarely more than two or three were transported at one movement to their place.
13. Various operations occur in the arts in which the assistance of an additional hand would be a great convenience to the workman, and in these cases tools or machines of the simplest structure come to our aid: vices of different forms, in which the material to be wrought is firmly grasped by screws, are of this kind, and are used in almost every workshop; but a more striking example may be found in the trade of the nail-maker.
Some kinds of nails, such as those used for defending the soles of coarse shoes, called hobnails, require a particular form of the head, which is made by the stroke of a die. The workman holds one end of the rod of iron out of which he forms the nails in his left hand; with his right hand he hammers the red-hot end of it into a point, and cutting the proper length almost off, bends it nearly at a right angle. He puts this into a hole in a small stake-iron immediately under a hammer which is connected with a treadle, and has a die sunk in its surface corresponding to the intended form of the head; and having given one part of the form to the head with the small hammer in his hand, he moves the treadle with his foot, disengages the other hammer, and completes the figure of the head; the returning stroke produced by the movement of the treadle striking the finished nail out of the hole in which it was retained. Without this substitution of his foot for another hand, the workman would, probably, be obliged to heat the nails twice over.
14. Another, though fortunately a less general substitution of tools for human hands, is used to assist the labour of those who are deprived by nature, or by accident, of some of their limbs. Those who have had an opportunity of examining the beautiful contrivances for the manufacture of shoes by machinery, which we owe to the fertile invention of Mr Brunel, must have noticed many instances in which the workmen were enabled to execute their task with precision, although labouring under the disadvantages of the loss of an arm or leg. A similar instance occurs at Liverpool, in the Institution for the Blind, where a machine is used by those afflicted with blindness, for weaving sash-lines; it is said to have been the invention of a person suffering under that calamity. Other examples might be mentioned of contrivances for the use, the amusement, or the instruction of the wealthier classes, who labour under the same natural disadvantages. These triumphs of skill and ingenuity deserve a double portion of our admiration when applied to mitigate the severity of natural or accidental misfortune; when they supply the rich with occupation and knowledge; when they relieve the poor from the additional evils of poverty and want.
15. Division of the objects of machinery. There exists a natural, although, in point of number, a very unequal division amongst machines: they may be classed as; first, those which are employed to produce power, and as, secondly, those which are intended merely to transmit force and execute work. The first of these divisions is of great importance, and is very limited in the variety of its species, although some of those species consist of numerous individuals.
Of that class of mechanical agents by which motion is transmitted—the lever, the pulley, the wedge, and many others— it has been demonstrated, that no power is gained by their use, however combined. Whatever force is applied at one point can only be exerted at some other, diminished by friction and other incidental causes; and it has been further proved, that whatever is gained in the rapidity of execution is compensated by the necessity of exerting additional force. These two principles, long since placed beyond the reach of doubt, cannot be too constantly borne in mind. But in limiting our attempts to things which are possible, we are still, as we hope to shew, possessed of a field of inexhaustible research, and of advantages derived from mechanical skill, which have but just begun to exercise their influence on our arts, and may be pursued without limit contributing to the improvement, the wealth, and the happiness of our race.
16. Of those machines by which we produce power, it may be observed, that although they are to us immense acquisitions, yet in regard to two of the sources of this power—the force of wind and of water—we merely make use of bodies in a state of motion by nature; we change the directions of their movement in order to render them subservient to our purposes, but we neither add to nor diminish the quantity of motion in existence. When we expose the sails of a windmill obliquely to the gale, we check the velocity of a small portion of the atmosphere, and convert its own rectilinear motion into one of rotation in the sails; we thus change the direction of force, but we create no power. The same may be observed with regard to the sails of a vessel; the quantity of motion given by them is precisely the same as that which is destroyed in the atmosphere. If we avail ourselves of a descending stream to turn a water-wheel, we are appropriating a power which nature may appear, at first sight, to be uselessly and irrecoverably wasting, but which, upon due examination, we shall find she is ever regaining by other processes. The fluid which is falling from a higher to a lower level, carries with it the velocity due to its revolution with the earth at a greater distance from its centre. It will therefore accelerate, although to an almost infinitesimal extent, the earth's daily rotation. The sum of all these increments of velocity, arising from the descent of all the falling waters on the earth's surface, would in time become perceptible, did not nature, by the process of evaporation, convey the waters back to their sources; and thus again, by removing matter to a greater distance from the centre, destroy the velocity generated by its previous approach.
17. The force of vapour is another fertile source of moving power; but even in this case it cannot be maintained that power is created. Water is converted into elastic vapour by the combustion of fuel. The chemical changes which thus take place are constantly increasing the atmosphere by large quantities of carbonic acid and other gases noxious to animal life. The means by which nature decomposes these elements, or reconverts them into a solid form, are not sufficiently known: but if the end could be accomplished by mechanical force, it is almost certain that the power necessary to produce it would at least equal that which was generated by the original combustion. Man, therefore, does not create power; but, availing himself of his knowledge of nature's mysteries, he applies his talents to diverting a small and limited portion of her energies to his own wants: and, whether he employs the regulated action of steam, or the more rapid and tremendous effects of gunpowder, he is only producing on a small scale compositions and decompositions which nature is incessantly at work in reversing, for the restoration of that equilibrium which we cannot doubt is constantly maintained throughout even the remotest limits of our system. The operations of man participate in the character of their author; they are diminutive, but energetic during the short period of their existence: whilst those of nature, acting over vast spaces, and unlimited by time, are ever pursuing their silent and resistless career.
