The first Industrial Revolution occurred from about 1760 to around 1840 and was marked by a transition to new processes that used machinery to replace or augment human labor in the manufacture of goods such as textiles and pottery. The second Industrial Revolution, with its rapid expansion of steam power for industrial and transportation purposes, spanned the next four decades and witnessed the manufacture and adoption of machinery on a broad scale. During this time, the average income of workers and the living standards of ordinary people experienced a sustainable rate of growth that was hitherto unprecedented.
Initially, basic tools such as files, saws and chisels were used by skilled craftsmen to create machinery by hand. However increased demand soon led to the development of a variety of machine tools such as lathes and planers for cutting and shaping metal accurately, quickly and at low cost. These largely evolved from tools developed by clock makers and this is why early machines, such as mechanical looms, were commonly referred to as 'clockwork'.
As the industrial revolution progressed, America and England emerged as the two predominant industrial powers for different reasons. England had plenty of skilled tradesmen and the initial benefit of mechanization was mostly to improve the precision and quality of components. In the New World, labor was scarce and use of machinery dramatically increased the productivity of a sparse and largely unskilled workforce.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the growing demand for manufactured goods on both sides of the Atlantic spurred a move to larger-scale production and the need for interchangeable parts. This led to the adoption of standards for items such as screw threads and the establishment of specialized factories employing large numbers of semi-skilled workers, both in the established manufacturing centres of central England and in the emerging industrial heartland of the northeastern US. By the first decade of the 20th century the US had overtaken England to become the world’s foremost industrial nation.
The machinery collection at the Museum of Making contains examples of several types of machine tools dating from the 1840s to the end of the First World War, when self-contained electric motors began to replace steam engines as motive power. It includes lathes, drills, shapers, planers, and milling machines as well as associated tooling and, although mostly from the UK and the USA, contains several unique Canadian-made machines.
At the heart of the collection is ‘Mary’, a tandem-cylinder, horizontal steam engine. Built at the end of the 19th century, she powered a weaving mill in Yorkshire, England for more than 70 years and represents the zenith of stationary steam power. Many of the machines in the collection would have originally been belt-driven from a central steam or hydraulic power source. Most of these are now connected to a system of line shafts within the museum that allows them to be demonstrated in motion. Almost all of the machinery exhibits in the collection are in working condition, many having been in everyday use until acquired by the museum.