Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/October 1902/The Competition of the United States with the United Kingdom

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



IN the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich, Dr. Alex, von Peez says, 'Slowly has England grown commercially, more rapidly has Germany risen after gaining political unity and establishing the protective system, but like a storm is the forward movement of the United States.'

In the ten years before 1897 the exports of manufactured articles averaged $163,000,000 annually; in 1898 the value was, according to the statistical abstract, $290,697,354; in 1899 it was $339,592,146, and in 1900 $433,851,756. This, be it noted, is the value of the manufactured articles, and does not include grain and agricultural products. The total sales of the United States to foreign countries amounted in 1900 to the tremendous total of nearly $1,500,000,000. In 1901 the exports in manufactures had decreased a little, being only $412,155,066, or about five per cent, less than in the preceding year; but this decrease is due apparently to a depressed state of trade in Europe during the last year—the general exports from Britain were also less in 1901 than in 1900.

The immense growth in the export of manufactures during late years is partly due perhaps to greater prosperity throughout the world, but since other nations, England, Germany and France, are not increasing to anything like the same amount, American competition is evidently becoming more prominent and distinct. The United States has a far greater share of the world's trade than she had ten years ago.

America's competition with the world is not confined to exports; the competition is also within her own borders and does not show in international trade. The United States now manufactures for her own consumption many things that formerly she imported from abroad. In many departments she has hitherto just been able to keep up with her own growth in consumption, having little left over for export. But in these departments she now threatens to invade the world.

Coal is an essential for a manufacturing nation. In 1896 the United States produced one hundred and sixty-seven million tons of coal, in 1900 she produced two hundred and sixty-eight millions. In that time the importation of coal increased nearly half a million tons, but the export increased four million tons. The total export of bituminous and anthracite coal is now almost eight million tons, and, though this is small as compared with the home consumption, yet the export is likely to increase more rapidly, and a leading ironmaster in Germany predicts that in ten or fifteen years America will supply all the Mediterranean coast with coal and iron. He says that cheap production and transport will be the chief factors and will more than counterbalance the nearness of Britain. A few years ago Britain led as a coal producer, but now the United Kingdom is surpassed by the United States. In 1900 Britain produced two hundred and twenty-five million tons of coal, in 1901 she produced two hundred and nineteen million tons only. This difference of six million tons is almost exactly equal to the excess of exports over imports of coal in the United States.

An industry of very rapid growth in the United States is that of cement. There are two large and important classes of cements, called natural cement and Portland cement. In the United States natural cements are still produced in greatest amount, but the growth in output of Portland cement has been very rapid, and Portland cement bids fair soon to surpass natural cement in quantity. Not many years ago nearly all the Portland cement was brought from England, American Portland cement being considered inferior; but now by the introduction of rotary kilns and other improvements it is claimed that American Portland cement is made at least equal to and probably better than English cement.

The production of natural and Portland cement was in 1896, 9,510,355 barrels; in 1900 it was 20,486,274 barrels. This tremendous growth is due to the greatly extended use of cement in buildings and pavements and in structural works of many kinds in which stone was formerly used. This growth in consumption has not been accompanied by a growth in importation. On the contrary, the imports have declined to a slight extent, being in 1896 3,558,166 barrels, and in 1900 3,182,245 barrels. The export is small, but there is an increase from 87,910 barrels in 1896 to 186,586 barrels in 1900. This means that the cement factories have been able to keep up with the growth in the demand at home and have had a slight surplus.

The soda industry is one of the most important chemical industries, and in it England was for a long time supreme and America imported largely from her. Now, however, the importation is small, America providing her own soda to a great extent. In 1896 the soda imported was 86,991 tons, in 1900 it was 33,482. Common salt is the starting point for the manufacture of soda, and it is used for many other purposes as well. The world's consumption of salt has grown during the last twenty years, but Britain's output has fallen off. This appears to be largely due to American competition. In 1880 the United Kingdom produced nearly 2,700,000 tons of salt and the United States 800,000 tons. In 1889 the United Kingdom produced 1,950,000 tons and the United States 2,400,000 tons, which amount was increased in 1900 to 2,650,000 tons, so that now the United States occupies the position held by Britain in 1880.

