Most Wonderful Machine: Mechanization and Social Change in Berkshire Paper Making, 1801-1885

Most Wonderful Machine

Mechanization and Social Change in Berkshire Paper Making, 1801-1885
Publisher: Princeton University Press
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Number of Volumes: Print PDF
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No. of pages:464 pages
Size:254x177 mm
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On a visit to a Berkshire paper mill, the narrator of Herman Melville's "The Tartarus of Maids" views the "wonderful" papermaking machine with awe and calls it a "miracle of inscrutable intricacy." Manifesting in their factories and towns such nineteenth-century fascination with machinery, paper mill owners and workers made an industrial revolution in Berkshrie County, Massachusetts. This book examines their experiences from the era of craft production through several generations of sustained technological change to answer two major questions: What accounts for the widespread and rapid adoption of machines in nineteenth-century America? And how did the new technology help to transform America socially and culturally? Rejecting technological determinism, Judith McGaw effectively integrates labor, business, social, and women's history with technological history to bring to life the human decisions that made mechanization possible.
In compelling detail the author offers new explanations of how change in the craft era paved the way for industrialization and how paternalism worked in small-scale industry. She also provides a thoughtful discussion of the interaction between evangelical culture and the emerging industrial order, and a close analysis of how nineteenth-century gender distinctions fostered mechanization.
Judith A. McGaw is Assistant Professor of History of Technology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Originally published in 1987.

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