Ferro em Mumford (1934)

The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age. For every phase of its development the clock is both the outstanding fact and the typical symbol of the machine: even today no other machine is so ubiquitous. Here, at the very beginning of modern technics, appeared prophetically the accurate automatic machine which, only after centuries of further effort, was also to prove the final consummation of this technics in every department of industrial activity. There had been power-machines, such as the water-mill, before the clock; and there had also been various kinds of automata, to awaken the wonder of the populace in the temple, or to please the idle fancy of some Moslem caliph: machines one finds illustrated in Hero and Al-Jazari. But here was a new kind of [15] power-machine, in which the source of power and the transmission were of such a nature as to ensure the even flow of energy throughout the works and to make possible regular production and a standardized product. In its relationship to determinable quantities of energy, to standardization, to automatic action, and finally to its own special product, accurate timing, the clock has been the foremost machine in modern technics: and at each period it has remained in the lead: it marks a perfection toward which other machines aspire. The clock, moreover, served as a model for many other kinds of mechanical works, and the analysis of motion that accompanied the perfection of the clock, with the various types of gearing and transmission that were elaborated, contributed to the success of quite different kinds of machine. Smiths could have hammered thousands of suits of armor or thousands of iron cannon, wheelwrights could have shaped thousands of great water-wheels or crude gears, without inventing any of the special types of movement developed in clockwork, and without any of the accuracy of measurement and fineness of articulation that finally produced the accurate eighteenth century chronometer. (Mumford 1934:14-5)

The gain in mechanical efficiency through coordination and through the closer articulation of the day’s events cannot be overestimated: while this increase cannot be measured in mere horsepower, one has only to imagine its absence today to foresee the speedy disruption and eventual collapse of our entire society. The [18] modern industrial regime could do without coal and iron and steam easier than it could do without the clock. (Mumford 1934:17-18)

At all events, the old synthesis had broken down in thought and in social action. In no little degree, it had broken down because it was an inadequate one: a closed, perhaps fundamentally neurotic conception of human life and destiny, which originally had sprung out of the misery and terror that had attended both the brutality of imperialistic Rome and its ultimate putrefaction and decay. So remote were the attitudes and concepts of Christianity from the facts of the natural world and of human life, that once the world itself was opened up by navigation and exploration, by the new cosmology, by new methods of observation and experiment, there was no returning to the broken shell of the old order. The split. between the Heavenly system and the Earthly one had become too grave to be overlooked, too wide to be bridged: human life had a destiny outside that shell. The crudest science touched closer to contemporary truth than the most refined scholasticism: the clumsiest steam engine or spinning jenny had more efficiency than the soundest guild regulation, and the paltriest factory and iron bridge had more promise for architecture than the most masterly buildings of Wren and Adam; the first yard of cloth woven by machine, the first plain iron casting, had potentially more esthetic interest than jewelry fashioned by a Cellini or the canvas covered by a Reynolds. In short: a live machine was better than a dead organism; and the organism of medieval culture was dead. (Mumford 1934:44)

The displacement of the living and the organic took place rapidly with the early development of the machine. For the machine was a counterfeit of nature, nature analyzed, regulated, narrowed, controlled by the mind of men. The ultimate goal of its development was however not the mere conquest of nature but her resynthesis: dismembered by thought, nature was put together again in new combinations: material syntheses in chemistry, mechanical syntheses in engineering. The unwillingness to accept the natural environment as a fixed and final condition of man’s existence had always contributed both to his art and his technics: but from the seventeenth century, the attitude became compulsive, and it was to technics that he turned for fulfillment. Steam engines displaced horse power, iron and concrete displaced wood, aniline dyes replaced vegetable dyes, and so on down the line, with here and there a gap. Sometimes the new product was superior practically or esthetically to the old, as in the infinite superiority of the electric lamp over the tallow candle: sometimes the new product remained inferior in quality, as rayon is still inferior to natural silk: but in either event the gain was in [53] the creation of an equivalent product or synthesis which was less dependent upon uncertain organic variations and irregularities in either the product itself or the labor applied to it than was the original. (Mumford 1934:52-3)

Perhaps the most positive influence in the development of the machine has been that of the soldier: in back of it lies the long [82] development of the primitive hunter. Originally the call of the hunter for weapons was an effort to increase the food-supply: hence the invention and improvement of arrowheads, spears, slings, and knives from the earliest dawn of technics onward. The projectile and the hand-weapon were the two special lines of this development: and while the bow was perhaps the most effective weapon devised before the modern gun, since it had both range and accuracy, the sharpening of edges with the introduction of bronze and iron was scarcely less important. Shock and fire still remain among the chief tactical measures of warfare. (Mumford 1934:81-2)

The effect of firearms upon technics was three-fold. To begin with, they necessitated the large-scale use of iron, both for the guns themselves and for cannon-balls. While the development of armor called forth the skill of the smith, the multiplication of cannon demanded cooperative manufacture on a much larger scale: the old fashioned methods of handicraft were no longer adequate. Because of the destructions of the forest, experiments were made in the use of coal in the iron furnaces, from the seventeenth century onwards, and when, a century later, the problem was finally solved by Abraham Darby in England, coal became a key to military as well as to the new industrial power. In France, the first blast furnaces were not built [88] till about 1550, and at the end of the century France had thirteen foundries, all devoted to the manufacture of cannon-the only other important article being scythes. (Mumford 1934:87-8)

