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THE MAGNIFICENT MACHINE

Emily Hatfield & Nicole Lavelle
    History 256
Professor Robert Schwatz
16 April 1996

Intuitively, we believe the portrayal of the machine in popular image-making during the Industrial Revolution became increasingly critical as time went on. With the building up of urban areas and unfurling of train tracks across the countryside, people's lives were forever changed by the machine. 

Probing more deeply into the conceptualization of the machine, we view the role of the machine from the perspective of distinct socioeconomic classes. The upper-class entrepreneur, the well-educated technician, the working class and the leisure class interpret the effects of machines on humanity differently. The upper-class entrepreneur understood the machine as a vehicle for increased productivity. Distilling the machines into scientific parts, the technician elevated the aims of industry into a purer art form. Appealing to a broader, more general understanding of the machine, the working class was enchanted by the whole-- production as a miraculous process in itself. The leisure class, from their elitist perspective, beckoned the industrial age as a final stage in the evolution of mankind. From all viewpoints, the machine provided a focal point for social commentary and a symbol for the endless possibilities of the Industrial Revolution. 

If we are convinced that written historical text is unbiased truth, images provide another doorway through which we access the past. The simplicity of a pencil drawing or the lavish stroke of oil reminds us that the past we see is a construction, an impression, a feeling. Whether the machine was imagined as a toy, or the picture of scientific clarity depended on the artist and the audience for whom the image was created. 

Revolutionized by the advent of the steam engine, improvements in transportation attracted the attention of investment speculators . . . at first. Once the first railway line was built in England in 1830, a widened public interest was focused on the emerging narrative of the train (Perry, 335). From Manchester to Liverpool, the enchantment of progress drew England's inhabitants to the religion of technology.{Graphic stripped} 

In the image of the "carnival train," the vaulted cathedral ceilings sit comfortably amongst the semi-pastoral, English township. The whimsical train spokes connote a carnival procession. The machine acts as a showcase of development in quiet harmony with traditional town life. 

Carnival Train  

A wave of contentment washes over the viewer. From the smoke stack trails, not a filthy by-product of industry, but a chain of clouds. We realize something is missing-- no steeple, no cross. A flag pushes up from the brow of the arch triumphantly. We are in a land where the center of civic life is no longer the church of Christ but the religion of the machine. 

People disappear and even the train act as ornament. The artist illustrates a world where technology lives in consonance with country life. There is no working class pinned before the relentless speed of a locomotive. The "carnival train" is an optimistic scene created by a well-to-do hobby painter. From this picture of peaceful interaction of nature and technology, the elite class gains satisfaction in the splendid capabilities of mankind. As the philosophers Marx and Engels wrote: 

     "It is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of      human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased" (Marx & Engels, 33). 

Popular among the wealthy capitalists was the view that the machine, as a triumph of man's intelligence, was a symbol of benign hope and rich achievement. And while providing all of this for mankind, it flourished within the natural and historical countryside. 

The machine was truly the new religion of the leisure class. During their first flush of expansion, railway lines inspired positive reactions by both poets and artists. In John Dyer's poem, The Fleece (published in 1757), development is portrayed with excitement: 

     New streets are marking in the neighb'ring fields, 
     And sacred domes of worship. Industry, 
     Which dignifies the artist, lifts the swain, 
     And the straw cottage to a palace turns, 
     Over the work presides...(Klingender, 11). 

From the style of drawing, we make inferences about the intentions and perspective of the artist, but the whimsical portrayal of the machine may also be an indication of the time in which it was drawn. Most likely, it was a combination of "carnival train's" place in chronology and the socioeconomic class of the artist that resulted in the religion of the machine. 

With the rapid development of technology in the second half of the eighteenth century, a style of diagrammatic drawing emerged that purified the aesthetics of the machine to the level of scientific anatomy (Klingender, 61). Not only technicians, but the educated in general, followed the latest inventions with scientific scrutiny. These mechanical illustrations appealed to a distinguished audience; an audience with an immense confidence in the scientific method of investigation. {Graphic stripped} 

  Weaving Machine 

The "weaving machine" rises before us and we are at once impressed by its immense technical detail. The stark rendering is without any narrative. There is a complete absence of setting: we are enraptured with its anatomical form. In the great legacy of English botanical drawings the machine is classified as an organism with like scientific clarity. 

This image functions, first and foremost, as a stringent documentation of the proportions and ingredients of the machine. The audience is fascinated not with the machine in its entirety but the labeled parts; the artist concentrates not on the utility of the whole but of the anatomy of the components. 

Published in popular, technical journals of the time, this blueprint appealed to the scientists as well as wider academia. The quality of the drawing is measured by the artist's ability to become invisible. This is a benevolent documentation of fact. But fact for whom? The individual worker is also dissolved. The apparent lack of social commentary is in fact an elitist perception of the use of machines. 

Businessmen would have been excited with the increase in productivity that innovative machines made possible. A working-class portrayal of the machine may have been sensitive of the worker's role in the industrial process. The technical artists entertained themselves with classifying the weaving machine as a new species, independent of a social context. 

The "weaving machine" represents an early example of mechanical illustration. In its purest depiction, this image is an encyclopedia-brand portrayal of the machine. Klingender discusses the later forms of mechanical artistry: 

For example, the upper half of such a plate may contain a general view of a tilt-forge with men at work, while the operative parts of the machinery and the tools used are shown separately below, just as in many contemporary botanical illustrations the stamen and petals are drawn separately from a general view of the plant (Klingender, 63). 

At the time of the "weaving machine's" inception, the educated technician still considered the beauty of the machine as integral in its isolation. The more evolved type of illustration included some sort of narrative, possibly from the increasing influence and input of various socioeconomic classes. 

