Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/February 1890/The Localization of Industries



AMONG the ancient peoples of the far East any exchange of productions was necessarily on a small scale. Means of transport were limited by land, to the backs of men and animals; and by water, to rivers and such lakes or inland seas as could be safely navigated by small and rudely constructed boats. Most commodities were raised, manufactured, and consumed within very restricted areas, with little division of labor; and excepting naturally abundant agricultural products and domestic animals were, therefore, inferior and expensive, and men could only accommodate themselves to variations in crops by lavish consumption when they were abundant, and by starvation when they were scanty. In later times, the art of navigation was so far improved as to extend trading along the shores of the Mediterranean, and eventually across it, by which means countries situated round about that great inland sea were brought into close communication with each other, a rapid advance in the arts and sciences resulted, countries hitherto little known were explored, a larger exchange of commodities was effected, and surpluses and deficits were made to balance each other. Still later navigation reached to all the shores of the Old World, and finally into the Western hemisphere. With every addition to the field of human knowledge and enterprise there was a corresponding increase in the volume of exchanges and in the variety of manufactures and useful conveniences. Each country and district parted with that which it had in superabundance, or was particularly skilled in producing, for goods that were scarce or wanting to it, or that its own artificers were not accustomed to manufacture.

The same system of operations continues extending at the present day, and may do so apparently for an indefinite time. Every new country brought under cultivation, every new discovery of the treasures of the earth and waters, every new appliance adding to our powers and to our facilities of communication, and even every increase in itself in the sum of trading operations, forms the basis of new exchanges to mutual advantage; for the greater the quantities the smaller the profit at which it will pay to exchange them. Experience keeps constantly adding to our knowledge of the special advantages of each locality, and every free movement of trade and industry increases the sum of their usefulness to the human race. Scarcity of food can no longer exist among nations that have kept abreast of this economical revolution. The aggregate of comforts and luxuries generally attainable has multiplied enormously, and the mere operations of exchange give directly and indirectly steady and profitable employment to vast numbers. Nor is this freer exchange of commodities and of ideas attended, as many suppose, by increased competition between men and nations, for it is accompanied by a better and more wide-spread division of labor, and men by degrees cease to produce these articles in which they are manifestly at a disadvantage, and the disposal of which entails loss and disappointment. Those who doubt the advantages of this universal, world-wide intercourse and exchange are bound in consistency to advocate the reversion of society not merely to any earlier stage in its development, but to that state of things which preceded its initiation that is, to pure and simple cannibalism; for an argument that is good against one step in this march of progress is equally good against another. As it is certain, too, that this same movement, in spite of wars and governmental interferences, is constant and resistless, there can be no more important question than how best to conform to and profit by it, which we may learn by observing how men and nations naturally find their most suitable and profitable occupations.

The general principles determining the employment of the soil of different countries and localities are tolerably simple. Common, bulky, and perishable articles are naturally produced as near as possible to the places of consumption, though improvements enabling them to be more easily and cheaply transported render them more available for distant markets. Such are the compression and baling of hay, the conveyance of dead meats in refrigerated chambers, of live animals in specially adapted wagons and steamships, and of ordinary fresh fruits and vegetables by express trains. More valuable articles and luxuries, such as the finer fruits, sugar, tobacco, and cotton, the cost of transport of which is relatively less important, can and often must be produced in localities specially adapted to them at greater distances from the places of their eventual consumption. Dried fruits are more fitted for distant and uncertain markets than green fruits. Other generally esteemed articles, such as silk, tea, and the finer wines, naturally monopolize the limited areas capable of producing them. On the other hand, as almost any part of the world can grow wheat and the ordinary small grains by the employment of a comparatively limited capital, as the cost of transporting them is inconsiderable, as they are not liable to spoil, and as the enormous quantities in which they are handled and the universal competition among producers of them enable and necessitate their being turned over at the minimum profits, the growth of these indispensable staples is left to the newest, the poorest, and the most remote countries, and to those parts of other countries for which no better employment can be found. A decline in the production of these articles is a sign, beyond doubt, of the increasing wealth of a country, and that it has found better employments for its capital and labor. This is especially noticeable in England, Germany, France, and our own Eastern States; and California also, it may be noted, is discontinuing the production of grain as rapidly as she can find a market for her higher class articles. A still more decided move in the same direction is only restrained in England by the uncertainty of the climate, and the consequent danger of devoting too great an area to pasturage, green crops, fruit, or hops, since an excess of drought is adverse to the first two, and an excess of moisture to the others. The future order of cultivation in the United States is dependent chiefly on the development by irrigation of the vast arid regions of the West, and upon the nature of the resources which may thereby be disclosed, as also upon the description and extent of the trade just beginning between our Pacific coast, Japan, China, Australia, and New Zealand, and that to open up later with the East by the Central American inter-oceanic canal. It is already certain that the convenient position of California for this trade, her variety of climate and elevation, and resulting adaptability for a great choice of productions, insures for her, through the extension of irrigation, a great and distinctive future. If her wine trade be not as yet as prosperous as she could wish, no one need be surprised at this who has remarked the specialties of character in the different European wines, and considered the centuries of labor and application that have been required to evolve these varied types as the most appropriate to their several localities, as also the great capital employed at low rates of interest in maturing these wines and in educating the tastes of consumers thereto. The production of wool on a large scale is a natural resource of mountainous countries and of regions distant from centers of population, as we see in Wales, portions of Scotland, Germany, and the United States. The marked devotion of Australia to this industry is due to the sudden opening of her unlimited territories, to the nature of her climate, suitable for the rearing of sheep, and to her rainfall, too limited and uncertain for profitable cultivation. Added to these causes is her remoteness from other countries, which, making impossible the export of the animals themselves, dead or alive, on an adequate scale, has allowed her flocks to increase almost unchecked.