By the seventeenth century, before iron had begun to be used on a great scale in any of the other industrial arts, Colbert had created arms factories in France, Gustavus Adolphus had done likewise in Sweden, and in Russia, as early as Peter the Great, there were as many as 683 workers in a single factory. There were isolated examples of large-scale mills and factories, even before that of the famous Jack of Newbury in England: but the most impressive series was the arms factories. Within these factories, the division of labor [90] was established and the grinding and polishing machinery was worked by water-power: so that Sombart well observed that Adam Smith had done better to have taken arms, rather than pin-making, as an example of the modern productive process with all the economies of specialization and concentration. (Mumford 1934:89-90)

But there was still another place in which war forced the pace. Not merely was gun-casting the “great stimulant of improved techni- [91] que in the foundry,” and not merely was “the claim of Henry Cort to the gratitude of his fellow countrymen . . . based primarily on the contribution he had made of military security,” as Ashton says, but the demand for high grade iron in large quantities went hand in hand with the increase of artillery bombardment as a preparation for assault,. the effectiveness of which was presently demonstrated by the brilliant young artilleryman who was to scourge Europe with his technological genius whilst he liquidated the French revolution. Indeed, the rigorous mathematical basis and the increasing precision of artillery fire itself made it a model for the new industrial arts. Napoleon III in the middle of the nineteenth century offered a reward for a cheap process of making steel capable of withstanding the explosive force of the new shells. The Bessemer process was the direct answer to this demand. (Mumford 1934:90-1)

As for the sense of self-esteem the soldier achieves through his willingness to face death, one cannot deny that it has a perverse life-enhancing quality, but it is common to the gunman and the bandit, as well as to the hero: and there is no ground for the soldier’s belief that the battlefield is the only breeder of it. The mine, the ship, the blast furnace, the iron skeleton of bridge or skyscraper, the hospital ward, the childbed bring out the same gallant response: indeed, it is a far more common affair here than it is in the life of a soldier, who may spend his best years in empty drill, having faced no more serious threat of death than that from boredom. An imperviousness to life-values other than those clustered around the soldier’s underlying death-wish, is one of the most sinister effects of the military discipline. (Mumford 1934:95)

The eotechnic period was marked first of all by a steady increase in actual horsepower. This came directly from two pieces of apparatus: first, the introduction of the iron horseshoe, probably in the ninth century, a device that increased the range of the horse, by adapting him to other regions besides the grasslands, and added to his effective pulling power by giving his hoofs a grip. Second: by [113] the tenth century the modern form of harness, in which the pull is met at the shoulder instead of at the neck, was re-invented in Western Europe-it had existed in China as early as 200 B.C.-and by the twelfth century, it had supplanted the inefficient harness the Romans had known. The gain was a considerable one, for the horse was now not merely a useful aid in agriculture or a means of transport: he became likewise an improved agent of mechanical production: mills utilizing horsepower directly for grinding corn or for pumping water came into existence all over Europe, sometimes supplementing other forms of non-human power, sometimes serving as the principal source. The increase in the number of horses was made possible, again, by improvements in agriculture and by the opening up of the hitherto sparsely cultivated or primeval forest areas in northern Europe. This created a condition somewhat similar to that which was repeated in America during the pioneering period: the new colonists, with plenty of land at their disposal, were lacking above all in labor power, and were compelled to resort to ingenious labor-saving devices that the better settled regions in the south with their surplus of labor and their easier conditions of living were never forced to invent. This fact perhaps was partly responsible for the high degree of technical initiative that marks the period. (Mumford 1934:112-3)

Grinding grain and pumping water were not the only operations for which the water-mill was used: it furnished power for pulping rags for paper (Ravensburg: 1290): it ran the hammering and cutting machines of an ironworks (near Dobrilugk, Lausitz, 1320): it sawed wood (Augsburg: 1322): it beat hides in the tannery, it fur- [115] nished power for spinning silk, it was used in fulling-mills to work up the felts, and it turned the grinding machines of the armorers. The wire-pulling machine invented by Rudolph of Niirnberg in 1400 was worked by water-power. In the mining and metal working operations Dr. Georg Bauer described the great convenience of waterpower for pumping purposes in the mine, and suggested that if it could be utilized conveniently, it should be used instead of horses or man-power to tum the underground machinery. As early as the fifteenth century, water-mills were used for crushing ore. The importance of water-power in relation to the iron industries cannot be overestimated: for by utilizing this power it was possible to make more powerful bellows, attain higher heats, use larger furnaces, and therefore increase the production of iron. (Mumford 1934:114-5)

