"The Shoulder Trade"



[Time's online version]

Another online version

He was a Yankee, the very character of whom is, that he can "turn his hand," as he says, "to any thing."

--John Neal, Brother Jonathan, 1825

In New England modern-day Yankees are indeed turning their hands to anything. But so, too, are the Hoosiers of Indiana, the Sooners of Oklahoma and the Cornhuskers of Nebraska—along with Texans, Californians, New Yorkers and Iowans. North, South, East and West, Americans have joyfully taken up a new hobby: "Do-It-Yourself."

In the postwar decade the do-it-yourself craze has become a national phenomenon. The once indispensable handyman who could fix a chair, hang a door or patch a concrete walk has been replaced by millions of amateur hobbyists who do all his work—and much more—in their spare time and find it wonderful fun. In the process they have turned do-it-your-self into the biggest of all U.S. hobbies and a booming $6 billion-a-year business. The hobbyists, who trudge out of stores with boards balanced on their shoulders, have also added a new phrase to retail jargon: "The shoulder trade."


The Compleat Handyman.

In his home workshop, the compleat handy­man usually starts out buying a little $25 utility drill to act as a portable sander, buffer and saw. If he wants to make furniture, he discovers he needs a bigger, stationary tool for ripsawing heavy pieces of wood, buys himself an arbor saw for $150. Next he wants a jointer for cutting precise corners, which costs him $130. Then he wants something to drill deep, accurate holes, and so buys a drill press for $100. As he graduates to fancier work, and starts putting intricate filigrees in his woodwork, he needs a jig saw, and that costs $65. The heavy curved lines on his masterpieces now call for a band saw at $250. If his furniture is to have legs, he must buy a lathe for $200 to turn them. And if he really wants to turn out professional work (as he usually does), he looks around for a shaper to groove and plane it precisely. That costs another $250.

To this the do-it-yourself addict also adds a paint spray gun with an attached air compressor for $60, an exhaust fan to carry off the fumes for $20, plus a $200 collection of chisels, wrenches, hammers, screw drivers, vises and pliers. For outdoor work he buys a $125 power lawn mower, a $35 hedge trimmer, a $115 chain saw for work on his trees, a $250 tractor to plow his garden and shovel snow from his driveway. By the time he is finished, he has as much as $2,000 invested in his new hobby, and he can build anything from a toothbrush rack to a ten-room house, and landscape the land.