As the machine became appreciated purely as a scientific system, it was deified in political and economic theory as well. In Adam Smith's Moral Philosophy: Concepts of Nature and Utility, "...the political machine seem to move with more harmony and ease... We take pleasure in beholding the perfection of so beautiful and so grand a system, and we are uneasy till we remove any obstruction that can in the least disturb or encumber the regularity of its motions" (Smith, 300). The beauty of the machine as a regular system of interacting parts was enhanced by theorists as well as mechanical illustrators. 

Adam Smith also expressed a current of sentiment that regarded the machine as appreciable in its utility. {Graphic stripped} 

"That the fitness of any system or machine to produce the end for which it was intended, bestows a certain propriety and beauty upon the whole, and renders the very thought and contemplation of it agreeable, is so very obvious, that nobody has overlooked it..." (Smith, 296). 
 

  

From the perspective of the rising middle-class entrepreneur, the Industrial Revolution reverberated with the opportunity of personal advancement on the wings of technical innovation. 

Similar to the "weaving machine," this giant image overwhelms us with the technicalities of the whole. From there our eyes our lead to the parts spilling before us. The repetition of the circular form organizes an apparent clutter into a purer geometry. Cold, hard reason dominates where emotion used to reign in the depiction's of animate subjects. Light washes in from behind, making distinct shadows and emphasizing the clean metallic surfaces. During the Industrial Revolution there was a genuine fascination with the reproducibility of parts. The possibility that a pipe could be molded with such accuracy that it could be assembled in one's own barn and produce that which it was made for. The aesthetics of the machine rise completely from its utility and increased productivity, rather than from some innate beauty of its pieces. 

From their comfortable perch, these entrepreneurs admire the machine, just as a farmer comments on livestock. For newly-made businessmen the prospect of ownership was as exciting as the machine itself. In this wooden barn structure (indicated by the cantilevered roof) farmers-gone-businessmen discuss with pride the beauty of this beast. In contrast, John Dyer's poem, The Fleece, concludes with a mesmerizing account of the machine as a mere tool for productivity. 

     A wheel, invisible, beneath the floor, 
     To every member of th'harmonious frame 
     Gives necessary motion. One, intent 
     O'erlooks the work: the carded wool, he says, 
     Is smoothly lapp's around those cylinders, 
     Which, gently turning, yield it to yon cirque 
     Of upright spindles, which, with rapid whirl 
     Spin out, in long extent, an even twine...(Klingender, 21). 

Dyer, as a poet, renders the wheel (the most basic component of a spinning machine) invisible, and is entranced with the product. In the image of the agricultural machine, the relationship between entrepreneur and his modern livestock concentrates not only on productivity, but the magnificence of the beast. 

Our final image, the "blue machine", appeals to a less critical, working-class audience. The emphasis is completely one of the machine in its productive capacity. The expansion of production revolutionized the cotton industry with an influx of innovations--between the years 1760 and 1785, Britain's cotton industry showed the possibility of unprecedented growth rates, production expanding tenfold (Perry, 334). 

The working-class "blue machine" 

The changes in technology had immense influences on the way the working-class made a living. The cities provided job opportunities and drew people from the countryside, changing much of the traditional modes of labor production. This image provides a favorable outlook on that transition. Though the workers do not command the modes of production, as they did in bedroom workshops, they enjoy a spacious workspace and friendly interaction with this new machine. 

Although not seen in this copy, the image's most striking aspect is the contrast between the gleaming blue of the machine amidsts its drab surroundings. The machine is dazzling in its baby blue-- simple and buoyant. The cotton refiner does not frighten with over-technicality nor does it dissect the machine into anatomical parts. Most importantly, these workers are not cogs in the great machine of industry they have distinct identities and are content in their diligence. 

By posing the characters mid-action the artists further attracts our attention to the cascade of cotton. Intentionally, we are not inspired by the space. De-emphasizing excitement from both the workers and the surrounding space, the machine draws us in with its miraculous capabilities. In this case, it is not the machine but the process which is emphasized. By appealing to the middle-class audience, the artist reduces the aesthetics of the machine to pure color. 

The "blue machine" was greeted with the largest public reception, and therefore provides and attainable estimation of the dominant thoughts on the machine during the Industrial Revolution. In The Blessings of the Factory System, Andrew Ure expresses such excitement: 

     Such is the factory system, replete with prodigies in mechanics and political economy, which promises, in its future growth, to become the great minister of civilization to the terraqueous globe, enabling this country, as its heart, to diffuse along with      its commerce, the life-blood of science and religion to myriads of  people still lying 'in the region and shadow of death 
(Ure, 70). 

Technology was touted as the panacea for all societal ills. An hope for unending development and fulfillment of mankind's possibilities was implicit in the portrayal of machines during the Industrial Revolution. Whether the machine was conceptualized as animate livestock or merely as means to a productive end, industrialization changed radically not only the modes of production, but the place of humanity in an industrialized world. 


 Works Cited 

Klingender, Francis D. Art and The Industrial Revolution. London: Noel Carrington, 1947. 

Marx, Karl & Friedrich Engels. ed. Howard L. Parsons. Key Concepts in Critical Theory: Ecology. "Marx and Engels on Ecology." 

Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization: A Brief History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. 

Smith, Adam. Moral Philosophy: Concepts of Nature and Utility. 1750s. 

Ure, Andrew. The Philosophy of Manufactures: The Blessings of the Factory System. 1835. 


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This page was created by Julia Lee '99. It is maintained by Professor Robert Schwartz of the History Department,Mount Holyoke College.