Apart from the wind-turbine, described as early as 1438, there were three types. In the most primitive type the entire structure faced the prevailing wind: in another, the entire structure turned to face it, [116] sometimes being mounted on a boat to facilitate this; and in the most developed type the turret alone turned. The mill reached its greatest size and its most efficient form in the hands of the Dutch engineers toward the end of the sixteenth century, although the Italian engineers, including Leonardo himself, who is usually given credit for the turret windmill, contributed their share to the machine. In this development the Low Countries were almost as much the center of power production as England was during the later coal and iron regime. The Dutch provinces in particular, a mere film of sand, drenched with wind and water, plowed from one end to the other by the Rhine, the Amstel, the Maas, developed the windmill to the fullest possible degree: it ground the grain produced on the rich meadows, it sawed the wood brought down from the Baltic coast to make the great merchant marine, and it ground the spices – some five hundred thousand pounds per annum by the seventeenth century – that were brought from the Orient. A similar civilization spread up and down the peaty marshlands and barrier beaches from Flanders to the Elbe, for the Saxon and East Frisian shores of the Baltic had been repeopled by Dutch colonists in the twelfth century. (Mumford 1934:115-6)

While the supply of both wind and water was subject to the [118] vagaries of local weather and the annual rainfall, there was probably compared to the present day less stoppage through variations in the human labor requirement, owing to strikes, lockouts, and overproduction. In addition to this, since neither wind nor water-power could be effectually monopolized-despite many efforts from the thirteenth century on to prohibit small mills and querns, and to establish the custom of grinding at the lord’s mil–the source of energy itself was free: once built, the mill added nothing to the cost of production. Unlike the later primitive steam engine, both a large and a costly device, very small and primitive water mills could be built, and were built; and since most of the moveable parts were of wood and stone, the original cost was low and the deterioration through seasonal disuse was not as great as would have been the case had iron been used. The mill was good for a long life; the upkeep was nominal; the supply of power was inexhaustible. And so far from robbing the land and leaving behind debris and depopulated villages, as mining did, the mills helped enrich the land and facilitated a conservative stable agriculture. (Mumford 1934:117-8)

Thanks to the menial services of wind and water, a large intelligentsia could come into existence, and great works of art and scholarship and science and engineering could be created without recourse to slavery: a release of energy, a victory for the human spirit. Measuring the gains not in horsepower originally used but in work finally accomplished, the eotechnic period compares favorably both with the epochs that preceded it and with the phases of mechanical civilization that followed it. When the textile industries attained an unheard of volume of production in the eighteenth century it was by means of water-power, not the steam engine, that this was first achieved; and the first prime mover to exceed the poor five or ten per cent efficiency of the early steam engines was Fourneyron’s water-turbine, a further development of the Baroque spoon wheel, perfected in 1832. By the middle of the nineteenth century water turbines of 500 H.P. had been built. Plainly, the modern industrial revolution would have come into existence and gone on steadily had not a ton of coal been dug in England, and had not a new iron mine been opened. (Mumford 1934:118)

Most of the key machines and inventions of the later industrial age were first developed in wood before they were translated into metal: wood provided the finger-exercises of the new industrialism. The debt of iron to wood was a heavy one: as late as 1820 Ithiel Town, a New Haven architect, patented a new type of lattice truss bridge, free from arch action and horizontal thrust, which became the prototype of many later iron bridges. As raw material, as tool, as machine-tool, as machine, as utensil and utility, as fuel, and as final product wood was the dominant industrial resource of the eotechnic phase. (Mumford 1934:120)

Wages, never far above the level of subsistence, were driven down in the new industries by the competition of the machine. So low were they in the early part of the nineteenth century that in the textile trades they even for a while retarded the introduction of the power loom. As if the surplus of workers, ensured by the disfranchisement and pauperization of the agricultural workers, were not enough to re-enforce the iron Law of Wages, there was an extraordinary rise in the birth-rate. The causes of this initial rise are still obscure; no present theory fully accounts for it. But one of the tangible motives was the fact that unemployed parents were forced to live upon the wages of the young they had begotten. From the chains of poverty and perpetual destitution there was no escape for the new mine worker or factory worker: the servility of the mine, deeply engrained in that occupation, spread to all the accessory employments. It needed both luck and cunning to escape those shackles. (Mumford 1934:154)

The phase one here defines as paleotechnic reached its highest point, in terms of its own concepts and ends, in England in the middle of the nineteenth century: its cock-crow of triumph was the great in- [155] dustrial exhibition in the new Crystal Palace at Hyde Park in 1851: the first World Exposition, an apparent victory for free trade, free enterprise, free invention, and free access to all the world’s markets by the country that boasted already that it was the workshop of the world. From around 1870 onwards the typical interests and preoccupations of the paleotechnic phase have been challenged by later developments in technics itself, and modified by various counterpoises in society. But like the eotechnic phase, it is still with us: indeed, in certain parts of the world, like Japan and China, it even passes for the new, the progressive, the modern, while in Russia an unfortunate residue of paleotechnic concepts and methods has helped misdirect, even partly cripple, the otherwise advanced economy projected by the disciples of Lenin. In the United States the paleotechnic regime did not get under way until the eighteen fifties, almost a century after England; and it reached its highest point at the beginning of the present century, whereas in Germany it dominated the years between 1870 and 1914, and, being carried to perhaps fuller and completer expression, has collapsed with greater rapidity there than in any other part of the world. France, except for its special coal and iron centers, escaped some of the worst defects of the period; while Holland, like Denmark and in part Switzerland, skipped almost directly from an eotechnic into a neotechnic economy, and except in ports like Rotterdam and in the mining districts, vigorously resisted the paleotechnic blight. (Mumford 1934:154-5)