18. In stating the broad principle, that all combinations of mechanical art can only augment the force communicated to the machine at the expense of the time employed in producing the effect, it might, perhaps, be imagined, that the assistance derived from such contrivances is small. This is, however, by no means the case: since the almost unlimited variety they afford, enables us to exert to the greatest advantage whatever force we employ. There is, it is true, a limit beyond which it is impossible to reduce the power necessary to produce any given effect, but it very seldom happens that the methods first employed at all approach that limit. In dividing the knotted root of a tree for fuel, how very different will be the time consumed, according to the nature of the tool made use of! The hatchet, or the adze, will divide it into small parts, but will consume a large portion of the workman's time. The saw will answer the same purpose more quickly and more effectually. This, in its turn, is superseded by the wedge, which rends it in a still shorter time. If the circumstances are favourable, and the workman skilful, the time and expense may be still further reduced by the use of a small quantity of gunpowder exploded in holes judiciously placed in the block.
19. When a mass of matter is to be removed a certain force must be expended; and upon the proper economy of this force the price of transport will depend. A country must, however, have reached a high degree of civilization before it will have approached the limit of this economy. The cotton of Java is conveyed in junks to the coast of China; but from the seed not being previously separated, three-quarters of the weight thus carried is not cotton. This might, perhaps, be justified in Java by the want of machinery to separate the seed, or by the relative cost of the operation in the two countries. But the cotton itself, as packed by the Chinese, occupies three times the bulk of an equal quantity shipped by Europeans for their own markets. Thus the freight of a given quantity of cotton costs the Chinese nearly twelve times the price to which, by a proper attention to mechanical methods, it might be reduced. *
1. 'The Bandana handkerchiefs manufactured at Glasgow have long superseded the genuine ones, and are now committed in large quantities both by the natives and Chines.' Crawford's Indian Archipelago, vol. iii, p. 505.
2. 'Captain Clapperton, when on a visit at the court of the Sultan Bello, states, that provisionswere regularly sent me from the sultan's table on pewter dishes with the London stamp; and I even had a piece of meat served up on a white wash-hand basin of English manufacture.' Clapperton's Journey, p. 88.
3. At Calicut, in the East Indies (whence the cotton cloth caled calico derivesits name), the price of labour is one-seventh of that in England, yet the market is supplied from British looms.
4. Liverpool, though not itself a manufacturing town, has been placed in this list, from its connection with Manchester, of which it is the port.
5. So sensible are the effects of grease in diminishing friction, that the drivers of sledges in Amsterdam, on which heavy goodsare transported, cary in their hand a rope soaked in tallow, which they thrown down from time to time before the sledge, in order that, by passing over the rope, it may become greased.
20. Whenever the work to be done requires more force for its execution than can be generated in the time necessary for its completion, recourse must be had to some mechanical method of preserving and condensing a part of the power exerted previously to the commencement of the process. This is most frequently accomplished by a fly-wheel, which is in fact nothing more than a wheel having a very heavy rim, so that the greater part of its weight is near the circumference. It requires great power applied for some time to put this into rapid motion; but when moving with considerable velocity, the effects are exceedingly powerful, if its force be concentrated upon a small object. In some of the iron works where the power of the steam-engine is a little too small for the rollers which it drives, it is usual to set the engine at work a short time before the red-hot iron is ready to be removed from the furnace to the rollers, and to allow it to work with great rapidity until the fly has acquired a velocity rather alarming to those unused to such establishments. On passing the softened mass of iron through the first groove, the engine receives a great and very perceptible check; and its speed is diminished at the next and at each succeeding passage, until the iron bar is reduced to such a size that the ordinary power of the engine is sufficient to roll it.
21. The powerful effect of a large flywheel when its force can be concentrated on a point, was curiously illustrated at one of the largest of our manufactories. The proprietor was shewing to a friend the method of punching holes in iron plates for the boilers of steam-engines. He held in his hand a piece of sheet-iron three-eighths of an inch thick, which he placed under the punch. Observing, after several holes had been made, that the punch made its perforations more and more slowly, he called to the engine-man to know what made the engine work so sluggishly, when it was found that the flywheel and punching apparatus had been detached from the steam-engine just at the commencement of his experiment.
22. Another mode of accumulating power arises from lifting a weight and then allowing it to fall. A man, even with a heavy hammer, might strike repeated blows upon the head of a pile without producing any effect. But if he raises a much heavier hammer to a much greater height, its fall, though far less frequently repeated, will produce the desired effect.
When a small blow is given to a large mass of matter, as to a pile, the imperfect elasticity of the material causes a small loss of momentum in the transmission of the motion from each particle to the succeeding one; and, therefore, it may happen that the whole force communicated shall be destroyed before it reaches the opposite extremity.
23. The power accumulated within a small space by gunpowder is well known; and, though not strictly an illustration of the subject discussed in this chapter, some of its effects, under peculiar circumstances, are so singular, that an attempt to explain them may perhaps be excused. If a gun is loaded with ball it will not kick so much as when loaded with small shot; and amongst different kinds of shot, that which is the smallest, causes the greatest recoil against the shoulder. A gun loaded with a quantity of sand, equal in weight to a charge of snipe-shot, kicks still more. If, in loading, a space is left between the wadding and the charge, the gun either recoils violently, or bursts. If the muzzle of a gun has accidentally been stuck into the ground, so as to be stopped up with clay, or even with snow, or if it be fired with its muzzle plunged into water, the almost certain result is that it bursts.
