THE CRAFT APPRENTICE: From Franklin to the Machine Age by W.J. Rorabaugh
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THE CRAFT APPRENTICE: From Franklin to the Machine Age

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Americana at its fascinating best. In consistently graceful fashion, Rorabaugh (history/University of Washington) traces the evolution of apprenticeship in the New World, from Colonial times through the post-Civil War period. In addition to ensuring that vocational skills were passed from one generation to the next, he points out, the system was valuable for the social control it imposed on potentially disruptive male adolescents. After the Revolution, however, the institution entered a period of steady decline, disappearing almost altogether during the 1870's. The ideology of individualism that prevailed after independence greatly undermined masters' authority over apprentices, he writes. The advent of factory manufacture, which downgraded traditional artisan skills, and the introduction of cash wages made further inroads. The end came quietly for virtually all crafts (save a handful of building trades) after Appomatox when returning veterans glutted the domestic labor market. The story of apprenticeship in the US offers a fascinating perspective on the nation during its formative years. Rorabaugh brings these seminal decades alive with vivid first-hand accounts drawn from letters, diaries, memoirs and other primary sources. For obvious reasons, the experiences of printing-trades alumni--Benjamin Franklin, William Lloyd Garrison, Horace Greely, Mark Twain, et al.--dominate the narrative. But a number of eminent Americans who were indentured in other occupations--Kit Carson (saddlery), Frederick C. Douglass (ship caulking), Millard Fillmore (cloth dressing), and George Westinghouse (machine tools)--are represented along with a host of lesser lights; the latter's ranks include one righteous soul who resisted the advances of a buxom nursery maid bent on securing a partner to act out scenes from Fannie Hill. In brief, then, an original and engaging contribution to scholarship with appeal that goes well beyond an academic readership.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press