The great shift in population and industry that took place in the eighteenth century was due to the introduction of coal as a source of mechanical power, to the use of new means of making that power effective-the steam engine-and to new methods of smelting and working up iron. Out of this coal and iron complex, a new civilization developed. (Mumford 1934:156)

From the mine came the steam pump and presently the steam engine: ultimately the steam locomotive and so, by derivation, the steamboat. From the mine came the escalator, the elevator, which was first utilized elsewhere in the cotton factory, and the subway for urban transportation. The railroad likewise came directly from the mine: roads with wooden rails were laid down in Newcastle, England, in 1602: but they were common in the German mines a hundred years before, for they enabled the heavy ore carts to be moved easily over the rough and otherwise impassable surface of the mine. Around 1716 these wooden ways were capped with plates of malleable iron; and in 1767 cast iron bars were substituted. (Feldhaus notes that the invention of iron-clad wooden rails is illustrated at the time of the Hussite Wars around 1430: possibly the invention of a military engineer.) The combination of the railroad, the train of cars, and the [159] locomotive, first used in the mines at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was applied to passenger transportation a generation later. Wherever the iron rails and wooden ties of this new system of locomotion went, the mine and the products of the mine went with it: indeed, the principal product carried by railroads is coal. The nineteenth century town became in effect-and indeed in appearance-an extension of the coal mine: The cost of transporting coal naturally increases with distance: hence the heavy industries tended to concentrate near the coal measures. To be cut off from the coal mine was to be cut off from the source of paloetechnic civilization. (Mumford 1934:158-9)

In more than one department, then, the 1780’s mark the definite crystallization of the paleotechnic complex: Murdock’s steam carriage, Cort’s reverberatory furnace, Wilkinson’s iron boat, Cartwright’s power loom, and Jouffroy’s and Fitch’s steamboats, the latter with a screw propeller, date back to this decade. (Mumford 1934:180)

Speaking in terms of power and characteristic materials, the eotechnic phase is a water-and-wood complex: the paleotechnic phase is a coal-and-iron complex, and the neotechnic phase is an electricity-and-alloy complex. It was Marx’s great contribution as a sociological economist to see and partly to demonstrate that each period of invention and production had its own specific value for civilization, or, as he would have put it, its own historic mission. The machine cannot be divorced from its larger social pattern; for it is this pattern that gives it meaning and purpose. Every period of civilization carries [111] within it the insignificant refuse of past technologies and the important germs of new ones: but the center of growth lies within its own complex. (Mumford 1934:110-1)

As early as 1234 the freemen of Newcastle were given a charter to dig for coal, and an ordinance attempting to regulate the coal nuisance in London dates from the fourteenth century. Five hundred years later coal was in general use as a fuel among glassmakers, brewers, distillers, sugar bakers, soap boilers, smiths, dyers, brickmakers, lime burners, founders, and calico printers. But in the meanwhile a more significant use had been found for coal: Dud Dudley at the beginning of the seventeenth century sought to substitute coal for charcoal in the production of iron: this aim was successfully accomplished by a Quaker, Abraham Darby, in 1709. By that invention the high-powered blast furnace became possible; but the method itself did not make its way to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire to Scotland and the North of England until the l760’s. The next development in the making of cast-iron awaited the introduction of a pump which should deliver to the furnace a more effective blast of air: this came with the invention of Watt’s steam pump, and the demand for more iron, which followed, in turn increased the demand for coal. (Mumford 1934:156)

Though the steam carriage was invented and put into use on the old coaching roads in England before the railroad, it never successfully challenged it: for a British act of Parliament drove it off the roads as soon as the railroad appeared on the scene. Steam power thus increased the areas of cities; it also increased the tendency of the new urban communities to coalesce along the main line of transportation and travel. That purely physical massing of population to which Patrick Geddes gave the name conurbation, was a direct product of the coal-and-iron regime. It must be distinguished carefully from the social formation of the city, to which it bears a casual resemblance by reason of its concentration of buildings and people. The prosperity of these new areas was measured in terms of the size of their new factories, the size of the population, the current rate of growth. In every way, then, the steam engine accentuated and deepened that quantification of life which had been taking place slowly and in every department during the three centuries that had preceded its introduction. By 1852 the railroad had reached the East Indies: by 1872 Japan and by 1876 China. Wherever it went it carried the methods and ideas of this mining civilization along with it. (Mumford 1934:163)

Iron and coal dominated the paleotechnic period. Their color spread everywhere, from grey to black: the black boots, the black stove-pipe hat, the black coach or carriage, the black iron frame of the hearth, the black cooking pots and pans and stoves. Was it mourning? Was it protective coloration? Was it mere depression of the senses? No matter what the original color of the paleotechnic milieu might be, it was soon reduced, by reason of the soot and cinders that accompanied its activities, to its characteristic tones, grey, dirty brown, black. The center of the new industrialism in England was appropriately called the Black Country: by 1850 there was a similar blackness around the Pittsburgh district in America, and presently there was another in the Ruhr and around Lille. (Mumford 1934:163)