The ultimate cause of these apparently inconsistent effects is, that every force requires time to produce its effect; and if the time requisite for the elastic vapour within to force out the sides of the barrel, is less than that in which the condensation of the air near the wadding is conveyed in sufficient force to drive the impediment from the muzzle, then the barrel must burst. If sometimes happens that these two forces are so nearly balanced that the barrel only swells; the obstacle giving way before the gun is actually burst.
The correctness of this explanation will appear by tracing step by step the circumstances which arise on discharging a gun loaded with powder confined by a cylindrical piece of wadding, and having its muzzle filled with clay, or some other substance having a moderate degree of resistance. In this case the first effect of the explosion is to produce an enormous pressure on everything confining it, and to advance the wadding through a very small space. Here let us consider it as at rest for a moment, and examine its condition. The portion of air in immediate contact with the wadding is condensed; and if the wadding were to remain at rest, the air throughout the tube would soon acquire a uniform density. But this would require a small interval of time; for the condensation next the wadding would travel with the velocity of sound to the other end, from whence, being reflected back, a series of waves would be generated, which, aided by the friction of the tube, would ultimately destroy the motion.
But until the first wave reaches the impediment at the muzzle, the air can exert no pressure against it. Now if the velocity communicated to the wadding is very much greater than that of sound, the condensation of the air immediately in advance of it may be very great before the resistance transmitted to the muzzle is at all considerable; in which case the mutual repulsion of the particles of air so compressed, will offer an absolute barrier to the advance of the wadding.(1*)
If this explanation be correct, the additional recoil, when a gun is loaded with small shot or sand, may arise in some measure from the condensation of the air contained between their particles; but chiefly from the velocity communicated by the explosion to those particles of the substances in immediate contact with the powder being greater than that with which a wave can be transmitted through them. It also affords a reason for the success of a method of blasting rocks by filling the upper part of the hole above the powder with sand, instead of clay rammed hard. That the destruction of the gun barrel does not arise from the property possessed by fluids, and in some measure also by sand and small shot, of pressing equally in all directions, and thus exerting a force against a large portion of the interior surface, seems to be proved by a circumstance mentioned by Le Vaillant and other travellers, that, for the purpose of taking birds without injuring their plumage, they filled the barrel of their fowling pieces with water, instead of loading them with a charge of shot.
24. The same reasoning explains a curious phenomenon which occurs in firing a still more powerfully explosive substance. If we put a small quantity of fulminating silver upon the face of an anvil, and strike it slightly with a hammer, it explodes; but instead of breaking either the hammer or the anvil, it is found that that part of the face of each in contact with the fulminating silver is damaged. In this case the velocity communicated by the elastic matter disengaged may be greater than the velocity of a wave traversing steel; so that the particles at the surface are driven by the explosion so near to those next adjacent, that when the compelling force is removed, the repulsion of the particles within the mass drives back those nearer to the surface, with such force, that they pass beyond the limits of attraction, and are separated in the shape of powder.
25. i) The success of the experiment of firing a tallow candle through a deal board, would be explained in the same manner, by supposing the velocity of a wave propagated through deal to be greater than that of a wave passing through tallow.
25. ii) The boiler of a steam-engine sometimes bursts even during the escape of steam through the safety-valve. If the water in the boiler is thrown upon any part which happens to be red hot, the steam formed in the immediate neighbourhood of that part expands with greater velocity than that with which a wave can be transmitted through the less heated steam; consequently one particle is urged against the next, and an almost invincible obstacle is formed, in the same manner as described in the case of the discharge of a gun. If the safety-valve is closed, it may retain the pressure thus created for a short time, and even when it is open the escape may not be sufficiently rapid to remove all impediment; there may therefore exist momentarily within the boiler pressures of various force, varying from that which can just lift the safety-valve up to that which is sufficient, if exerted during an extremely small space of time, to tear open the boiler itself.
26. This reasoning ought, however, to be admitted with caution; and perhaps some inducement to examine it carefully may be presented by tracing it to extreme cases. It would seem, but this is not a necessary consequence, that a gun might be made so long, that it would burst although no obstacle filled up its muzzle. It should also follow that if, after the gun is charged, the air were extracted from the barrel, though the muzzle be then left closed, the gun ought not to burst. It would also seem to follow from the principle of the explanation, that a body might be projected in air, or other elastic resisting medium, with such force that, after advancing a very short space it should return in the same direction in which it was projected.
1. See Poisson's remarks, Ecole Polytec. Cahier, xxi, p. 191.
27. Uniformity and steadiness in the rate at which machinery works, are essential both for its effect and its duration. The first illustration which presents itself is that beautiful contrivance, the governor of the steam-engine, which must immediately occur to all who are familiar with that admirable engine. Wherever the increased speed of the engine would lead to injurious or dangerous consequences, this is applied; and it is equally the regulator of the water-wheel which drives a spinning-jenny, or of the windmills which drain our fens. In the dockyard at Chatham, the descending motion of a large platform, on which timber is raised, is regulated by a governor; but as the weight is very considerable, the velocity of this governor is still further checked by causing its motion to take place in water.