The growth of the iron and steel industry in the United States is phenomenal. In 1901 the production of pig iron was 13,789,242 metric tons, as opposed to 13,620,703 metric tons in 1900. The metric ton is about a tenth larger than the ordinary ton, so that over fifteen million tons of two thousand pounds each was the output of pig iron in the United States. In 1882 the production was only 4,144,254 tons, of which approximately 0.15 per cent., was exported; of the 13,789,242 tons produced in 1901, the export amounted to 255,253 tons, or nearly two per cent. On the other hand, the import in 1882 was 496,045 tons, which was 10.65 per cent, of the total consumed, while the import in 1901 was only 39,325 tons, or 0.29 per cent, of the total consumption. In England, however, the importation of pig iron has increased from 1896 when it was 108,152 tons, to 1900 when it was 184,049 tons. The increase during the same time in steel imported into Britain is even more noticeable; the import of unwrought steel growing from 17,771 tons to 182,210 tons. The total exports of Britain in iron and steel are of course enormous, although the United Kingdom does not produce so much as the United States. There is not so much local consumption, and a large quantity is exported, the amount being in 1900 3,602,083 tons, a trifle less than the 3,607,204 tons exported in 1896. Britain's output of Bessemer steel was greatest in 1882, when it amounted to 1,125,785 tons; the present output of the United States is more than double that figure. It may be noted that Bessemer steel is largely used for rails, and the growth of railroads is now much greater in this country than in Britain.

Perhaps in nothing has the competition of the United States with the United Kingdom been more conspicuous than in tin plate. The use of tin plate has grown tremendously, owing to the growth of the canning industry, canned meats, canned fish, canned fruits and canned vegetables being now common where formerly they were rare.

The imports of tin plate from England were in 1869 over one hundred and eighty-one million pounds, and from 1884 to 1894 the yearly average was about five hundred millions, with the exception of 1891, when the remarkable figure of 1,036 million pounds was reached. But in 1901 the imports were one hundred and eighteen million pounds, a figure considerably less than in 1869. The value has decreased even more than the quantity, for in 1869 the value was $8,767,381, and in 1901 it was $3,770,062. To this extent has Britain lost in her trade in tin plate with this country. As against the decline in importation is the growth in production in the United States. In 1892 the production in America was fourteen million pounds, in 1900 it was six hundred and seventy-eight million pounds, or in eight years the increase in output has grown more than forty-eight times. Tin plate has actually been landed in considerable quantity at Cardiff, the original home of the industry.

The figures given above for iron and steel refer to the unmanufactured product; in machinery and other articles manufactured from iron, the United States competes keenly with the United Kingdom. In connection with iron and steel may be mentioned the competition which America has offered in bridge building and similar work. England has till very lately had a practical monopoly of railway building in most of the British colonies. But the Atbara bridge in the Soudan was constructed by America, the lowest British tender being £15, 15s. (or $76.50) a ton, whereas the American tender was £10, 13s. 6d. (or $51.60) a ton. The British contract was for twenty-six weeks, the American for only fourteen. Afterwards came the construction of the Gokteik Viaduct in Burma, which was completed by an American firm in twelve months, and is the wonder of British engineers. The American tender was for fifteen pounds a ton, the lowest British tender was for twenty-six pounds ten shillings a ton, and the time required was three years. The Ugandy Viaduct is another instance in which the American tender was twenty per cent, lower than the British, and the time required slightly more than one third.

In rolling stock for railroads, American competition is likewise felt. New Zealand has taken locomotives from America, so has Cape Colony, which not long since placed a million pounds worth of orders including twenty-nine locomotives, in this country. Even the Midland Railway Company in England in 1898 ordered twenty locomotives from America. The Sanyo Company in Japan has been using American locomotives for six years and has lately ordered more from America, but not from Britain. They have already thirty-three American and twenty-four English engines. They say that the American engines are more quickly provided and cost only two thirds as much. It is said that the American design is the better, though it is admitted that the British workmanship is superior. The English boilers are more carefully riveted and are less liable to leak. The American wheels are, however, said to have better tires and to last longer.