Iron became the universal material. One went to sleep in an iron bed and washed one’s face in the morning in an iron washbowl: one practiced gymnastics with the aid of iron dumb-bells or other iron weight-lifting apparatus; one played billiards on an iron billiard table, made by Messrs. Sharp and Roberts; one sat behind an iron locomotive and drove to the city on iron rails, passing over an iron bridge and arriving at an iron-covered railroad station: in America, after 1847, the front of the office-building might even be made of cast iron. In the most typical of Victorian utopias, that of J. S. Buckingham, the ideal city is built almost entirely of iron. (Mumford 1934:164)

Although the Italians had designed iron bridges in the sixteenth century, the first to he built in England was in 1779, across the River Severn: the first iron dome was put on the Halles des Bles in Paris in 1817; the first iron ship was built in 1787, and the first iron steamship in 1821. So deep was the faith in iron during the paleotechnic period that it was not merely a favorite form of medicine, chosen as much for its magical association with strength as for any tangible benefits, but it was likewise offered for sale, if not actually used, for cuffs and collars to be worn by men, while, with the development of spring steel, iron even replaced whalebone in the apparatus used by the women of the period to deform their breasts, pelvises and hips. If the widest and most advantageous use of iron was in warfare, there was no part of existence, nevertheless, that was not touched directly or indirectly by the new material. (Mumford 1934:164)

The cheaper, more efficient production of iron was indeed a direct result of the tremendous military demand for it. The first notable improvement in the production of iron, after the Darby process for making cast iron and the Huntsman process for making crucible steel was that made .by Henry Cort, an English naval agent: he took out a patent for his puddling process in 1784 and made a timely contribution not merely to the success of England’s iron industry in the export trade but to the victory of British arms during the Napoleonic wars. In 1856 Henry Bessemer, an Englishman, took out the patent for decarbonizing cast iron in his egg-shaped converter to make steel: a process slightly antedated by the independent invention of a Kentucky ironmaster, William Kelly. Thanks to Bessemer [165] and the later Siemens-Martin process for making steel, the artillery arm flourished in warfare as never before: and after this period the ironclad or the steelclad warship, using long-range guns, became one of the most effective consumers of the national revenue in existence-as well as one of the most deadly weapons of war. Cheap iron and steel made it feasible to equip larger armies and navies than ever before: bigger cannon, bigger warships, more complicated equipment; while the new railroad system made it possible to put more men in the field and to put them in constant communication with the base of supplies at ever greater distances: war became a department of large-scale mass production. (Mumford 1934:164-5)

Bloodshed kept pace with iron production: in essence, the entire paloetechnic period was ruled, from beginning to end, by the policy of blood and iron. Its brutal contempt for life was equalled only by the almost priestly ritual it developed in preparation for inflicting death. Its “peace” was indeed the peace that passeth understanding: what was it but latent warfare? (Mumford 1934:165)

What, then, is the nature of this material that exercised such a powerful effect upon the affairs of men? The use of meteoric iron possibly goes back very far in history: there is record of iron derived from the ordinary ores as far back as 1000 B.C., but the rapid [166] oxidation of iron may have wiped out traces of a much earlier utilization. iron was associated in Egypt with Set, God of the waste and desert, an object of fear; and through iron‘s close ties with the military arts this association remains a not inappropriate one. (Mumford 1934:165-6)

Naturally, human life as a whole did not stop short during this period. Many people still lived, if with difficulty, for other ends than profit, power, and comfort: certainly these ends were not within reach of the millions of men and women who composed the working classes. Perhaps most of the poets and novelists and painters were distressed by the new order and defied it in a hundred ways: above all, by existing as poets and novelists and painters, useless creatures, whose confrontation of life in its many-sided unity was looked upon by the Gradgrinds as a wanton escape from the. “realities” of their abstract accountancy. Thackeray deliberately cast his works in a preindustrial environment, in order to evade the new issues. Carlyle, preaching the gospel of work, denounced the actualities of Victorian work. Dickens satirized the stock-promoter, the Manchester individualist, the utilitarian, the blustering self-made man: Balzac and Zola, painting the new financial order with a documentary realism, left no question as to its degradation and nastiness. Other artists turned with Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites hack to the Middle Ages, where Overbeck and Hoffmann in Germany, and Chateaubriand and Hugo in France, had preceded them: still others turned with Browning to Renascence Italy, with Doughty to primitive Arabia, with Melville and Gauguin to the South Seas, with Thoreau to the primeval woods, with Tolstoy to the peasants. What did they seek? A few simple [205] things not to be found between the railroad terminal and the factory: plain animal self-respect, color in the outer environment and emotional depth in the inner landscape, a life lived for its own values, instead of a life on the make. Peasants and savages had retained some of these qualities: and to recover them became one of the main duties of those who sought to supplement the iron fare of industrialism. (Mumford 1934:204-5)