28. Another very beautiful contrivance for regulating the number of strokes made by a steam-engine, is used in Cornwall: it is called the cataract, and depends on the time required to fill a vessel plunged in water, the opening of the valve through which the fluid is admitted being adjustable at the will of the engine-man.
29. The regularity of the supply of fuel to the fire under the boilers of steam-engines is another mode of contributing to the uniformity of their rate, and also economizes the consumption of coal. Several patents have been taken out for methods of regulating this supply: the general principle being to make the engine supply the fire with small quantities of fuel at regular intervals by means of a hopper, and to make it diminish this supply when the engine works too quickly. One of the incidental advantages of this plan is, that by throwing on a very small quantity of coal at a time, the smoke is almost entirely consumed. The dampers of ashpits and chimneys are also, in some cases, connected with machines in order to regulate their speed.
30. Another contrivance for regulating the effect of machinery consists in a vane or fly, of little weight, but presenting a large surface. This revolves rapidly, and soon acquires a uniform rate, which it cannot greatly exceed, because any addition to its velocity produces a much greater addition to the resistance it meets with from the air. The interval between the strokes on the bell of a clock is regulated in this way, and the fly is so contrived, that the interval may be altered by presenting the arms of it more or less obliquely to the direction in which they move. This kind of fly, or vane, is generally used in the smaller kinds of mechanism, and, unlike the heavy fly, it is a destroyer instead of a preserver of force. It is the regulator used in musical boxes, and in almost all mechanical toys.
31. The action of a fly, or vane, suggests the principle of an instrument for measuring the altitude of mountains, which perhaps deserves a trial, since, if it succeed only tolerably, it will form a much more portable instrument than the barometer. It is well known that the barometer indicates the weight of a column of the atmosphere above it, whose base is equal to the bore of the tube. It is also known that the density of the air adjacent to the instrument will depend both on the weight of air above it, and on the heat of the air at that place. If, therefore, we can measure the density of the air, and its temperature, the height of a column of mercury which it would support in the barometer can be found by calculation. Now the thermometer gives information respecting the temperature of the air immediately; and its density might be ascertained by means of a watch and a small instrument, in which the number of turns made by a vane moved by a constant force, should be registered. The less dense the air in which the vane revolves, the greater will be the number of its revolutions in a given time: and tables could be formed from experiments in partially exhausted vessels, aided by calculation, from which, if the temperature of the air, and the number of revolutions of the vane are given, the corresponding height of the barometer might be found.(1*)
1. To persons who may be inclined to experiment upon this or any other instrument, I would beg to suggest the perusal of the section 'On the art of Observing', Observations on the Decline of Science in England, p. 170, Fellowes, 1828.
Increase and Diminution of Velocity
32. The fatigue produced on the muscles of the human frame does not altogether depend on the actual force employed in each effort, but partly on the frequency with which it is exerted. The exertion necessary to accomplish every operation consists of two parts: one of these is the expenditure of force which is necessary to drive the tool or instrument; and the other is the effort required for the motion of some limb of the animal producing the action. In driving a nail into a piece of wood, one of these is lifting the hammer, and propelling its head against the nail; the other is, raising the arm itself, and moving it in order to use the hammer. If the weight of the hammer is considerable, the former part will cause the greatest portion of the exertion. If the hammer is light, the exertion of raising the arm will produce the greatest part of the fatigue. It does therefore happen, that operations requiring very trifling force, if frequently repeated, will tire more effectually than more laborious work. There is also a degree of rapidity beyond which the action of the muscles cannot be pressed.
33. The most advantageous load for a porter who carries wood up stairs on his shoulders, has been investigated by M. Coulomb; but he found from experiment that a man walking up stairs without any load, and raising his burden by means of his own weight in descending, could do as much work in one day, as four men employed in the ordinary way with the most favourable load.
34. The proportion between the velocity with which men or animals move, and the weights they carry, is a matter of considerable importance, particularly in military affairs. It is also of great importance for the economy of labour, to adjust the weight of that part of the animal's body which is moved, the weight of the tool it urges, and the frequency of repetition of these efforts, so as to produce the greatest effect. An instance of the saving of time by making the same motion of the arm execute two operations instead of one, occurs in the simple art of making the tags of bootlaces: these tags are formed out of very thin, tinned, sheet-iron, and were formerly cut out of long strips of that material into pieces of such a breadth that when bent round they just enclosed the lace. Two pieces of steel have recently been fixed to the side of the shears, by which each piece of tinned-iron as soon as it is cut is bent into a semi-cylindrical form. The additional power required for this operation is almost imperceptible, and it is executed by the same motion of the arm which produces the cut. The work is usually performed by women and children; and with the improved tool more than three times the quantity of tags is produced in a given time.(1*)
35. Whenever the work is itself light, it becomes necessary, in order to economize time, to increase the velocity. Twisting the fibres of wool by the fingers would be a most tedious operation: in the common spinning-wheel the velocity of the foot is moderate, but by a very simple contrivance that of the thread is most rapid. A piece of catgut passing round a large wheel, and then round a small spindle, effects this change. This contrivance is common to a multitude of machines, some of them very simple. In large shops for the retail of ribands, it is necessary at short intervals to 'take stock', that is, to measure and rewind every piece of riband, an operation which, even with this mode of shortening it, is sufficiently tiresome, but without it would be almost impossible from its expense. The small balls of sewing cotton, so cheap and so beautifully wound, are formed by a machine on the same principle, and but a few steps more complicated.
