August 15, 2007
Learning a Trade
Hopedale in August
The amazing turtle fight
The Hopedale Friends of Elders Shop
George Draper intended that his oldest son, William, would go to Harvard. However, he felt that William was too young for that when he completed his course at the Hopedale Home School in 1858. George thought that his son should first spend a year or more getting experience in the textile industry by working in several factories. The story below was taken from General William F. Draper's autobiography, Recollections of a Varied Career. This is a shortened version of the chapter titled, Learning a Trade. You can read it here, or if you have the time, I'd say it's worth reading the entire chapter, which is about twice the length of the version that follows.
In the spring of 1858, when I was sixteen years, my father arranged for my employment in North Uxbridge, in one of the cotton mills of P. Whitin & Sons. I knew what the processes of the cotton manufacture were from observation in the mills where my father had been superintendent. I had also studied mechanical drawing and worked in the Hopedale machine shop the greater part of a year, the work produced there being parts of machinery used in the manufacture of cotton cloth. The arrangement made for me was that I should do the work of a regular operative and be changed from machine to machine as fast as I had become proficient and vacancies existed. Owing to this latter provision my pay for a year was kept at the price paid for the lowest priced work assigned me, -- two dollars and a half for a week of seventy-eight hours.
My work began in summer at quarter of five in the morning, and ended at seven at night, twenty-five minutes being allowed for breakfast and thirty-five for dinner, and supper being eaten after work was finished. In the winter we commenced at a quarter past five in the morning, and worked till half past seven at night, making the same number of hours. Saturdays we finished an hour and a half earlier. I boarded with my uncle, Mr. William Knight, in the house built by my great-grandfather, Benjamin Thwing, in 1776. I paid for my board two dollars and a quarter per week, washing included, and hence had twenty-five cents a week left for other purposes. It is fair to say, however, that my father supplemented my wages to a moderate extent, -- in fact, he provided everything that seemed to me necessary at that time, -- though my wants were certainly more limited that those of young men now-a-days, as shown by my cash account, to which I shall refer later.
For a year I worked in the carding department of this mill, learning to run each kind of machine. The last two or three months I was employed as a "fixer," under the supervision of the overseer, Mr. Robie, who taught me how to adjust the machines when out of order. I then went into the weaving department and learned to weave, and for several months I ran a set of four looms, making yard wide sheetings.
North Uxbridge is only seven miles from Hopedale, and while employed there I frequently walked home and back, so as to spend Sunday with my parents. Sometimes I rode one way, or even both, but this was counted a luxury.
In the fall of 1859, a new cotton mill was started at Wauregan, Conn., which was supposed to be equipped with the latest machinery, in the best possible manner then known. I secured board with the overseer of spinning, Mr. Barrett, and entered upon my work with great interest. The hours of labor were less here, being seventy-two hours per week instead of seventy-eight. Still there was very little time left for anything but eating and sleep, except on Sundays, and very little temptation in a small village to go out evenings, even if I had had the time. I therefore read evenings or discussed the problems of manufacturing with Mr. Barrett, who was a very intelligent man. The practical knowledge acquired here has proved of the greatest value to me since, in improving the arts of spinning and weaving; and to-day, when a practical problem arises, this experience stands out clearer in my mind than that acquired later through instructing others to make experiments and noting their reports.
In April 1860, my father thought I had earned a vacation, and took me with him to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, -- my first visit to any of these cities. The trip occupied a fortnight, and we visited various points of interest daytimes, and went to the theater evenings. I enjoyed this outing as only a boy could who had never before had one; and I verily believe that I saw more of these places, from the sightseer's standpoint, during that trip, than in all my visits since, added together.
After returning home my program was changed, as it was thought best to supplement my practical knowledge of machinery by some acquaintance with the theories of its construction. Accordingly, I was sent to the Saco Water Power Co., at Biddeford, Maine, to spend a year in its drafting room, without salary, doing such work as was assigned to me and learning all I could. I was employed in practical work as a draughtsman, and acquired a considerable knowledge of planning and building machinery. Since this brings me to a consideration of pecuniary matters, I will say that I have recently found my cash book for 1859-60. From it I find that in the year 1860 my expenditures were $403.12, and that I summarized them at the end of the year as follows:
Traveling seems a large item in proportion to the rest, but it included my trip to New York and Washington, to which I have referred. Prices for most commodities, outside of board, were higher than now, and I had, or thought I had, all that was necessary, and as much as other young men with whom I associated. The low figures, therefore, probably indicate the moderate expenditures of those days, rather than any special economy on my part. William F. Draper, Recollections of a Varied Career.
In the remainder of the chapter, Draper tells of the election of Lincoln, the political differences he witnessed while living in Biddeford, Maine, his desire to join the army after the attack on Fort Sumter, and that his father didn't allow him to until after Bull Run. He never did get to Harvard, but that doesn't seem to have hurt his career.
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