Image from the exhibition.
The models of machines assembled here may seem like an odd lot
with little in common: brick machines and brick kilns, pill making
machines, a dust collector, a lathe, paper machines, instruments
and tools... we could have extended the list, both in number and
in disparity. The point is that every item has to do with manufacturing.
The word "manufacturing" conjures up pictures of "machines"
making things when, in fact, it means "making by hands"!
We are often misled by our understanding of language. But by hand
or by machine, manufacture is "making things," and making
things, however we slice "it" means giving shape and form
to the substance of our environment, the Earth. We have no other
primary source for any of our products. Be it under the guise of
"natural" products such as clay, stone, wood, wool or
DNA molecules, or of processed products such as metals, leather
or glass, of synthetic products such as nylon, teflon or various
"polymers," ultimately, it all comes from the Earth.
This shaping of the substance of the Earth into useful objects
requires specialized knowledge and skills. It is this knowledge
and these skills under the form of "information" that
find themselves embodied in the machines and the tools used in manufacturing.
The more automatic the machines–that is the less they rely
on human operators–the more information they embody for a
It is the dynamic interaction of knowledge and skills with the
substance of the environment through the media of "energy"
that creates all wealth.
So, basically, that we are mixing clay, shaping it into bricks
and firing them in a "perpetual kiln," or mixing medicine,
shaping the resulting dough into pills or lozenges, damping paper
and shaping into boxes or turning shafting to specifications, we
are up to the same fundamental activity: manufacturing some useful
(i.e. in this sense, marketable) product, enriching the store of
wealth of mankind (or at least of a part of it).
The art of the designer of these production machines is to "freeze"
in the hardware of the machine as much knowledge and skill he can
to end up with a "good" product, i.e. something that fits
the required specifications (dimensions, weight, composition, appearance,
costs, or whatever criteria is important to client and producer
and whomever else may be involved: from the environmentalists to
the tax collector these days).
In modern design, many of the functions performed by the hardware
of the machines shown here, through levers, rods, cams and gears,
could be achieved through software statements in a computer program.
Indeed, an incredible multiplicity of functions not dreamed of 100
years ago can now be achieved through software. But in essence,
it makes no difference, the fundamental idea remains the same and
eventually and ultimately, the substance of the environment has
to be sliced with a tool in one form or another.
Following the play of the mechanism of the machines shown here
and as described in the patents, we can appreciate the play of the
mind of their designers, how clumsily or elegantly and boldly they
solved their problems.
To take but one example: consider the common problem in industry
of separating particulate matter from a fluid stream, dust from
air, for instance. Anyone knows that when the air is calm and free
of motion, the dust will settle and can be easily eliminated. The
problem is that the air has to be still for a long time. If you
are dealing with a large flow, the "settling chamber"
will have to be prohibitively large. So O.M. Morse looked at the
fundamental nature of the settling process and came up with a solution
that is radically opposite to the common sense approach. He gave
the air as much turbulence and velocity as he could by swirling
it into a funnel, separating dust from air by the effect of the
centrifugal force on the dust particles rather than just gravity.
The solution is particularly effective and elegant since the apparatus
is a simple funnel with a tangential entrance duct for the rnixture
the dust being evacuated at the small end of the funnel while the
air finds its way to the center of the wide end–no moving
parts–always a delight to a designer, the equivalent of the
"Look! Ma! No hands!" of a child on her bicycle. As O.M.
Morse wrote in his patent:
My improved machine separates the dust from
the air by its own momentum in an extremely simple manner, it
employs no moving parts, is very simple in construction and operated
It is, in fact, so simple, some might even quibble the appellation
"machine" applied to it.
John T. Brown and Moses Fuller, Inventors 1849.
The demand for bricks stimulated the design of brick-making
machines throughout the nineteenth century. This machine includes
a mechanical discharging device to replace manual handling.
In contrast, the brick machines and the machine tools look so complex.
It eventually got to the ridiculous point, with the rising complexity,
of functions, where making the model became more difficult than
building the real thing, since miniature machines and tools were
needed to build them. Furthermore, performance did not scale down
in terms of precision, accuracy, friction and other important variables.
The models could then be hardly more than conversation pieces for
"men of progress". They were soon to be discarded.
As for the products of manufacture that these machines would bring
out, the catalogue of the Crystal Palace Exhibition said this:
The absence in the United States of those vast
accumulations of wealth which favour the
expenditure of large sums on articles of mere
luxury, and the general distribution of the
means of procuring the more substantial
conveniences of life, impart to the productions
of American indutry, a character distinct from
that of many other countries. The expenditure
Of months or years of labour upon a single
article, not to increase its intrinsic value,
but solely to augment its cost or its estimation
as an object of virtu, is not common in the
United States. On the contrary, both manual
and mechanical labour are applied, with direct
reference to increasing the number or the
quantity of articles suited to the wants of a
whole profile and adaptcd to promote the
enjoyment of that moderate competency which,
prevails among them.