36. In turning from the smaller instruments in frequent use to the larger and more important machines, the economy arising from the increase of velocity becomes more striking. In converting cast into wrought-iron, a mass of metal, of about a hundredweight, is heated almost to white heat, and placed under a heavy hammer moved by water or steam power. This is raised by a projection on a revolving axis; and if the hammer derived its momentum only from the space through which it fell, it would require a considerably greater time to give a blow. But as it is important that the softened mass of red-hot iron should receive as many blows as possible before it cools, the form of the cam or projection on the axis is such, that the hammer, instead of being lifted to a small height, is thrown up with a jerk, and almost the instant after it strikes against a large beam, which acts as a powerful spring, and drives it down on the iron with such velocity that by these means about double the number of strokes can be made in a given time. In the smaller tilt-hammers, this is carried still further by striking the tail of the tilt-hammer forcibly against a small steel anvil, it rebounds with such velocity, that from three to five hundred strokes are made in a minute. In the manufacture of anchors, an art in which a similar contrivance is of still greater importance, it has only been recently applied.
37. In the manufacture of scythes, the length of the blade renders it necessary that the workman should move readily, so as to bring every part of it on the anvil in quick succession. This is effected by placing him in a seat suspended by ropes from the ceiling: so that he is enabled, with little bodily exertion, to vary his distance, by pressing his feet against the block which supports the anvil, or against the floor.
38. An increase of velocity is sometimes necessary to render operations possible: thus a person may skate with great rapidity over ice which would not support his weight if he moved over it more slowly. This arises from the fact, that time is requisite for producing the fracture of the ice: as soon as the weight of the skater begins to act on any point, the ice, supported by the water, bends slowly under him; but if the skater's velocity is considerable, he has passed off from the spot which was loaded before the bending has reached the point which would cause the ice to break.
39. An effect not very different from this might take place if very great velocity were communicated to boats. Let us suppose a flatbottomed boat, whose bow forms an inclined plane with the bottom, at rest in still water. If we imagine some very great force suddenly to propel this boat, the inclination of the plane at the forepart would cause it to rise in the water; and if the force were excessive, it might even rise out of the water, and advance, by a series of leaps, like a piece of slate or an oyster shell, thrown as a 'duck and drake'.
If the force were not sufficient to pull the boat out of the water, but were just enough to bring its bottom to the surface, it would be carried along with a kind of gliding motion with great rapidity; for at every point of its course it would require a certain time before, it could sink to its usual draft of water; but before that time had elapsed, it would have advanced to another point, and consequently have been raised by the reaction of the water on the inclined plane at its forepart.
40. The same fact, that bodies moving with great velocity have not time to exert the full effect of their weight, seems to explain a circumstance which appears to be very unaccountable. It sometimes happens that when foot-passengers are knocked down by carriages, the wheels pass over them with scarcely any injury, though, if the weight of the carriage had rested on their body, even for a few seconds, it would have crushed them to death. If the view above taken is correct, the injury in such circumstances will chiefly happen to that part of the body which is struck by the advancing wheel.
41. An operation in which rapidity is of essential importance is in bringing the produce of mines up to the surface. The shafts through which the produce is raised are sunk at a very great expense, and it is, of course, desirable to sink as few of them as possible. The matter to be extracted is therefore raised by steam-engines with considerable, and without this many of our mines could not be worked velocity, with profit.
42. The effect of great velocity in modifying the form of a cohesive substance is beautifully shown in the process for making window glass, termed "flashing", which is one of the most striking operations in our domestic arts. A workman having dipped his iron tube into the glass pot, and loaded it with several pounds of the melted "metal", blows out a large globe, which is connected with his rod by a short thick hollow neck. Another workman now fixes to the globe immediately opposite to its neck, an iron rod, the extremity of which has been dipped in the melted glass; and when this is firmly attached, a few drops of water separate the neck of the globe from the iron tube. The rod with the globe attached to it is now held at the mouth of a glowing furnace: and by turning the rod the globe is made to revolve slowly, so as to be uniformly exposed to the heat: the first effect of this softening is to make the glass contract upon itself and to enlarge the opening of the neck. As the softening proceeds, the globe is turned more quickly on its axis, and when very soft and almost incandescent, it is removed from the fire, and the velocity of rotation being still continually increased, the opening enlarges from the effect of the centrifugal force, at first gradually, until at last the mouth suddenly expands or "flashes" out into one large circular sheet of red hot glass. The neck of the original globe, which is to become the outer part of the sheet, is left thick to admit of this expansion, and forms the edge of the circular plate of glass, which is called a "Table". The centre presents the appearance of a thick boss or prominence, called the "Bull's-eye", at the part by which it was attached to the iron rod.
43. The most frequent reason for employing contrivances for diminishing velocity, arises from the necessity of overcoming great resistances with small power. Systems of pulleys, the crane, and many other illustrations, might also be adduced here as examples; but they belong more appropriately to some of the other causes which we have assigned for the advantages of machinery. The common smoke-jack is an instrument in which the velocity communicated is too great for the purpose required, and it is transmitted through wheels which reduce it to a more moderate rate.
