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The Industrious Revolution: A Concept Too Many?

  • Leonard N. Rosenband (a1)


Much of the recent debate in early modern European labor and economic history has centered on Jan de Vries’s concept of the industrious revolution. Briefly, he claimed that workers during the period 1650-1800 chose to labor longer hours, often at greater intensity, in order to consume novel manufactured goods and imported commodities. Moreover, plebeian families increasingly pursued new employments beyond the household to pay for these objects. As a result, men, women, and children spent ever more hours in waged labor, and their growing purchasing power proved decisive in stimulating large-scale European industrialization. My work on the history of French and English papermaking raises fundamental challenges to this model. First, paperworkers already labored exhausting hours at the outset of de Vries’s period of newfound industriousness. Second, masters and workers alike knew that they had to both “speed up” and “take their time” to turn out quality paper at the expected rate. Third, women and adolescent workers toiled for wages in paper mills long before the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the eve of large-scale mechanization, enduring shopfloor realities, skills, and quotas prevented a surge of productivity beyond papermaking’s familiar standards. With the demand for paper rising rapidly, it was the absence of an industrious revolution in papermaking that turned the manufacturers’ attention first to enlarged mills and small technological shifts, and finally, to the development of a papermaking machine.

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1. Early American Papermaking: Two Treatises on Manufacturing Techniques, reprinted from Cutbush, James's American Artist's Manual (1814) with an Introduction by Bidwell, John (New Castle, DE, 1990), 31. The quoted phrase is Bidwell's. On the general issue of early modern European worktime, see Maitte, Corine and Terrier, Didier, “Une Question (re)devenue central: Le temps de travail,Genèses 85 (2011): 156–70; Maitte, Corine and Terrier, Didier, eds., Les temps du travail: Normes, pratiques, évolutions (XIVe-XIXe siècle) (Rennes, 2014); Muldrew, Craig, Food, Energy and the Creation of Industriousness: Work and Material Culture in Agrarian England, 1550–1780 (Cambridge, 2011); Pollard, Sidney, The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain (Cambridge, MA 1965); Thompson, E. P., Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (New York, 1991), 352403 ; and Voth, Hans-Joachim, Time and Work in England, 1750–1830 (Oxford, 2000). For a modern comparison, see Huberman, Michael, “Working Hours of the World Unite? New International Evidence of Worktime, 1870–1913,Journal of Economic History 64 (2004): 9641001 .

2. de Vries, Jan, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (New York, 2008). For de Vries's most influential articles on the industrious revolution, see “Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods: Understanding the Household Economy in Early Modern Europe,” in Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. Brewer, John and Porter, Roy (London, 1993), 85132 ; “The Industrious Revolution and Economic Growth, 1650–1830,” in The Economic Future in Historical Perspective, ed. David, Paul and Thomas, Mark (Oxford, 2003), 4371 ; Economic Growth before and after the Industrial Revolution: A Modest Proposal,” in Early Modern Capitalism: Economic and Social Change in Europe, 1400–1800, ed. Prak, Maarten (London, 2001), 177–94; and The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution,Journal of Economic History 54 (1994): 249–70. On the industrious revolution, see also Grenier, Jean-Yves, “Travailler plus pour consommer plus: Désir de consommer et essor du capitalisme, du XVIIe siècle à nos jours,Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 65 (2010): 787–98; Clark, Gregory and Van Der Werf, Ysbrand, “Work in Progress? The Industrious Revolution,Journal of Economic History 58 (1998): 830–43; and Allen, Robert C. and Weisdorf, Jacob L., “Was There an ‘Industrious Revolution’ before the Industrial Revolution? An Empirical Exercise for England, c. 1300–1830,Economic History Review 63 (2010): 115 . On intangible “goods,” see Brewer, John and Trentmann, Frank, “Introduction: Space, Time and Value in Consuming Cultures,” in Consuming Cultures, Global Perspectives: Historical Trajectories, Transnational Exchanges, ed. Brewer, John and Trentmann, Frank (Oxford, 2006), 1.

3. On French papermaking, see André, Louis, Machines à papier: Innovation et transformations de l'industrie papetière en France, 1798–1860 (Paris, 1996); Gazel, Henri, Les Anciens Ouvriers papetiers d'Auvergne (Clermont-Ferrand, 1910); Reynard, Pierre-Claude, Histoires de papier: La papeterie auvergnate et ses historiens (Clermont-Ferrand, 2001); and Rosenband, Leonard N., Papermaking in Eighteenth-Century France: Management, Labor, and Revolution at the Montgolfier Mill, 1761–1805 (Baltimore, 2000). On English papermaking, see Balston, Thomas, James Whatman, Father and Son (London, 1957); Coleman, D. C., The British Paper Industry, 1495–1860: A Study in Industrial Growth (Oxford, 1958); Hills, Richard, Papermaking in Britain, 1488–1988: A Short History (London, 1988); Shorter, A. H., Paper Mills and Paper Makers in England, 1495–1800 (Hilversum, 1957); Jean V. Stirk, Industrial Relations in a Craft Trade: The Original Society of Papermakers, 1800–1948 (Ph.D. diss., London School of Economics and Political Science, 1999).