The technical gains made during this phase were tremendous: it was an era of mechanical realization when, at last, the ability of the tool-makers and machine-makers had caught up with the demands of the inventor. During this period the principal machine tools were perfected, including the drill, the planer, and the lathe: power-pro- [206] pelled vehicles were created and their speeds were steadily increased: the rotary press came into existence: the capacity to produce, maniplate and transport vast masses of metal was enlarged: and many of the chief mechanical instruments of surgery-including the stethoscope and the ophthalmoscope-were invented or perfected, albeit one of the most notable advances in instrumentation, the use of the obstetrical forceps, was a French invention during the eotechnic phase. The extent of the gains can be made most clear if one confines attention roughly to the first hundred years. iron production increased from 17,000 tons in 1740 to 2,100,000 tons in 1850. With the invention in 1804 of a machine for dressing the cotton warps with starch to prevent breaking, the power loom for cotton weaving at last became practical: Horrocks’ invention of a successful loom in 1803 and its improvement in 1813 transformed the cotton industry. Because of the cheapness of hand workers-as late as _1834 it was estimated that there were 45,000 to 50,000 in Scotland alone and about 200,000 in England-power loom weaving came in slowly: while in 1823 there were only 10,000 steam looms in Great Britain in 1865 there were 400,000. These two industries serve as a fairly accurate index of paleotechnic productivity. (Mumford 1934:205-6)

Apart from the mass-production of clothes and the mass-distribution of foods, the great achievements of the paleotechnic phase were not in the end-products but in the intermediate machines and utilities. Above all, there was one department that was peculiarly its possession: the use of iron on a great scale. Here the engineers and workers were on familiar ground, and here, in the iron steamship, in the iron bridge, in the skeleton tower, and in the machine-tools and machines, they recorded their most decisive triumphs. (Mumford 1934:206)

Both the iron bridge and the iron ship have a brief history. While numerous designs for iron bridges were made in Italy by Leonardo and his contemporaries, the first iron bridge in England was not built till the end of the eighteenth century. The problems to be worked out in the use of structural iron were all unfamiliar ones, and while the engineer had recourse to mathematical assistance in making and checking his calculations, the actual technique was in [207] advance of the mathematical expression. Here was a field for ingenuity, daring experiment, bold departures. (Mumford 1934:206-7)

An early mastery was likewise achieved in the building of iron structures. Perhaps the greatest monument of the period was the Crystal Palace in England: a timeless building which hinds together the eotechnic phase, with its invention of the glass hothouse, the paleotechnic, with its use of the glass-covered railroad shed, and the neotechnic, with its fresh appreciation of sun and glass and structural lightness. But the bridges were the more typical monuments: not forgetting Telford’s iron chain suspension bridge over Menai straits (1819-1825); the Brooklyn Bridge, begun in 1869 and the Firth of Forth bridge, a great cantilever construction, begun [208] in 1867, were perhaps the most complete esthetic consummations of the new industrial technique. Here the quantity of the material, even the element of size itself, had a part in the esthetic result, emphasizing the difficulty of the task and the victory of the solution. In these magnificent works the sloppy empiric habits of thought, the catchpenny economies of the textile manufacturers, were displaced: such methods, though they played a scandalous part in contributing to the disasters of the early railroad and the early American river-steamboat, were at last sloughed off: an objective standard of performance was set and achieved. Lord Kelvin was consulted by the Glasgow shipbuilders in the working out of their difficult technical problems: these machines and structures revealed an honest, justifiable pride in confronting hard conditions and conquering obdurate materials. What Ruskin said in praise of the old wooden ships of the line applies even more to their greater iron counterparts in the merchant trade: it will bear repeating. “Take it all in all, a ship of the line is the most honorable thing that man, as a gregarious animal, has produced. By himself, unhelped, he can do better things than ships of the line; he can make poems and pictures, and other such concentrations of what is best in him. But as a being living in flocks and hammering out, with alternate strokes and mutual agreement, what is necessary for him in these flocks to get or produce, the ship of the line is his first work. Into that he has put as much of his human patience, common sense, forethought, experimental philosophy, selfcontrol, habits of order and obedience, thoroughly wrought hard work, defiance of brute elements, careless courage, careful patriotism, and calm expectation of the judgment of God, as can well be put into a space 300 feet long by 80 feet broad. And I am thankful to have lived in an age when I could see this thing so done.” (Mumford 1934:207-8)

This period of daring experimentation in iron structures reached its climax in the early skyscrapers of Chicago, and in Eiffel’s great bridges and viaducts: the famous Eiffel Tower of 1888 overtopped these in height but not in mastery. (Mumford 1934:208)

These men spared no effort in their machine-work: they worked toward perfection, without attempting to meet the cheaper competition of inferior craftsmen. There were, of course, men of similar stamp in America, France, and Germany: but for the finest work the English toolmakers commanded an international market. Their productions, ultimately, made the steamship and the iron bridge possible. The remark of an old workman of Maudslay’s can well bear repetition: “It was a pleasure to see him handle a tool of any kind, but he was quite splendid with an eighteen inch file.” That was the tribute of a competent critic to an excellent artist. And it is in machines that one must seek the most original examples of directly paleotechnic art. (Mumford 1934:210)

To the extent that neotechnic industry has failed to transform the coal-and-iron complex, to the extent that it has failed to secure an adequate foundation for its humaner technology in the community as a whole, to the extent that it has lent its heightened powers to the miner, the financier, the militarist, the possibilities of disruption and chaos have increased. (Mumford 1934:213)

