Document 29: R A Wagner The Development of Skilled Mechanics 1914

R. A. WAGNER The Development of Skilled Mechanics The Building Age 36 1914 month and page nos needed

I discovered this document serendipitously, to use a term out of my past. In looking at dissertations, articles, books, that scrutinize the history of Industrial Arts Education in America, I became aware of themes -- especially apprenticeship, with the non-starter term "indentureship".

(Indentureship prophesied the failure of an Apprenticeship program in America, because when terms such as indentureship are placed in any context, the response is "slavery".)

Thus when I discovered Wagner uses Indentured, I looked more seriously at the gist of his argument, and after deciding it worthy of uploading as a document that illustrates the evolution of  Industrial Arts, I flagged it in red font below.

I will have more to say about this document when I trace the narrative history of the IA programs in the 1911 and 1920 decade.

Wagner's article contains four, captioned images, only one of which features "mechanics" in training making furniture.That image is below, and shows the Arts and Crafts furniture constructed by a "First-Year" High School Class in Atlantic City,  NJ, in 1914. The credits note that the image was originally published in the Manual Training Magazine.

Finally, scroll down in Paul D Otter's 1914 discussion of the distinctions among meanings of terms in IA, such as "mechanic".



Need of Better Workmen in Many Branches of Trade —How Greater Efficiency May Be Brought About


INDUSTRIAL education is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the potent factors in the trades development of this country. When one takes a retrospective view of the origin and development of trade schools, the influence they have exerted in the trades and the social development of the tradesman, we cannot fail to recognize the immense amount of good already accomplished and the tremendous possibilities of the future. Industrial education is in its infancy, but the movement is advancing with such strides that in future it will outrival our present institutions for preparation in professional vocations.

Trade education is becoming more and more universally recognized as the likely successor to the apprenticeship system. While it is not meant to imply that the apprenticeship system has not to some extent at least been a success in years gone by, yet we must not fail to recognize the fact that the class of work today is not the same as that of generations since. The growing demand has created a surplus of deficient mechanics and there is urgent need of such reforms as will replace them with those who are competent to perform the work which they are called upon to execute.

The development of the country along trade lines demands a more thorough and efficient system than the haphazard methods used in instructing the young apprentice. The trade school seems to satisfy this demand in every respect. Speaking of this subject, President Eliot of Harvard University says :


"The apprentice system has been in past centuries, and still is to some extent, an unjust and imperfect method. It is a slow and wasteful method of learning a trade and liable to great abuses. Any bright and diligent youth can learn a great deal more in three years at a good trade school than in seven years' apprenticeship."

Should the apprentice, in spite of the fact that he is almost invariably given the work of an ordinary laborer, yet retain interest enough to strive to learn, he receives little or no encouragement. He receives no competent instructions as to the proper use and care of tools; his knowledge of working drawings is meager at the most and if at the end of his indenture he is able to command full journeyman's wages he is an indifferent mechanic, with no ambition and little interest in his trade.

In the opinion of those who have given the subject much study and deep thought, the trade school is the best solution of the problem of creating a greater number of skilled mechanics. Trade education being as it were in a state of experiment many mistakes are made and many incorrect principles put into practice as to the proper application
of trade instruction.

wagner development of skilled mechanics 1914 Whereas, in the old system the apprentice received much practice with little or no theory, he is liable to meet the other extreme in the trade school. The prime underlying principles of the trade, the proper instruction as to the care and use of tools, careful attention to details, a full knowledge of working drawings, intelligent instruction in the constructive and mechanical details of the trade, and the proper amount of theory to use with practice—these are important points that cannot be overlooked in the successful education of the trade school apprentice.

Another very important factor is the elimination of anything tending toward commercialism. In some of the trade schools it is the common practice to take contracts in the production of some staple article. This is frequently done to defray the expenses of the less firmly established trade school. This method would not arouse the interest of the apprentice as it should and so the primary object of the trade school would be defeated. It would also tend to fit the apprentice for engaging in piecework—a practice which is followed quite extensively—but to say the least, does not tend to produce an all-around mechanic.

What industrial education has been doing to better the conditions of the building trades is not so generally felt as yet. The country is too large and the members of these trades are too transient for any marked improvement in any one place.

The trade school does not receive the encouragement it should, considering the great practical value to the country. That conditions are changing for the better, however gradual, are clearly discernible, and before many years there is no doubt that trade education will become more general.

