Artisan to Industry
Artisans worked at home or in small shops, using their tools to make textiles, shoes, and other goods. By the mid-1800s, entrepreneurs, investing in new technologies and systems of production, were changing these lifelong practices. Workers began toiling for wages in new industries, characterized by centralized shops and specialized machinery. A focus on productivity compelled a greater division of labor, increased managerial control, and working to the clock. Products became standardized; workers’ lives were transformed.
Peter Stauffer was both weaver and fisherman. He recorded payments in his account book for coverlets and tablecloths he wove, as well as shad he caught and sold. By the later 1820s, he produced fewer coverlets, likely losing business to the popular and complex patterned coverlets made by mechanical Jacquard looms.
Shoes began as materials bought by business owners. They employed artisans, who fished and farmed in addition to making shoes. Cut materials went to women in homes, who bound the shoe’s “uppers,” then to backyard shops (called “ten-footers”), where men “bottomed” them with soles. Finished shoes went back to the owners for shipping to merchants.
Cotton from southern plantations fueled the growth of northern textile factories. In 1830, young women, often farmers’ daughters, lived in dormitories and toiled fourteen hours a day in the mills. They spent their wages on room and board, buying fancy goods, helping their families on the farm, and saving for the future.
By the 1850s shoe factories had largely replaced family-centered artisan businesses—in a single generation. Work was centralized, regulated, and supervised. Greater efficiency meant lower costs to consumers. However, workers no longer labored at home, set their own hours, worked at their own pace, or drank on the job.