4. For the specific citations concerning worktime in papermaking, see below.

5. The clearest account of de Vries's formulation of the concept of industrious revolution is in his essay, “Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods.” 85–132.

6. Fairchilds, Cissie, “The Production and Marketing of Populuxe Goods in Eighteenth-Century Paris,” in Consumption and the World of Goods , ed. Brewer, John and Porter, Roy (London, 1993), 228–48.

7. For this new “disposition,” see de Vries, “Industrial Revolution and Industrious Revolution,” 262.

8. For “market-oriented labour,” see de Vries, “The Industrious Revolution,” 53.

9. Certainly, the concept of protoindustrialization is essential to de Vries’s depiction of the industrious revolution. ( Mendels, Franklin coined the term protoindustrialization in his article, “Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process,Journal of Economic History 32 (1972): 241261 .) Protoindustrialization entailed the decentralized production by agrarian households of market-oriented manufactured goods, especially but not exclusively linen and woolen textiles. For de Vries, this process integrated all members of laboring households into the market economy, where they earned wages, often for the first time. The purchasing power of these households grew as men, women, and children chose to work more to consume more. It should be noted, however, that protoindustrial linen and woolen production had lengthy pedigrees before the long eighteenth century. And part of this lineage, according to Craig Muldrew, constituted “a response to falling real wages and labour market competition in the first half of the seventeenth century, which eventually resulted in greater earnings.” (Muldrew, Food, Energy and the Creation of Industriousness, 16.) But these gains came under renewed pressure during the second half of the eighteenth century, and many protoindustrial households undoubtedly labored more to remain solvent rather than to indulge in newfound fancies. (Frank Trentmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (New York, 2016), 74–75.) Moreover, I would add that the complexity of early modern European working relations, in which a petty landowner might toil as a blacksmith at a nearby forge, suggests that attitudes to labor, leisure, and consumption were anything but unitary in the early industrial countryside. (Muldrew, Food, Energy and the Creation of Industriousness, made a similar point, 317).

10. De Vries, Industrious Revolution, 71.

11. On the balance between the demand and supply sides in the making of the industrial revolution, see the still powerful, if somewhat dated, account in Mokyr, Joel, “Demand vs. Supply in the Industrial Revolution,Journal of Economic History 37 (1977): 9811008 .

12. The quoted phrase is in Thompson, Customs in Common, 394.

13. Hobsbawm, E. J., “Custom, Wages, and Work-Load in Nineteenth-Century Industry,” in Essays in Labour History, ed. Briggs, Asa and Saville, John (New York, 1967), 113–39. See also Taylor, Arthur, ed., The Standard of Living in Britain in the Industrial Revolution (London, 1975). For the most recent estimates of living standards in industrializing Britain, see Feinstein, Charles, “Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution,Journal of Economic History 58 (1998): 625–58.

14. Pollard, Genesis of Modern Management, 161.

15. Landes, David, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, 1969), 123.

16. On the usefulness of considering wage systems and forms, see Experiencing Wages: Social and Cultural Aspects of Wage Forms in Europe since 1500, ed. Scholliers, Peter and Schwarz, Leonard (New York, 2004). See also the classic article by Sonenscher, Michael, “Weavers, Wage-Rates and the Measurement of Work in Eighteenth-Century Rouen,Textile History 17 (1986): 718 .

17. Quoted in de Vries, “Industrial Revolution and Industrious Revolution,” 259.

18. Quoted in Reynaud, Marie-Hélène, Les Moulins à papier d'Annonay à l’ère pré-industrielle (Annonay, 1981), 164.

19. On the Protestant work ethic, see the classic account by Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 2nd ed. (London, 2001 [1904]). But see also Fanfani, Amintore, Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism (New York, 1936) and Kadane, Matthew, The Watchful Clothier: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Capitalist (New Haven, 2013); on the relationship between food supply and worktime, see Fogel, Robert W., The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700–2100: Europe, America, and the Third World (Cambridge, 2004); and on the intersections of the Enlightenment and industrial transformation, see Jacob, Margaret, The First Knowledge Economy, 1750–1850 (New York, 2014), and Mokyr, Joel, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1850 (New Haven, 2009). For a rather different take on the influence of the Enlightenment, see Foucault, Michel, Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (Paris, 1975).

20. For the influence of French papermaking on the English industry, see the titles in footnote 3. On the general issue of technological transfer during the long eighteenth century, see MacLeod, Christine, “The European Origins of British Technological Predominance,” in Exceptionalism and Industrialisation: Britain and Its European Rivals, 1688–1815, ed. de la Escosura, Leandro Prados (Cambridge, 2004), 111–26.