44. Telegraphs are machines for conveying information over extensive lines with great rapidity. They have generally been established for the purposes of transmitting information during war, but the increasing wants of man will probably soon render them subservient to more peaceful objects.
A few years since the telegraph conveyed to Paris information of the discovery of a comet, by M. Gambart, at Marseilles: the message arrived during a sitting of the French Board of Longitude, and was sent in a note from the Minister of the Interior to Laplace, the President, who received it whilst the writer of these lines was sitting by his side. The object in this instance was, to give the earliest publicity to the fact, and to assure to M. Gambart the title of its first discoverer.
At Liverpool a system of signals is established for the purposes of commerce, so that each merchant can communicate with his own vessel long before she arrives in the port.
1. See Transactions of the Society of Arts, 1826.
Extending the Time of Action of Forces
45. This is one of the most common and most useful of the employments of machinery. The half minute which we daily devote to the winding-up of our watches is an exertion of labour almost insensible; yet, by the aid of a few wheels, its effect is spread over the whole twenty-four hours. In our clocks, this extension of the time of action of the original force impressed is carried still further; the better kind usually require winding up once in eight days, and some are occasionally made to continue in action during a month, or even a year. Another familiar illustration may be noticed in our domestic furniture: the common jack by which our meat is roasted, is a contrivance to enable the cook in a few minutes to exert a force which the machine retails out during the succeeding hour in turning the loaded spit; thus enabling her to bestow her undivided attention on the other important duties of her vocation. A great number of automatons and mechanical toys moved by springs, may be classed under this division.
46. A small moving power, in the shape of a jack or a spring with a train of wheels, is often of great convenience to the experimental philosopher, and has been used with advantage in magnetic and electric experiments where the rotation of a disk of metal or other body is necessary, thus allowing to the enquirer the unimpeded use of both his hands. A vane connected by a train of wheels, and set in motion by a heavy weight, has also, on some occasions, been employed in chemical processes, to keep a solution in a state of agitation. Another object to which a similar apparatus may be applied, is the polishing of small specimens of minerals for optical experiments.
Saving time in Natural Operations
47. The process of tanning will furnish us with a striking illustration of the power of machinery in accelerating certain processes in which natural operations have a principal effect. The object of this art is to combine a certain principle called tanning with every particle of the skin to be tanned. This, in the ordinary process, is accomplished by allowing the skins to soak in pits containing a solution of tanning matter: they remain in the pits six, twelve, or eighteen months; and in some instances (if the hides are very thick), they are exposed to the operation for two years, or even during a longer period. This length of time is apparently required in order to allow the tanning matter to penetrate into the interior of a thick hide. The improved process consists in placing the hides with the solution of tan in close vessels, and then exhausting the air. The effect is to withdraw any air which may be contained in the pores of the hides, and to aid capillary attraction by the pressure of the atmosphere in forcing the tan into the interior of the skins. The effect of the additional force thus brought into action can be equal only to one atmosphere, but a further improvement has been made: the vessel containing the hides is, after exhaustion, filled up with a solution of tan; a small additional quantity is then injected with a forcing-pump. By these means any degree of pressure may be given which the containing vessel is capable of supporting; and it has been found that, by employing such a method, the thickest hides may be tanned in six weeks or two months.
48. The same process of injection might be applied to impregnate timber with tar, or any other substance capable of preserving it from decay, and if it were not too expensive, the deal floors of houses might thus be impregnated with alumine or other substances, which would render them much less liable to be accidentally set on fire. In some cases it might be useful to impregnate woods with resins, varnish, or oil; and wood saturated with oil might, in some instances, be usefully employed in machinery for giving a constant, but very minute supply of that fluid to iron or steel, against which it is worked. Some idea of the quantity of matter which can be injected into wood by great pressure, may be formed, from considering the fact stated by Mr Scoresby, respecting an accident which occurred to a boat of one of our whaling-ships. The harpoon having been struck into the fish, the whale in this instance, dived directly down, and carried the boat along with him. On returning to the surface the animal was killed, but the boat, instead of rising, was found suspended beneath the whale by the rope of the harpoon; and on drawing it up, every part of the wood was found to be so completely saturated with water as to sink immediately to the bottom.
49. The operation of bleaching linen in the open air is one for which considerable time is necessary; and although it does not require much labour, yet, from the risk of damage and of robbery from long /exposure, a mode of shortening the process was highly desirable. The method now practised, although not mechanical, is such a remarkable instance of the application of science to the practical purposes of manufactures, that in mentioning the advantages derived from shortening natural operations, it would have been scarcely pardonable to have omitted all allusion to the beautiful application of chlorine, in combination with lime, to the art of bleaching.
50. Another instance more strictly mechanical occurs in some countries where fuel is expensive, and the heat of the sun is not sufficient to evaporate the water from brine springs. The water is first pumped up to a reservoir, and then allowed to fall in small streams through faggots. Thus it becomes divided; and, presenting a large surface, evaporation is facilitated, and the. brine which is collected in the vessels below the faggots is stronger than that which was pumped up. After thus getting rid of a large part of the water, the remaining portion is driven off by boiling. The success of this process depends on the condition of the atmosphere with respect to moisture. If the air, at the time the brine falls through the faggots, holds in solution as much moisture as it can contain in an invisible state, no more can be absorbed from the salt water, and the labour expended in pumping is entirely wasted. The state of the air, as to dryness, is therefore an important consideration in fixing the time when this operation is to be performed; and an attentive examination of its state, by means of the hygrometer, might be productive of some economy of labour.