As an example of how American machinery is being introduced into England, the experience of the firm of Messrs. Charles Churchill & Co. in London may be cited. Thirty-five years ago they commenced to introduce American machinery into Britain and met with many discouragements, but during the last five years they have sold four million dollars' worth of machinery. The business of the past year has been the largest they have had, and it promises to be still better during the coming year.

The competition of the United States has not been confined to iron goods, to locomotives, bridges and heavy machinery, but has extended to many departments. America has taken away a large part of Britain's colonial trade in boots and shoes; she has a practical monopoly of the boot and shoe trade of West Australia and Africa. The boots have a better appearance and a better fit than English boots, and they wear as well. A good deal of the leather is identical in kind in the two countries, but the Americans tan better than the British. A very considerable quantity of the leather used in Britain is imported from the United States and costs less than it does at home, but though wages are smaller in Britain, American boots can be sold in the British market.

"Americans have a practical control of the match making industry in Britain, also of the tobacco industry; half of the English newspapers are printed on American presses or upon presses built on American models in English shops that are branches of American manufactories, and the paper of most of the newspapers is American." So says Mr. Frank Vanderlip, formerly assistant secretary of the Treasury.

It appears that British shipping even is to be invaded by America. In the days of wooden vessels the United States led the world in shipping, but since iron and steel have been used in shipbuilding Britain has been without a rival. At the present time, however, quite apart from the American ownership of foreign-built vessels, the tonnage of vessels built in the United States has reached a very respectable figure, being in 1901 as much as 483,489, while in February of this year it is stated that there were on the stocks twenty-two ships, averaging ten thousand tons each.

The causes that account for the position of the United States as a competitor of the United Kingdom may be grouped under two heads—the nature of the two countries and the characteristics of the two peoples. America is a large country, with immense resources and a population nearly double that of Britain. Hence, the home market is larger, and a larger home market permits of a cheaper production for the foreign market. The accessibility and abundance of some raw materials, such as coal and iron ore, gives America a great advantage. Britain can never hope again to reach America in the output of iron. Iron ore is much more easily obtained in this country, occurring in some places in large quantity of so soft a nature that it can be scooped out with steam shovels; and since it is on the surface it is possible to load it directly on cars, ready to be transported to the furnace. In Britain the ore must be mined, usually from great depths, or must be imported from other countries.

The cost of mining coal has increased in Britain as in other European countries, whereas it has decreased in America. In 1885 the average price of European coal at the mine was $1.62, and in the United States $1.58; in 1899 the European price was $1.96, while that in the United States had fallen to $1.10. The average depth of the seams in America is much less and their width is considerably greater. It is remarkable that though the output of the mines of the United Kingdom was less in 1901 than in 1900, the number of employees was 24,661 greater. This increase was, I believe, entirely in the coal mines, in which the decrease of output was over six million tons.

Of course the character of the two peoples counts for much. The power of the initiative of the American, his shrewdness and his energy give him an advantage and contrast with the Englishman's inertness, self-complacency and policy of laissez faire. A case was cited in the London Mining Journal of a firm in Australasia that sent to a British firm for a catalogue of prices. Instead of sending the catalogue, the British firm wrote for evidence of the bona fides of the presumable customer. The latter thereupon sent to the United States and received three large and well illustrated catalogues, and so became a customer of the American firm. It is safe to say that the majority of colonial merchants would prefer to deal with Britain if they could obtain the goods they require at the same cost and with the same ease and quickness, but sentiment must not be too much strained.

Not only is the British merchant slow to adapt himself to the wants of his customers, but the British manufacturer is slow to change old processes and to adopt new machinery. Workmen are seldom encouraged to suggest improvements in methods and machinery as they are in the United States. It is fair to say that British workmen are not very ready to make suggestions for the improvement of machinery since they have a prejudice against machinery, though any that come to America, where they find it an advantage to exercise their ingenuity, show that they can compete in inventiveness with their fellow-workmen in the United States. In Britain, however, workmen, as a rule, look upon machinery as a disadvantage. They consider that an improved machine means less hand work, and that the machine takes the bread out of the mouth of the honest laborer.

