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A New Framework for Workshop Contracting: Philadelphia Machine Building, 1870–1914

A New Framework for Workshop Contracting: Philadelphia Machine Building, 1870–1914

Dawson, Andrew (2006) A New Framework for Workshop Contracting: Philadelphia Machine Building, 1870–1914. Labor History, 47 (3). pp. 343-359. ISSN 0023-656X (Print), 1469-9702 (Online) (doi:

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Most historians believe that inside contracting (IC), a system that had its origins in the early industrial revolution, remained an important practice throughout nineteenth-century America. Under IC, proprietors appointed a senior worker who agreed to supply components or completed articles at an agreed price. It was the contractor who bore the risk of failure or pocketed the profits. Here was a system that created an alternative locus of power within the workshop. Focusing on machine building, this article argues that IC should be seen as a feature of the earlier nineteenth century, primarily associated with New England's industrial development. In the workshops of 1870s and 1880s Philadelphia, proprietors and workers used the language of ‘contracting’ but its meaning was altogether different. In Philadelphia, a system of piece contracting (PC) emerged, encouraged by the crisis of the 1870s depression, as proprietors attempted to reduce costs and control skilled labour—in contrast to earlier IC which was an expression of owners’ reluctance or inability to take charge. At the Baldwin Locomotive Works and Cramp shipyard a sophisticated system of gang PC also developed. PC did not offer a share of the profits but only limited inducement to a layer of labour aristocrat ‘contractors’; overall, it intended to constrain the world of the skilled mechanic.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: united states, nineteenth century, philadelphia, internal sub-contracting, mechanical engineering, historiography.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Communications & Creative Arts
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > History Research Group
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:11
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
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Selected for GREAT 2019: None
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