The Factory Model

Eli Whitney Museum

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The factory model tells the story of the work Whitney directed here and significant changes that are discernible in that work. Our sources: period artwork, Whitney’s probate inventory, records of parallel armories, and informed guesswork. The model is constructed in 1/3 scale. Imagine that the men are 6 feet tall.

Critical features of Whitney’s work here are included in the model.

Water power

Whitney had prophetic confidence in the importance of power applied to tools both to enhance efficiency and precision.

Jigs and Fixtures

The most expensive tools listed in the probate inventory are the fixtures which position and guide drills. Whitney realized that not only machine tools, but devices adapted to guide those tools were critical components of precision production.

The Bell

The factory, a complex integration of many people’s work, required a new form or organization. The bell is a symbol of the growing importance of that structure.

Apprentices

Ten apprentices sleep in the garret. Though Whitney dreamed of reducing the skill (and therefore the cost) of labor, he soon realized that he would always need and had to develop skilled labor. He notes that he makes armorers as well as arms.

Numbers

In part because the government was his customer, Whitney developed advanced precision in communicating the cost of doing business.

Gauges

Gauges communicate the complex and irregular structures of gun parts. Constant testing develops uniformity within the Armory and consistency between private and federal armories.

The Filers

Whitney’s dream of uniform production was not completely fulfilled. In his armories, and all armories, hand work (particularly filing) was still essential in 1825.


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