Among notable examples of successful trade schools to-day mention may be made of the William-son School, founded 26 years ago by one who recognized even then the. coming need of this country for better educated and more skilled mechanics. The fact that the school to-day is conducted along practically the same lines as when founded, and that the principles as laid down by the founder are in accord with present-day ideas of trade education are ample proof of his far-seeing sagacity.

While situated but a short distance from Philadelphia, and sending forth each year a class of from 40 to 70 young journeymen carpenters, bricklayers, pattern makers, machinists and engineers, the school is not widely known, and brief reference to the methods there in vogue may not be without interest in this connection. The successful applicants are indentured for a period of three years, for the first two of which the time in the class-room and shop is evenly divided.

During the last year the time in the shop is increased so that at the end of his third year the apprentice is working full journeyman's hours. The classroom work consists of a good practical English education, and with the exception of the languages, the curriculum is about the same as our high schools. In addition the strength of materials, electricity, steam and a good course in mechanical and architectural drawing are taught—the work in the drafting room corresponding to the work in the shops. The young apprentice is taught:

  • Fundamental principles of his particular trade,
  • the proper use and care of tools,
  • how to draft correct working drawings and construct from them,
  • constructive and mechanical details with estimating in actual construction work.

Throughout the entire course the point of theory in practice is not overlooked. The carpenters and bricklayers use the science of geometry and mensuration. The machinists are familiar with trigonometry and so on. During the greater part of the course the apprentices of the building trades engage in the construction of the school buildings. The work on these is done in the same manner as on jobs in the cities. Competent instructors constantly direct and give the apprentice personal attention in the many details of his work, for the instructors are practical men well informed in the many points of their various trades.

A unique and successful system has been inaugurated at this school called "The Bonus System." It is founded on the estimated time based on a full journeyman's time. For the first six months of his second year the apprentice is given 20 per cent. more time to complete his work than the journey-man's time; for the last six months of his second year this is reduced to 10 per cent. The first six months of his third year a further reduction to 5 per cent. is made and the remaining six months of his stay at the school he works on the same level as a full-fledged journeyman. For any better results the apprentice is given a bonus or merit, and for any deficiency a corresponding demerit. The general results of trade education as here taught are most gratifying and the success of the graduates is in nearly all cases very good. While it is not the primary object of the school to produce foremen and contractors, yet returns show that a large number of the graduates in a very short time reach executive positions of great responsibility.

The ultimate future of the development of the building trades depends upon the increased promotion of the trade school. In this the public school plays a very important part. As the trade school increases it expands and embraces the public school. A large percentage of the youth of today leave school at a very early age. When the trade school will have in part taken over the public school then will a greater interest be shown. As it is today, however, thousands leave our public schools with no special training for any one trade or profession. The result is a large overstocking of the market with unskilled labor. In this age of centralization and specialization this state of affairs cannot long exist. Quoting from a leading promoter of industrial education:


 "When employers and parents generally learn the splendid possibilities of trade training in thoroughly organized and carefully administered trade schools, there will arise a great demand from them for such institutions. These schools will so dignify handicrafts that the parents of the future will consider them in a class with the colleges and technical schools when deciding what training to give their children."

The general attitude of employers toward the trade school is gradually changing. Heretofore a large amount of prejudice has been shown, and it has frequently been difficult for the graduate to obtain a position if he made it known that he was a graduate of a trade school. This was especially true in the building trades, but the fact that the trade school graduate has "made good" and the remarkable improvement shown over the ordinary apprentice has done much toward receiving for him a fair chance to prove his ability. It should be the part of every employer and workman to give the trade school boy a fair show. He does not know it all and sensibly realizes the fact. Graduates of colleges, technical schools and other vocational institutions continue to learn long after they leave their alma mater. Men old in years who have faced many problems and obstacles will admit that they only began to learn the real lessons of life after leaving school. The trade school graduate is no exception, and if treated fairly will acquit himself with credit.

In the opinion of the writer the only possible way the ever-increasing demands for skilled mechanics can be met is by promoting the establishment of trade schools everywhere. The superior training given and the latent ability developed make of the trade school apprentice a mechanic in the fullest extent of the word. It is the belief that when there are more trade schools there will be fewer strikes. Whether this is as sound in practice as in theory remains for the future to determine. Should it, however, be but one of the many results of the establishment of trade schools, this country would be spared millions of needless waste and the effects upon the trades could not help but be good. In this day efficiency is the ever-growing cry in all professions and trades. As the prime object of the trade school is efficiency, it would follow that nothing could be of more lasting and valuable benefit to the building and other trades than the intelligent promotion and friendly co-operation of every tradesman in industrial education.