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The Factory System: Efficiency

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The Factory System: Efficiency, New Products, Big Money & SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The Industrial Revolution permitted the creation of thousands of new products from clothing to toys to weapons. These products were produced efficiently and inexpensively in factories. Under Eli Whitney's system of interchangeable parts, machines and their parts were produced uniformly so that they could be easily replaced when something broke down. Later, Henry Ford's use of the assem­bly line meant that each factory worker added only one part to a finished product, one after another after another. These were incredibly important developments in manufacturing, and they made the factory system wildly profitable, but they came with social costs.

The factories were manned by thousands of workers, and the system was efficient and inexpensive primarily because those workers were way overworked, extremely underpaid, and regularly put in harm's way without any accompanying insurance or protection. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, 16-hour workdays were not uncommon. Children as young as six worked next to ma­chines. Women worked long hours at factories, while still having to fulfill their traditional roles as caretakers for their husbands, children, and homes.

This was a huge change from rural life. Whereas the farms exposed people to fresh air and sun-shine, the factories exposed workers to air pollution and hazardous machinery. The farms provided seasonal adjustments to the work pattern, while the factories spit out the same products day after day, all year long. The despair and hopelessness of the daily lives of the factory workers were captured by many novelists and social commentators of the time, for example, Charles Dickens.

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