51. In some countries, where wood is scarce, the evaporation of salt water is carried on by a large collection of ropes which are stretched perpendicularly. In passing down the ropes, the water deposits the sulphate of lime which it held in solution, and gradually incrusts them, so that in the course of twenty years, when they are nearly rotten, they are still sustained by the surrounding incrustation, thus presenting the appearance of a vast collection of small columns.
52. Amongst natural operations perpetually altering the surface of our globe, there are some which it would be advantageous to accelerate. The wearing down of the rocks which impede the rapids of navigable rivers, is one of this class. A very beautiful process for accomplishing this object has been employed in America. A boat is placed at the bottom of the rapid, and kept in its position by a long rope which is firmly fixed on the bank of the river near the top. An axis, having a wheel similar to the paddle-wheel of a steamboat fixed at each end of it, is placed across the boat; so that the two wheels and their connecting axis shall revolve rapidly, being driven by the force of the passing current. Let us now imagine several beams of wood shod with pointed iron fixed at the ends of strong levers, projecting beyond the bow of the boat, as in the annexed representation.
If these levers are at liberty to move up and down, and if one or more projecting pieces, called cams, are fixed on the axis opposite to the end of each lever, the action of the stream upon the wheels will keep up a perpetual succession of blows. The sharp-pointed shoe striking upon the rock at the bottom, will continually detach small pieces, which the stream will immediately carry off. Thus, by the mere action of the river itself, a constant and most effectual system of pounding the rock at its bottom is established. A single workman may, by the aid of a rudder, direct the boat to any required part of the stream; and when it is necessary to move up the rapid, as the channel is cut, he can easily cause the boat to advance by means of a capstan.
53. When the object of the machinery just described has been accomplished, and the channel is sufficiently deep, a slight alteration converts the apparatus to another purpose almost equally advantageous. The stampers and the projecting pieces on the axis are removed, and a barrel of wood or metal, surrounding part of the axis, and capable, at pleasure, of being connected with, or disconnected from the axis itself, is substituted. The rope which hitherto fastened the boat, is now fixed to this barrel; and if the barrel is loose upon the axis, the paddle-wheel makes the axis only revolve, and the boat remains in its place: but the moment the axis is attached to its surrounding barrel, this begins to turn, and winding up the rope, the boat is gradually drawn up against the stream; and may be employed as a kind of tug-boat for vessels which have occasion to ascend the rapid. When the tug-boat reaches the summit the barrel is released from the axis, and friction being applied to moderate its velocity, the boat is allowed to descend.
54. Clocks occupy a very high place amongst instruments by means of which human time is economized: and their multiplication in conspicuous places in large towns is attended with many advantages. Their position, nevertheless, in London, is often very ill chosen; and the usual place, halfway up on a high steeple, in the midst of narrow streets, in a crowded city, is very unfavourable, unless the church happen to stand out from the houses which form the street. The most eligible situation for a clock is, that it should project considerably into the street at some elevation, with a dial-plate on each side, like that which belonged to the old church of St Dunstan, in Fleet Street, so that passengers in both directions would have their attention directed to the hour.
55. A similar remark applies, with much greater force, to the present defective mode of informing the public of the position of the receiving houses for the twopenny and general post. In the lowest corner of the window of some attractive shop is found a small slit, with a brass plate indicating its important office so obscurely that it seems to be an object rather to prevent its being conspicuous. No striking sign assists the anxious enquirer, who, as the moments rapidly pass which precede the hour of closing, torments the passenger with his enquiries for the nearest post-office. He reaches it, perhaps, just as it is closed; and must then either hasten to a distant part of the town in order to procure the admission of his letters or give up the idea of forwarding them by that post; and thus, if they are foreign letters, he may lose, perhaps, a week or a fortnight by waiting for the next packet.
The inconvenience in this and in some other cases, is of perpetual and everyday occurrence; and though, in the greater part of the individual cases, it may be of trifling moment, the sum of all these produces an amount, which it is always worthy of the government of a large and active population to attend to. The remedy is simple and obvious: it would only be necessary, at each letter-box, to have a light frame of iron projecting from the house over the pavement, and carrying the letters G. P., or T. P., or any other distinctive sign. All private signs are at present very properly prohibited from projecting into the street: the passenger, therefore, would at once know where to direct his attention, in order to discover a post-office; and those letter-boxes which occurred in the great thoroughfares could not fail to be generally known.
Exerting Forces Too Great for Human Power, and Executing Operations Too Delicate for Human Touch
56. It requires some skill and a considerable apparatus to enable many men to exert their whole force at a given point; and when this number amounts to hundreds or to thousands, additional difficulties present themselves. If ten thousand men were hired to act simultaneously, it would be exceedingly difficult to discover whether each exerted his whole force, and consequently, to be assured that each man did the duty for which he was paid. And if still larger bodies of men or animals were necessary, not only would the difficulty of directing them become greater, but the expense would increase from the necessity of transporting food for their subsistence.
