Factory Gates

This pair of iron gates from the 1870s hung in the Dobson textile mill in Philadelphia, Penn., until 1991.
In the late 18th century most workers were farmers or artisans, accustomed to overseeing their own work and schedules, and setting the pace of their work by the seasons and centuries-old traditions. With the rise of the factory system of production in the 19th century, managers sought to mold workers into disciplined and coordinated armies of employees. They tried to regulate each laborer's schedule, pace, and work habits. They prohibited amusements, reading, games, and consumption of alcohol—diversions that had been permitted in the flexible work schedule of artisans' shops.
Fences around factories protected property and symbolically established who was in control. A fence forced workers to file through a gate past a timekeeper's office. Americans who worked in textile mills were among the first to experience the new relationship between managers and workers. Not everyone adapted to the new rules. Some workers found ways to continue to control their own work, formed unions to enforce their own work rules, or quit.
Dobson Mill
owner of the mill
Dobson, John
Associated Place
United States: New Jersey, Newark
overall: 126 in x 65 in x 2 in; 320.04 cm x 165.1 cm x 5.08 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Industry & Manufacturing
Clothing & Accessories
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
American Stories
Data Source
National Museum of American History


Add a comment about this object