As we already saw in the case of the common and bulky natural products, so it is with the corresponding class of manufactured goods; they can not well bear a long and expensive carriage, and therefore, other things being equal, are naturally produced as near as possible to their places of consumption. As in the United States there are numerous contiguous deposits of coal and iron, those most convenient to the large centers of population have been in the mean time utilized, both for fuel and for the heavy iron manufactures, rails, pipes, and machinery, that the various purposes of such communities call for on a great scale. When such articles must necessarily be sent to long distances, those points most convenient to water-carriage are naturally preferred for their production. Pittsburgh is a notable instance of this, also the English, Scotch, Welsh, and Australian coal ports, from which this indispensable mineral is shipped to every part of the world. When especially it is desirable for some manufactures to mix the heavier metals of different countries, such operations must necessarily take place at or near some convenient port. Thus, tin mined in Cornwall is taken to Swansea, the nearest port having iron-works, when required for making tin plates, and imported ores are, by the use of the adjacent coal, also smelted there, as well as at various coal ports in the northwest coast of England and elsewhere. The convenience of both coal and iron has made the river Clyde the chief seat of iron ship-building, just as its local timber made Boston that of wooden ship-building. Makers of boilers, engines, and heavy machinery at Manchester, England, have also discovered that even the thirty miles of rail carriage to Liverpool, and the rehandling there, handicap them in competition with Glasgow shippers of the same articles, which is one of the chief reasons for the construction, now in progress, of the Manchester ship-canal. In countries where deposits of coal and iron are comparatively rare, as in France, Germany, and elsewhere, the favored spots necessarily become themselves the chief centers of manufacture and population. Furniture is a rather bulky and expensive article to move about, and its manufacture, for use through a large portion of the United States, has found an appropriate and central position at Grand Rapids, Mich., where the most useful native timbers and water-power are in abundance.

The lighter metal and wood manufactures, the textiles, leather, pottery, and miscellaneous small wares, in which the cost of transport is relatively less important, are determined, as to their location, by a much greater complexity of conditions, and the general rules on this point are subject, in their case, to variation from specially dominant influences. In order to combine the most obvious advantages, they should not be situated too far from a supply of coal and iron, should be convenient to the sources of their raw material, whether home or foreign, and to the markets where their finished products are expected to find a sale. While, too, each article and department of manufacture will usually succeed best around a center of its own, where a skilled and adapted population has become settled, it is still more important that all should be conveniently clustered for mutual assistance. While these conditions are more or less generally complied with in all great manufacturing countries, they are most completely so in Great Britain, partly by reason of its natural facilities, partly owing to the absence of any fiscal interference by their own Government. Thus it may be observed that the location of the cotton manufacture in Lancashire, of the woolen in Yorkshire, and of the lighter metal and miscellaneous in and around Birmingham, is in compliance with those principles, as well as the subdivision and specialization of all these various industries, many of which and similar ones may also be found in Scotland, which, to a certain extent, is a smaller independent center. Subject to necessary geographical differences, the location and arrangement of similar manufactures in the United States and on the European continent follows as nearly as possible the same conditions. Only in New England had we in existence a population capable of successfully undertaking the production of the great variety of those articles when prematurely called for by the imposition of our high protective tariff on their importation; and the situation of that country, in a corner, as it were, of our territory, and without local supplies of coal and iron, is not all that could be desired for the purpose. True, its seaports, convenient for coastwise navigation, its abundant water-power, and its supply of native wool and timber, to a great extent set off these disadvantages, though probably not completely.