The difficulty of enabling a large number of men to exert their force at the same instant of time has been almost obviated by the use of sound. The whistle of the boatswain performs this service on board ships; and in removing, by manual force, the vast mass of granite, weighing above 1,400 tons, on which the equestrian figure of Peter the Great is placed at St Petersburgh, a drummer was always stationed on its summit to give the signal for the united efforts of the workmen.
An ancient Egyptian drawing was discovered a few years since, by Champollion, in which a multitude of men appeared harnessed to a huge block of stone, on the top of which stood a single individual with his hands raised above his head, apparently in the act of clapping them, for the purpose of insuring the exertion of their combined force at the same moment of time.
57. In mines, it is sometimes necessary to raise or lower great weights by capstans requiring the force of more than one hundred men. These work upon the surface; but the directions must be communicated from below, perhaps from the depth of two hundred fathoms. This communication, however, is accomplished with ease and certainty by signals: the usual apparatus is a kind of clapper placed on the surface close to the capstan, so that every man may hear, and put in motion from below by a rope passing up the shaft.
At Wheal Friendship mine in Cornwall, a different contrivance is employed: there is in that mine an inclined plane, passing underground about two-thirds of a mile in length. Signals are communicated by a continuous rod of metal, which being struck below, the blow is distinctly heard on the surface.
58. In all our larger manufactories numerous instances occur of the application of the power of steam to overcome resistances which it would require far greater expense to surmount by means of animal labour. The twisting of the largest cables, the rolling, hammering, and cutting large masses of iron, the draining of our mines, all require enormous exertions of physical force continued for considerable periods of time. Other means are had recourse to when the force required is great, and the space through which it is to act is small. The hydraulic press of Bramah can, by the exertion of one man, produce a pressure of 1,500 atmospheres; and with such an instrument a hollow cylinder of wrought iron three inches thick has been burst. In rivetting together the iron plates, out of which steam-engine boilers are made, it is necessary to produce as close a joint as possible. This is accomplished by using the rivets red-hot: while they are in that state the two plates of iron are rivetted together, and the contraction which the rivet undergoes in cooling draws them together with a force which is only limited by the tenacity of the metal of which the rivet itself is made.
59. It is not alone in the greater operations of the engineer or the manufacturer, that those vast powers which man has called into action, in availing himself of the agency of steam, are fully developed. Wherever the individual operation demanding little force for its own performance is to be multiplied in almost endless repetition, commensurate power is required. It is the same 'giant arm' which twists 'the largest cable', that spins from the cotton plant an 'almost gossamer thread'. Obedient to the hand which called into action its resistless powers, it contends with the ocean and the storm, and rides triumphant through dangers and difficulties unattempted by the older modes of navigation. It is the same engine that, in its more regulated action, weaves the canvas it may one day supersede, or, with almost fairy fingers, entwines the meshes of the most delicate fabric that adorns the female form.(1*)
60. The Fifth Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Holyhead Roads furnishes ample proof of the great superiority of steam vessels. The following extracts are taken from the evidence of Captain Rogers, the commander of one of the packets:
Question. Are you not perfectly satisfied, from the experience you have had, that the steam vessel you command is capable of performing what no sailing vessel can do? Answer. Yes.
Question. During your passage from Gravesend to the Downs, could any square-rigged vessel, from a first-rate down to a sloop of war, have performed the voyage you did in the time you did it in the steamboat? Answer. No: it was impossible. In the Downs we passed several Indiamen, and 150 sail there that could not move down the channel: and at the back of Dungeness we passed 120 more.
Question. At the time you performed that voyage, with the weather you have described, from the Downs to Milford, if that weather had continued twelve months, would any square-rigged vessel have performed it? Answer. They would have been a long time about it: probably, would have been weeks instead of days. A sailing vessel would not have beat up to Milford, as we did, in twelve months.
61. The process of printing on the silver paper, which is necessary for bank-notes, is attended with some inconvenience, from the necessity of damping the paper previously to taking the impression. It was difficult to do this uniformly and in the old process of dipping a parcel of several sheets together into a vessel of water, the outside sheets becoming much more wet than the others, were very apt to be torn. A method has been adopted at the Bank of Ireland which obviates this inconvenience. The whole quantity of paper to be damped is placed in a close vessel from which the air is exhausted; water is then admitted, and every leaf is completely wetted; the paper is then removed to a press, and all the superfluous moisture is squeezed out.
62. The operation of pulverizing solid substances and of separating the powders of various degrees of fineness, is common in the arts: and as the best graduated sifting fails in effecting this separation with sufficient delicacy, recourse is had to suspension in a fluid medium. The substance when reduced by grinding to the finest powder is agitated in water which is then drawn off: the coarsest portion of the suspended matter first subsides, and that which requires the longest time to fall down is the finest. In this manner even emery powder, a substance of great density, is separated into the various degrees of fineness which are required. Flints, after being burned and ground, are suspended in water, in order to mix them intimately with clay, which is also suspended in the same fluid for the formation of porcelain. The water is then in part evaporated by heat, and the plastic compound, out of which our most beautiful porcelain is formed, remains. It is a curious fact, and one which requires further examination than it has yet received, that, if this mixture be suffered to remain long at rest before it is worked up, it becomes useless; for it is then found that the silex, which at first was uniformly mixed, becomes aggregated together in small lumps. This parallel to the formation of flints in the chalk strata deserves attention.(2*)