In 1901 there were in Britain no more than 311 coal cutting machines in use, while in Pennsylvania alone there were 3,125, or ten times as many. In the United States there was an output of 493 tons per man employed, in Britain only 318 tons.

The English workmen will not use machines at their full capacity, even when the machines are provided. Most of the British match factories, being under American control, use American machinery; but in a particular case where the same company had two factories, one in Britain and one in the United States, seven hundred employees in the former turned out fewer matches than four hundred employees in the latter. The trades unions object to a man looking after more than one machine, where it might be possible for him to look after two or three, or possibly half a dozen. The trades unionists go on the assumption that there is only so much work to be done and if one man does the work of two he throws some one out of a job, forgetting that a small output at a large cost to the capitalist precludes him from competing with outside employers in the same department, and lessens the amount of work he can give to his men.

Tenders were asked for a bridge in an English colony. Several English firms and one American tendered. The lowest English tender was by a firm employing six hundred men for whom there was barely sufficient work. The English tender allowed for only five per cent, margin for profit and contingencies, but the tender was not sufficiently low, and the contract went to an American company. Within a month the English firm was obliged to dismiss one hundred men. If the employees had realized the state of the case and had been willing to work to their full capacity the contract might have been secured by the English firm, the hundred men might have still been employed and possibly others added.

Though American boots and shoes are invading Britain, two hundred riveters and finishers lately went out on strike against shoe-lasting machines. In America a hundred machines are used in the making of one boot. In England labor-saving machines have been invented, but very few have been suggested by operatives, and they are grudgingly used.

America has the advantage that the factories turn out large numbers of articles all upon the same pattern. For instance, the locomotive makers build a particular style of locomotive, and will not make any other style, except at a very great advance in cost. In England specifications are drawn up by some engineer, and these specifications must be followed. It is complained that there is a colony of consulting engineers in Westminster that have supervision of the contracts for bridges, permanent way and railway stock. It is contended that these engineers put restrictions upon English firms tendering for contracts to which American firms are not subjected. It is said, for instance, that when the Midland Railway ordered American locomotives these would not comply with the restrictions to which home made engines would be subject. When an American firm is asked to tender according to specification, the usual reply is that such a locomotive can be made, but it will cost a half more than one of the regular style that will be quite as good. The British tender to specification is usually lower than the American. Locomotive works in England are usually smaller than in America, since most of the large railways have their own shops, and the outside constituency is small. In America few of the railroad companies make their own locomotives; they buy them from the large factories.

The case with bridges is much the same as with locomotives. The bridge companies build a number of bridges upon the same plan, hence can supply the parts for any particular contract at a rapid rate and may indeed have them on hand.

The cost of transportation in the United States is very much less than in the United Kingdom. The American cars are much larger, carrying fifty tons, whereas the English cars carry eight tons, and the American locomotives are enormous as compared with the English engines. The average charge for freight per ton mile in America is less than 0.75 cents, in Great Britain it is 2.4 cents, or more than three times as much. Of course, the short journeys in Britain increase the cost, because the terminal charges are the same whether the run has been long or short. The complaint is made in Britain that the freight on foreign goods is cheaper than on home productions, and that there is thus a discrimination against the English producer.

The United States has an advantage over the United Kingdom in the technical training afforded. In this respect Germany leads the world, but America far surpasses Britain. The total number of day students over fifteen years of age taking a technical course of twenty hours or more a week is in the whole United Kingdom only 3,873. In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alone the number of students over eighteen years of age is about 1,200. It will be noticed that the age in the American institution is higher than that in Britain, which doubtless implies that a more advanced course of study is pursued.