21. Darnton, Robert, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775–1800 (Cambridge, MA 1979), 193.

22. Nicolas Demarest, “Mémoire pour M. Demarest,” Archives Nationales, F12 1479.

23. Coleman, British Paper Industry, 169 Table.

24. Lindt, Johann, The Paper-Mills of Berne and Their Watermarks, 1465–1859 (Hilversum, 1964), 49, Table (“Prices of Rags, Paper, and Wages at the Worblaufen and Zu Thal Mills during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”), double-starred note.

25. de Lalande, Joseph-Jérôme Lefrançois, The Art of Papermaking, trans. Atkinson, Richard (Kilmurry, Ireland, 1976), 41. Lalande originally published his Art de faire le papier in Paris in 1761.

26. Ibid., 56.

27. Ibid., 59–60.

28. Eineder, Georg, The Ancient Paper-Mills of the Former Austro-Hungarian Empire and Their Watermarks (Hilversum, 1960), 31.

29. Cipolla, Carlo, Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000–1700, 2nd ed. (New York, 1980), 129 .

30. “État des moulins à papier,” Archives Départementales de l'Hérault, C 2676.

31. Quoted in Shorter, Paper Mills and Paper Makers, 79.

32. Shorter, Paper Mills and Paper Makers, 236.

33. Ibid., 153.

34. Ibid., 79.

35. On the issue of maintenance, including Woronoff's insight, see Reynard, Pierre-Claude, “Early Modern State and Enterprise: Shaping the Dialogue between the French Monarchy and Paper Manufacturers,French History 13 (1999): 125 ; Reynard, Pierre-Claude, “Unreliable Mills: Maintenance Practices in Early Modern Papermaking,Technology and Culture 40 (1999): 237–62.

36. Fiskaa, H. M. and Nordstrand, O. K., Paper and Watermarks in Norway and Denmark (Amsterdam: 1978), 325.

37. Hills, Papermaking in Britain, 53.

38. Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 56.

39. As John Hatcher wisely observed, “it is much more likely that favourable movements in wage rates and prices would lead to an increase in both leisure and consumption, an outcome which helps to explain the paradox that the poor in times of high wages and plenty were accused both of refusing to work and consuming more goods.” See Hatcher, John, “Labour, Leisure and Economic Thought before the Nineteenth Century,Past & Present 160 (1998): 84 .

40. Commissioners for Trade and Plantations, “Paper Manufactr,” December 23, 1697, British Library, Sloan MSS, 2902.

41. Quoted in Shorter, Paper Mills and Paper Makers, 58.

42. Coleman, British Paper Industry, 142.

43. Ibid., 91.

44. Ibid., 110–11.

45. For the advantages of technological backwardness, see Gerschenkron, Alexander, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays (Cambridge, MA, 1962).

46. Quoted in Hills, Papermaking in Britain, 67.

47. On the growth of English papermaking during the eighteenth century, chapter 2 of Shorter's Paper Mills and Paper Makers in England is a reliable guide. On taxation and protection, see Coleman, British Paper Industry, chapter 5, and Ashworth, William J., Customs and Excise: Trade, Production, and Consumption in England, 1640–1845 (Oxford, 2003), 247–52.

48. Quoted in Ehrman, John, The British Government and Commercial Negotiations with Europe, 1783–1793 (Cambridge, 1962), 57.

49. Reynard, Histoires de papier, 26.

50. Desmarest, Nicolas, “Papier (Art de fabriquer le),” in Encyclopédie méthodique: Arts et métiers mécaniques, vol. 5 (Paris, 1788), 548.

51. Léon, Pierre, “La Réponse de l'industrie,” in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, 1660–1789, vol. 2, ed. Braudel, Fernand and Labrousse, Ernest (Paris, 1970), 249.

52. Reynard, Histoires de papier, 132.

53. Daniel Roche, The People of Paris: An Essay in Popular Culture in the 18th Century, trans. Marie Evans and Gwynne Lewis (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987), 146, Table 5.4.

54. Quoted in Gachet, Henri, “Les Grèves d'ouvriers papetiers en France au XVIIIème siècle jusqu’à la Révolution,” in Papers of the Twelfth International Congress of the International Association of Paper Historians (Haarlem, 1972), 128.

55. Quoted in Briquet, C.-M., “Associations et Grèves des ouvriers papetiers en France aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,Revue Internationale de Sociologie 5 (1897): 166 .

56. Thompson, Customs in Common, 185–351; and de Vries, Jan, “Great Expectations: Early Modern History and the Social Sciences,Review 22 (1999): 1 . In many ways, the customary practices of early modern European paperworkers resembled those depicted by Randall, Adrian, Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woolen Industry, 1776–1809 (Cambridge, 1991).