The free commercial policy of Great Britain, united with the combination in a small, centrally situated space of country of all the most desirable facilities, marks her out as the greatest of international manufacturing and trading countries. Her manufacturers have perfect liberty to purchase their raw or partially manufactured materials in the best and cheapest markets; and their constant intercourse with all parts of the world keeps them informed of every new invention and resource. Their own home market is one of the most important, and, having no protection therein, they know at once when they are excelled in the production of any article, and whether it is owing to any natural or acquired advantage, so that among them there is very little waste of effort. Extent of capital hitherto undreamed of, ready to back their efforts abroad by investments in every promising enterprise, also enables them to command a preference in many undeveloped and poor countries. Yet it would be a great error to suppose that there do not exist in many other countries advantages sufficient to enable them also to carry on a large export business in manufactured goods. All are able to utilize some native materials and to save the intermediate profits and carriages upon foreign wares, and without doubt there are many wants that are best understood by the native manufacturers. Crippled as their producers are by fiscal restrictions upon their purchases and combinations, several of them are even now able to sell their wares largely to England herself. The artisans of the European continent are willing to work during a greater number of hours daily and for lower wages than those of Great Britain, and the cost of production is thereby diminished; and there are always in each country some advantages peculiar to itself and its population. Thus, France has a specialty in artistic taste, which enables her to supply the English market with most of its silks and ornamental objects, as well as with large quantities of fine woolen fabrics. Germany, the best educated country in the world, excels in applied science, as in the working of metals and stained glass; and the United States in labor-economizing apparatus, such as agricultural, sewing, and printing machines. Belgium has supplied wrought-iron girders for the roofs of English and Scotch railway stations. England also exports large quantities of partially manufactured goods, such as yarns, chemicals, and pig-iron, showing that the importing countries have, in various ways, superior facilities for the finishing processes. She also has need of the co-operation of other countries for the perfecting of her own wares. Thus, the finest flax grown in the north of Ireland, in order to attain its highest quality, must be sent to Belgium to be steeped in the water of a certain river. Returning from there, it is spun into superfine yarns by the best machinery and in the naturally adapted moist climate of Belfast. At that stage the product is again sent back to Belgium, where it is woven into gossamer-like cambrics, in low, damp cellars, and under conditions that would not be agreeable to the north of Ireland artisan, and the work of the Belgian hand-loom weaver must then be carried back to be bleached under the dripping skies of the Green Isle. England is, besides, herself the largest and readiest buyer of all improved articles of necessity and luxury, from whatever source arriving; and, while usually the first to open up new markets, in none does she lay claim to any exclusive privilege.

There is, indeed, ample room in the natural economy of production for the services of all nations, and none need stand idle. Co-operation, not hostility and jealousy, should be the watchword of modern industrial enterprise. We ought, in the interest of producer and consumer alike, to remove all fiscal shackles from our trade and manufactures. European governments, hampered with the expenses of an all-devouring militarism, may be unable to abandon any source of revenue, however demoralizing in its incidence or costly in its collection. They may also fear the effects upon their own stability of even a temporary disturbance of existing employments. But neither of these objections can be of any weight with a nation perplexed only with the disposal of its surplus revenues, and whose reposing might need fear no foreign attack. In the enormous extent of our partially developed territorial resources, and no less in our wealth of inventiveness, now but half utilized, there can be no scarcity of employment for capital and labor, nor can we find any such profitable investment for our hoarded millions as the release of our capitalists and artisans, by just indemnities and pensions, from the demoralizing servitude of state-supported industries. In the past we have misdirected their energies and squandered their resources, and we owe them some compensation. Let us all make a new start by working in alliance with Nature, and no longer in ignorant opposition to her. Let each industry freely settle where it may, in our territory or out of it, and within the lifetime of many already middle-aged we shall see progress in the wealth of our country, and in the growth and contentment of our population, far surpassing all our previous experience.

A new view into the conditions and international relations of the remote past is given by Dr. Lehmann, of Berlin, in a paper on "Ancient Metrology." His showing that the Egyptian system of weights and measures, instead of being the origin of that of Babylonia, presupposes the sexagesimal system of the latter, if confirmed, would indicate the existence of commercial intercourse between Babylonia and Egypt at a time of which we have at present no contemporaneous records.