The detailed history of the steam engine, the railroad, the textile mill, the iron ship, could be written without more than passing reference to the scientific work of the period. For these devices were made possible largely by the method of empirical practice, by trial and selection: many lives were lost by the explosion of steam boilers before the safety-valve was generally adopted. And though all these inventions would have been the better for science, they came into existence, for the most part, without its direct aid. It was the practical men in the mines, the factories, the machine shops [216] and the clockmakers’ shops and the locksmiths’ shops or the curious amateurs with a turn for manipulating materials and imagining new processes, who made them possible. Perhaps the only scientific work that steadily and systematically affected the paleotechnic design was the analysis of the elements of mechanical motion itself. (Mumford 1934:215-6)

The availability of water-power for producing energy, finally, changes the potential distribution of modern industry throughout the planet, and reduces the peculiar industrial dominance that Europe and the United States held under the coal-and-iron regime. For Asia and South America are almost as well endowed with water-power- [223] over fifty million horsepower each-as the older industrial regions, and Africa has three times as much as either Europe or North America. Even within Europe and the United States a shifting of the industrial center of gravity is taking place: thus the leadership in hydro-electric power development has gone to Italy, France, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden in the order named, and a similar shift is taking place toward the two great spinal mountain-systems of the United States. The coal measures are no longer the exclusive measures of industrial power. (Mumford 1934:222-3)

Even without the use of electric power the small workshop, because of some of the above facts, has survived all over the world, in defiance of the confident expectations of the early Victorian economists, marvelling over the mechanical efficiency of the monster textile mills: with electricity, the advantages of size from any point of view, except “in possible special operations like the production of iron, becomes questionable. In the production of steel from scrap iron the electric furnace may be used economically for operations on a much smaller scale than the blast-furnace permits. Moreover, the weakest part mechanically of automatic production lies in the expense and hand-labor involved in preparation for shipment. To the extent that a local market and a direct service does away with these operations it removes a costly and completely uneducative form of work. Bigger no longer automatically means better: flexibility of the power unit, closer adaptation of means to ends, nicer timing of operation, are the new marks of efficient industry. So far as concentration may remain, it is largely a phenomenon of the market, rather than of technics: promoted by astute financiers who see in the large organization an easier mechanism for their manipulations of credit, for their inflation of capital values, for their monopolistic controls. (Mumford 1934:226)

Note the importance of these facts in the scheme of world commodity flow. Both eotechnic and paleotechnic industry could be carried on within the framework of European society: England, Germany, France, the leading countries, had a sufficient supply of wind, wood, water, limestone, coal, iron ore; so did the United States. Under the neotechnic regime their independence and their self-sufficiency are gone. They must either organize and safeguard and conserve a worldwide basis of supply, or run the risk of going destitute and relapse into a lower and cruder technology. The basis of [233] the material elements in the new industry is neither national nor continental but planetary: this is equally true, of course, of its technological and scientific heritage. A laboratory in Tokio or Calcutta may produce a theory or an invention which will entirely alter the possibilities of life for a fishing community in Norway. Under these conditions, no country and no continent can surround itself with a wall without wrecking the essential, international basis of its technology: so if the neotechnic economy is to survive, it has no other alternative than to organize industry and its polity on a worldwide scale. Isolation and national hostilities are forms of deliberate technological suicide. The geographical distribution of the rare earths and metals by itself almost establishes that fact. (Mumford 1934:232-3)

One is faced here with a magnified form of a danger common to all inventions: a tendency to use them whether or not the occasion demands. Thus our forefathers used iron sheets for the fronts of buildings, despite the fact that iron is a notorious conductor of heat: thus people gave up learning the violin, the guitar, and the piano when the phonograph was introduced, despite the fact that the passive listening to records is not in the slightest degree the equivalent of active performance; thus the introduction of anesthetics increased fatalities from superfluous operations. The lifting of restrictions upon close human intercourse has been, in its first stages, as dangerous as the flow of populations into new lands: it has increased the areas of friction. Similarly, it has mobilized and hastened mass-reactions, like those which occur on the eve of a war, and it has increased the dangers of international conflict. To ignore these facts would be to [241] paint a very falsely over-optimistic picture of the present economy. (Mumford 1934:240-1)

This cult lacked the passionate conviction that one period or another of the past was of supreme value: it merely held that almost anything old was ipso facto valuable or beautiful, whether it was a fragment of Roman statuary, a wooden image of a fifteenth century saint, or an iron door knocker. The exponents of this cult attempted to create private environments from which every hint of the machine was absent: they burned wooden logs in the open fireplaces of imitation Norman manor houses, which were in reality heated by steam, designed with the help of a camera and measured drawings, and supported, where the architect was a little uncertain of his skill or materials, with concealed steel beams. When handicraft articles could not he filched from the decayed buildings of the past, they were copied with vast effort by belated handworkers: when the demand for such copies filtered down through the middle classes, they were then reproduced by means of power machinery in a fashion capable of deceiving only the blind and ignorant: a double prevarication. (Mumford 1934:312)

