factory system


[fak-tuh-ree, -tree]

Structure in which work is organized to meet the need for production on a large scale usually with power-driven machinery. In the 17th–18th century, the domestic system of work in Europe began giving way to larger units of production, and capital became available for investment in industrial enterprises. The movement of population from country to city also contributed to change in work methods. Mass production, which transformed the organization of work, came about by the development of the machine-tool industry. With precision equipment, large numbers of identical parts could be produced at low cost and with a small workforce. The assembly line was first widely used in the U.S. meat-packing industry; Henry Ford designed an automobile assembly line in 1913. By mid-1914, chassis assembly time had fallen from 1212 man-hours to 93 man-minutes. Some countries, particularly in Asia and South America, began industrializing in the 1970s and later. Seealso American System of manufacture.

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The factory system was a method of manufacturing first adopted in England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and later spreading abroad. Fundamentally, each worker created a separate part of the total assembly of a product, thus increasing the efficiency of factories. Workers, paid by wage, and machines were brought together in a central factory. All the processes of production would be carried out under one roof, and would continue as long as it was practical. Inconclusively, Richard Arkwright is the person credited with being the brains behind the growth of factories. After he patented his water frame in 1769, he established a factory at Cromford, in Derbyshire, England. The factory system was a new way of organizing labour made necessary by the development of machines which were too large to house in a worker's cottage. Working hours were as long as they had been for the farmer, that is, from dawn to dusk, six days per week. It reduced the worker to an unskilled commodity who could be easily replaced.

Debate arose concerning the morality of the system, as workers complained about unfair working conditions prior to the passage of labor laws. Child labor was also a major part of the system, and was vehemently argued by those who deemed it immoral. Robert Owen created his utopian socialist factories specifically to not conform to this system.

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