Document 15: C M Woodward, 1887, on the Importation of Russian System of Woodworking Instruction

Source: C M. Woodward The Manual Training School Boston: D. C. Heath 1887, pages 2-4

In 1868, Victor Della-Vos introduced into the Imperial Technical (engineering) School at Moscow the Russian method of class-instruction in the use of tools. Eighteen years old, these students were destined to become government engineers.

The great value of the work of Della-Vos lay in the discovery of the true method of tool-instruction, for without his discovery the later steps would have been impossible.

In 1870, at the University of Illinois, (1) a woodworking shop was added to the appliances for the course in architecture and (2) an iron-working shop to the course in mechanical engineering. In 1871, endowed by Edwin A. Stevens, the Stevens Institute of Hoboken, N. J., as a school of mechanical engineering, was fitted up with a series of shops for student use.

The next step -- to provide its engineering students with instruction in both wood and metals -- was by Washington University, St. Louis: in 1872, a large shop in the Polytechnic School was equipped with workbenches, two lathes, a forge, a gear-cutter and full sets of carpenters', machinists', and forging tools. The first work undertaken, was the construction of models for the illustration of mechanical principles. The inability of the students to use the tools with any facility soon led to the introduction of exercises for the sole purpose of tool-instruction. Thus unconsciously we were following in the steps of Della-Vos.

This work was so far systematized as to be reported as follows in the University Catalogue of 1875 [Woodward's text continues below the images]:

Instruction Sheets Introduced in America, 1880s Instruction Sheets Introduced in America, 1880s

During the past year the students of each class [the four polytechnic classes being required to attend without regard to their course of study, while the classical students were at liberty to attend] have worked systematically in the shop under the direction of the professors, assisted by a skillful carpenter and a pattern-maker. The general method of conducting this work is as follows : A sketch of the piece or task to be constructed is given a class with all needed dimensions. Each student then makes a careful drawing of it to some convenient scale, with details and exact measurements. 

The class then goes to the shop, is furnished with the requisite materials and tools, and each member is shown by an expert how to execute the work. Every piece must be reasonably perfect or it is rejected and a new one is required. Although the students work in the shop no more than four hours per week, the experience is valuable. It is not supposed, of course, that skilled work can be produced by this method, but it is certain that such training will make better judges of workmanship. 

Thus far had we progressed when the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 was opened. 

None of us knew any thing of the Moscow school, or of the one in Bohemia in which the Russian method had been adopted in 1874. The Russian exhibit at Philadelphia was less of a surprise to me than to many. It showed with remarkable fullness and logical arrangement the true educational method of tool-instruction. It presented, clear-cut and definite, what before had been ill defined or unthought of. Before referring to the great work of Prof. Runkle in presenting the Russian method to the American people, I will give the story of our first series of workshops in the old " Philibert Mansion " on the ground where the University gymnasium now stands. 

In the summer of 1877, having outgrown our single shop, we transformed an old dwelling-house into shops, using the cham­bers for a carpenter-shop, the parlors for a machine-shop, and the basement for a forging-shop.

The Freshmen had benchwork in wood, the Sophomores wood-turning, the Juniors metal turning and fitting, and the Seniors forging. At that time, I wrote as follows in reference to Mr. Gottlieb Conzelman who had given the money for fitting up those shops : — 

I feel so sure that from this small beginning important consequences are to follow, that I almost envy Mr. Conzelman the satisfaction he will certainly feel in having contributed to its foundation.

For three years, with no essential change of plan, the shops were used. The instruction was very general, and our success with the polytechnic students and a class of thirty boys from Smith Academy of preparatory grade pointed out the way for the MANUAL TRAINING SCHOOL, whose building was erected in 1879, and which was opened in September, 1880.