100 years ago in Machine Design

April 1, 2005
Protecting workers didn't pay

Protecting workers didn't pay

The April 20, 1905, issue bemoaned the "cheapness of human life" at certain Pittsburgh steel mills. According to the report, the means for protecting workers were "shamefully inadequate" and laws relating to such matters were practically ignored.

"Men whose personal effects are found at certain places in the mills, indicating that the men have stumbled and fallen into furnaces while at work, are simply reported as missing, and other men hired to take their places."

While the editors hoped the reports were untrue, they did have personal experience with how some business owners viewed the matter of worker safety. They described a device invented to prevent girls and boys from getting fingers cut off in punch presses. "The head of a certain large packing establishment in Chicago was approached for permission to try the device on one or more of the presses used in his factory for making tin cans. Upon the cost of the appliance being mentioned to him, he said, 'Hell, fingers don't cost us anything.'"

50 years ago in Machine Design

Costly cleanliness

The April 11, 1955, issue described how the president of a large aircraft company, after a plant tour, noted that the stockroom was a mess. "So he chided the vice president in charge of production, who lectured the material supervisor, who bawled out the stockroom foreman, who chewed out the stock boy."

The poor stock boy was ordered to clean up the mess and get every piece of material lined up by 3:00 p.m. or not come back. He did his job — but in doing so, cut a batch of wing spars in half to make them fit neatly in the bins. The cost of the ruined spars? $120,000. The look on his supervisors' faces? Priceless, one might suppose (that detail was missing from the article).

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