July 14, 2022
I lament the rise of the “Service Economy.” This past Friday was National Manufacturing Day; I did not know that until my editor brought it to my attention. Once upon a time, EVERY day was manufacturing day. My hometown was famed for much more than beer — Milwaukee was the “machine shop of the world” for much of the twentieth century. It had to beat out lots of other towns for that title, of course — including Chicago, where gear manufacturing actually went on right in the middle of the city’s shopper-intensive Downtown Loop. But having a car factory, a motorcycle factory, the world’s largest gear maker, two of the biggest “steam shovel” makers, and a leader in machine tools in one community, tipped things in our favor. The beer might have helped. There was no shame to be a factory worker back then. We even had a high school devoted to training boys (and only boys) in the trades, and it was a competitive process to gain admission. It seemed everyone had family members involved with making things. As an apprentice I was trained to give “civilians” plant tours. Seeing the faces of our guests as they watched molten steel being poured or thick steel plate being flame-cut was always fun. Some of the best moments were female visitors exclaiming how “jewel-like” freshly machined parts looked once the coolant was turned off for unloading. You can get jaded over how amazing it is to create things out of rusty bits of metal when you are around it everyday. As a designer, I have never lost the joy of seeing something that began as a few scratches on paper become a physical object. I feel sorry for anyone who has had their personal creativity limited to folding a paper airplane. How can we rekindle the appreciation of turning the rusty stuff into shiny stuff?