The question naturally presents itself, How is Britain meeting the American competition? In some things it probably can not be met, the advantage of natural resources can not be overcome. But the English are awaking to the necessity of technical education and the importance of making the best use of their conditions. More than eleven years ago parliament placed at the disposal of the local authorities certain excise grants, commonly called 'liquor money' Well-equipped technical schools have been started all over Britain. Two are being built in Ireland—one at Dublin, the other at Belfast—each to cost $500,000. The new Manchester Institute of Technology has just been opened. A school is being built in Glasgow to cost $750,000 for building alone. In Birmingham over two million dollars has been subscribed for a new technical training school. These expenditures are small as compared with those of the United States, but they indicate a sense of the need of technical education.

The starting of the National Physical Laboratory for the purpose of testing and standardizing and for research on physical constants promises to be of great value. The simple standardizing of screws and nuts will be a great assistance to manufacturers. It is important that these should be made to an exact size, so that in replacing them there may be no misfits. For this it is necessary that the manufacturers' standards should be kept exact.

Trade and technical papers in Britain are awake and are sounding the alarm, which, though it falls on many deaf ears, especially in the case of those who had grown old while Britain was supreme in nearly all departments of manufacture and trade, is yet arousing some response from the younger and more active men who are beginning to learn that the world does move.

American methods are being introduced, and in some cases American energy is being imitated. The Westinghouse Company is building a five million dollar electric plant in Manchester. English bricklayers are accustomed to lay not more than four hundred bricks a day, and they started at this rate, but, under American contractors, were induced to work up to eight hundred a day. A few American bricklayers were imported and set the example of laying nearly two thousand bricks a day, whereupon the English bricklayers in their desire to show that they could equal the Yankees, followed the example set; and buildings that the English master builders said would require five years have been erected in twelve months. It is said that when the plant is installed seven thousand hands will be employed, and that it is the design of the Westinghouse Company to give a lesson to the English engineers as they have to English builders.

Though the United States is so rich in inventions, the United Kingdom is responsible for many of the pioneer inventions, and it seems that she can still make a good showing. The Bessemer process and the Thomas Gilchrist basic steel process are English inventions, and lately the Parson's Steam Turbine has gained prominence and bids fair to start a new era for steam engines. It is thought that in a few years it will be in use on all stationary engines and on steamboats.

In shipbuilding Britain still leads, the cost of building being considerably less there than in the United States. The cost of a ship of about ten thousand tons is approximately $160,000 in the United States and $130,000 in Britain.

Sir Christopher Furness, who has lately been in America, thinks that in the iron and steel trade Britain need not despair. Mr. Schwab says that the United States will be able to compete with the world in rails, girders and heavy products, but that England will be ahead in steel products requiring special and delicate manipulation.

Probably the greatest hindrance to advance in Britain is trades unionism; but the fallacy of their doctrine may soon be realized by the workmen, and any just cause for complaint against the capitalist may be adjusted in an amicable and reasonable manner. An association called the National Industrial Association has been formed or is in the process of forming with this as one of its aims. The object is c to create and cement a feeling of common interest between employer and employee.' The Association appeals to every engineering firm in the United Kingdom because by bringing employers and employees to see their mutual interest there will be an increase in the output of their works without additional cost. With better and cheaper work the manufacturer will be more able to combat foreign competition. Strikes and lockouts will be far less frequent, and so great loss and misery will be prevented. In this Association employers and employees meet upon the same plane, and they hope to provide machinery for conciliation which shall be available in case of any threatened dispute between employers and their men. The Association has in view the carrying on of inquiries regarding matters affecting British trade and commerce, with the object of holding their own in the markets of the world.

It will be to the interest not only of Britain, but of America as well, if British manufactures increase and if Britain grows commercially. America sells most to the richest nation—Britain is her best customer. There is no doubt that the United States will continue to develop her resources and will be able to sell to nations that can afford to buy. The standard of living is higher now than it was even a few years ago. What were luxuries to our fathers are necessities to us. There is room for all the growth possible in both Britain and America, and it is to be hoped that civilization may be advanced and the world benefited by the competition of the United States with the United Kingdom.