Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/638

This page has been validated.

recent years accounted worthless, does the Southern planter derive a goodly proportion of his gains; and while increase of magnitude in industrial concerns tends to minimize the cost of management and to promote the economies due to the division of labor, we see a constantly growing specialization of industry. A few years ago combs formed part of a general variety of goods turned out by an India-rubber factory; now two large concerns exclusively devoted to comb-manufacture supply nearly the whole American demand. Immense factories of wooden-ware and tinware, fitted up with costly and ingenious machinery, have obliterated the small local shops which used to flourish a generation ago, and custom shoemakers and tailors are suffering from the constant encroachments of manufacturers whose wares are made wholesale at the lowest limit of cost. Low prices, due to cheapened production, have created large new home markets, as, for example, in the inexpensive pianos and reed-organs to be found to-day in the homes of all but the poorest.

Every commercial traveler's trim sample-case bears witness to the progress of a hundred arts and sciences employed to increase the supply of a luxury, to make articles of every-day use better and cheaper. Every can of peaches, every quire of paper, every yard of cassimere, testifies to some new achievement of ingenuity and skill. Does some alert mind in the great army of those who earn by serving devise some new and better way of manufacture, transportation, distribution? Rivalry quickly imitates it throughout the length and breadth of the land, to the general profit. In this unceasing economization of human effort the railroads have borne a leading part. Markets no longer mean those furnished by groups of States; the whole Union is now opened up to the enterprising manufacturer, no matter where he establishes himself; and the steadily decreasing freight-tariffs of the railroads are due not only to the growth of their business and to applied science in the details of construction and operation, but also to the economy which attends the unification of great systems. A closely printed page scarcely suffices to enumerate the lines operated by the Pennsylvania Company. From Vancouver to Montreal, a single management extends for twenty -nine hundred miles, and will soon, in reaching the Atlantic seaboard, span the continent.

The benefits of competition in manufacture and trade are so many and conspicuous that its losses and burdens are very apt to be disregarded; yet they are neither few nor insignificant. One class of them is the creature of steam, which, applied within recent decades to transportation and manufacture, has in the main been so great a source of public advantage. Forty or fifty years ago a weaver made cloth and a shoemaker boots for customers within a short distance of loom or shop, so that they could pretty