Somewhere someone is busy assigning months to celebrate various topics, and we have recently been informed that October is “Manufacturing Month.” And all these years I thought it was about Columbus “discovering” America, Fire Prevention Month, and Halloween. In recent years we have discovered plenty of evidence that many people reached these shores before the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and pre-Christmas sales have diminished the Trick or Treat celebration so perhaps October needed an extra boost in self-esteem. We really should change those smoke detector batteries too.
As a society we hear lots of talk about manufacturing. Politicians tout its “job creation” capability while educators warn students that they need a degree to avoid a life consumed by a boring factory job. States dangle incentives so those new factories get built in their jurisdiction while simultaneously hassling the factories they already have. It is all a bit crazy on many levels.
If you take the historical view, manufacturing on an industrial scale is relatively new. It is impossible to pin down a hard date for the transition from “cottage industry” to “mass production,” but you can be sure the military industrial complex was not far behind. Politicians love flexing military power but have been wary of the people who make it possible.
During the Roman republic, for example, senators were not supposed to be involved with “trade;” only farmers and land owners were permitted to be decision makers. A few realized that there was wealth and power to be made through the production of weapons for all those legions the senate raised, and manufacturing secretly started to move beyond the simple blacksmith or wheelwright shop.
They made gears back in those ancient times, too; first in wood but later in the various metals that were discovered around the globe. Amazing objects turn up at dig sites that challenge our understanding of what was known and when it was known. I highly recommend Darle W. Dudley’s wonderful little volume The Evolution of the Gear Art for those interested in the origins of our business.