In 1852, says Mr. Plummer, "the average amount of wages obtainable by an experienced female operator was 8s. to 10s. per week; now the earnings of the female machine-workers are 14s. to 16s. per week—slower hands get 10s., and the best workers 20s. to 24s. The female 'preparers' of work get 10s.. . . The machine has within a few years been applied to the straw hat and bonnet industry of Bedfordshire, and with the best results. Many of the plaiters who now suffer from Chinese competition, will, as machinists, obtain good wages. . . . In the mantle-trade in London, the wages of machinists are high, say, 14s. to 20s. for middling hands, and 23s., 29s., and even 33s., forworkwomen."
As the general result, Mr. Plummer says that, "taking all the various industries in which the machine is used, the wages of the machinists may be estimated as being from 50 to 100 per cent. higher than the wages received by hand-workers before the machines appeared in the several industries." And he goes on to add: "The changes introduced by the machine have been attended with considerable advantages as regards the physical and social condition of the workers. There is a great improvement in their health and in the comfort of their homes. As regards the shoemaking population, both male and female, the change amounts to an absolute revolution, and decidedly for the better."
The sewing-machine has most effectually stimulated invention in other directions. In all leather manufactures, for example, the old, painful, unhealthy processes are now nearly all done by machinery driven by steam. In the stay and clothing trades the severe labor of using heavy shears by hand is superseded by steam-driven cutters, by the aid of which one man does the work of twenty. The cheapness arising from these appliances has so enlarged the demand that the quantity of labor employed in the trades is far greater than before.
This is the statement of the facts, and there is no reason to dispute it in any essential particular. The outline amounts to this: About twenty-five years ago the articles produced in all the industries connected with the fabrication of sewed, or "made-up," woven, and leather materials, were dear, and, except in the best instances, of inferior quality; and the laborers, male and female, but especially the latter, were among the worst paid, the hardest worked, and the most unhealthy, in the country. A mechanical invention, called the sewing machine, of moderate cost and simplicity, was then introduced, the objects of which were, by the application of ordinary labor in private houses or factories, to get rid of nearly all the irksome, slow, and unhealthy processes of hand-stitching, and so by reason of swiftness, exactness, and superiority of manufacture, greatly to reduce the selling price of the articles offered to the public. The effect of this invention was in a few years to establish two radical improvements throughout