The worst sinners – that is the most obvious sentimentalists – were the engineers of the paleotechnic period. In the act of recklessly deflowering the environment at large, they sought to expiate their failures by adding a few sprigs or posies to the new engines they were creating: they embellished their steam engines with Doric columns or partly concealed them behind Gothic tracery: they decorated the frames of their presses and their automatic machines with cast-iron arabesque, they punched ornamental holes in the iron framework of their new structures, from the trusses of the old wing of the Metropolitan Museum to the base of the Eiffel tower in Paris. Everywhere similar habits prevailed: the homage of hypocrisy to art. One notes identical efforts on the original steam radiators, in the floral decorations that once graced typewriters, in the nondescript ornament that still lingers quaintly on shotguns and sewing machines, even if it has at length disappeared from cash registers and Pullman cars-as long before, in the first uncertainties of the new technics, the same division had appeared in armor and in crossbows. (Mumford 1934:345)

Today this unquestioned faith in the machine has been severely shaken. The absolute validity of the machine has become a conditioned validity: even Spengler, who has urged the men of his generation to become engineers and men of fact, regards that career as a sort of honorable suicide and looks forward to the period when the monuments of the machine civilization will be tangled masses of rusting iron and empty concrete shells. While for those of us who are more hopeful both of man’s destiny and that of the machine, the machine is no longer the paragon of progress and the final expression of our desires: it is merely a series of instruments, which we will use in so far as they are serviceable to life at large, and which we will curtail where they infringe upon it or exist purely to support the adventitious structure of capitalism. (Mumford 1934:365)

The whole technique of wood had now to be perfected in the more difficult, refractory material-iron. The change from eotechnic to paleotechnic of course passed through transitional stages; but it could not remain at a halfway point. Though in America and Russia wood might, for example, be used right up to the third quarter of the nineteenth century for locomotives and steamboats, the need for coal developed with the larger and larger demands for fuel that the universalization of the machine carried with it. The very fact that Watt’s steam engine consumed about eight and a half pounds of coal per horsepower, in comparison with Smeaton’s atmospheric engine, which had used almost sixteen pounds, only increased the demand for more of Watt’s kind, and widened the area of exploitation. The water-turbine was not perfected till 1832: in the intervening two generations steam had won supremacy, and it remained the symbol of increased efficiency. Even in Holland the efficient steam engine was presently introduced to assist in the Zuyder Zee reclamation: once the new scale, the new magnitudes, the new regularities were established, wind and water power could not without further aid compete with steam. (Mumford 1934:161)

Experimental sampling, as with edibles, happy accidents, as with glass, true causal insight as with the fire-drill: all these played a part in the transformation of our material environment and steadily modified the possibilities of social life. If discovery comes first, as it apparently does in the utilization of fire, in the use of meteoric iron, in the employment of hard cutting edges such as shells, invention proper follows close at its heels: indeed, the age of invention is only another name for the age of man. If man is rarely found in the “state of nature” it is only because nature is so constantly modified by technics. (Mumford 1934:60)

Ship-building and bridge-building, moreover, were extremely complex tasks: they required a degree of inter-relation and co-ordination that few industries, except possibly railroads, approached. These [209] structures called forth all the latent military virtues of the regime and used them to good purpose: men risked their lives with superb nonchalance every day, smelting the iron, hammering and riveting the steel, working on narrow platforms and slender beams; and there was little distinction in the course of production between the engineer, the foremen, and the common workers: each had his share in the common task; each faced the danger. When the Brooklyn Bridge was being built, it was the Master Mechanic, not a common workman, who first tested the carriage that was used to string the cable. William Morris characterized the new steamships, with true insight, as the Cathedrals of the Industrial Age. He was right. They brought forth a fuller orchestration of the arts and sciences than any other work that the paleotects were engaged upon, and the final product was a miracle of compactness, speed, power, inter-relation, and esthetic unity. The steamer and the bridge were the new symphonies in steel. Hard grim men produced them: wage slaves or taskmasters. But like the Egyptian stone carver many thousand years before they knew the joy of creative effort. The arts of the drawing room, wilted in comparison. The masculine reek of the forge was a sweeter perfume than any the ladies affected. (Mumford 1934:208-9)

Just as one associates the wind and water power of the eotechnic economy with the use of wood and glass, and the coal of the paleotechnic period with iron, so does electricity bring into wide industrial use its own specific materials: in particular, the new alloys, the rare earths, and the lighter metals. At the same time, it creates a new series of synthetic compounds that supplement paper, glass and wood: celluloid, vulcanite, bakelite and the synthetic resins, with special properties of unbreakability, electrical resistance, imperviousness to acids, or elasticity. (Mumford 1934:229)

First: improvements in the technique of warfare, especially the rapid growth of the artillery arm, increased the consumption of iron: this led to new demands upon the mine. In order to finance the ever more costly equipment and maintenance of the new paid soldiery, the rulers of Europe had recourse to the financier. As security for the loan, the lender took over the royal mines. The development of the mines themselves then became a respectable avenue of financial enterprise, with returns that compared favorably with the usurious and generally unpayable interest. Spurred by the unpaid notes, the rulers were in turn driven to new conquests or to the exploitation of remote territories: and so the cycle began over again. War, mechanization, mining, and finance played into each other’s hands. Mining was the key industry that furnished the sinews of war and increased the metallic contents of the original capital hoard, the war-chest: on the other hand, it furthered the industrialization of arms, and enriched the financier by both processes. The uncertainty of both warfare and mining increased the possibilities for speculative gains: this provided a rich broth for the bacteria of finance to thrive in. (Mumford 1934:76)

MUMFORD, Lewis. 1934. Technique and civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.