57. Quoted in C.-M. Briquet, “Associations et grèves,” 184.

58. McGaw, Judith, Most Wonderful Machine: Mechanization and Social Change in Berkshire Paper Making, 1801–1885 (Princeton, 1987), 53.

59. For the key provisions of the decree of 1688, see Briquet, “Associations et grèves,” 167–68. Henri Gazel, Anciens Ouvriers, specifies that the daily workload was fixed at “8 reams of paper weighing 13 livres per ream or 6 reams and 16 quires of 8 livres, or 5 reams, from 18 to 30 livres per ream,” 70.

60. Gazel, Anciens ouvriers, 71.

61. A translated version of the edict appears in Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 73.

62. Briquet, “Associations et grèves,” 177–78.

63. Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 73, note b.

64. For Dutch papermaking, see Hunter, Dard, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, rev. 2nd ed. (New York, 1978 [1947]), 243; and for Rannersdorf, see Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 52.

65. Stedman, Ebenezer Hiram, Bluegrass Craftsman: Being the Reminiscences of Ebenezer Hiram Stedman, Papermaker: 1808–1885, ed. Dugan, Frances and Bull, Jacqueline (Lexington, KY, 1959), 35, 38.

66. Subirà, Oriol Valls I, The History of Paper in Spain, XVII-XIX Centuries, vol. 3 (Madrid, 1982), 16.

67. Hunter, Papermaking, 241–42.

68. Coleman, British Paper Industry, 297.

69. Valls I Subirà, History of Paper in Spain, explained that “the work day in France was twelve hours,” 17. He also observed that the same regimen characterized “Italy, Poland, and England.” Without explanation, however, he wrote that in Spanish papermaking “there were not set working hours. If meeting a delivery date for an order of paper involved around-the-clock hours, the mill remained working day and night.” Of course, paper manufacturers throughout Europe ignored the clock under this pressure, but in France, they feared that the journeymen would hurry through the process and damage “ordinary” work in pursuit of “overwork” bounties. On this point, see Gazel, Anciens Ouvriers, 70, note 1.

70. Lindt, Paper-Mills of Berne, 49, Table, starred note. On the “break,” see 56.

71. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 52.

72. Rosenband, Papermaking, 110. On the Auvergnat industry, see Gazel, Anciens Ouvriers, 70–71. Gazel observed that “the paperworkers [labored] as long in one season as the other, without concern about sunrise or sunset.”

73. Desmarest, Papier, 510. Also see the extraordinarily detailed production schedule that Demarest provided for a considerable number of different sorts of paper, 511.

74. The Statutes at Large, 36 George III, c.111, vol. XL, 814.

75. Document 39, Archives Nationales, 131 Microfilm 53 AQ 23.

76. Early American Papermaking, Bidwell's introduction, 33.

77. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 52–53.

78. Quoted in Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 73.

79. Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 73, note b.

80. Quoted in Balston, Thomas, William Balston, Papermaker 1759–1849 (London, 1954), 160.

81. Lindt, Paper-Mills of Berne, 49, Table, double-starred note.

82. Quoted in Coleman, British Paper Industry, 151.

83. Ibid., 298.

84. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 53.

85. Jean-Marie Janot, Les Moulins à papier de la région vosgienne, vol. 1 (Nancy, 1952), 83.

86. Quoted in Pierre Léon, “Morcellement et émergence du monde ouvrier,” in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, ed. Fernand Braudel and Ernest Labrousse, vol. 2 (Paris, 1970), 660.

87. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 52.

88. Lalande, Art of Papermaking, 60.

89. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 48, 52.

90. Reynaud, Marie-Hélène, “The Daily Life in the Paper Mills of the Montgolfier Just Before the Revolution,IPH Yearbook 8 (1990): 128–35.

91. Fogel, Escape from Hunger, chapter 1.

92. Document 41, Archives Nationales, 131 MI 53 AQ 23.

93. Quoted in Pollard, Genesis of Modern Management, 182.

94. Johnson, R., New Duty on Paper. The Paper-Maker and Stationer's Assistant (London, 1794), unpaginated.

95. Grenier, “Travailler plus. 787–98” See also Shusterman, Noah, Religion and the Politics of Time: Holidays in France from Louis XIV through Napoleon (Washington, D.C., 2010).

96. André, Machines à papier, 46.

97. Quoted in Coleman, British Paper Industry, 163, n. 2.

98. Ibid., 266.

99. Quoted in Coleman, D. C., “Combinations of Capital and of Labour in the English Paper Industry, 1789–1825,Economica, new series, 21 (1954): 44 (italics in original).

100. Coleman, British Paper Industry, 262–68.

101. Josiah Wedgwood in 1769, quoted in Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World (New York, 2002), 213.

102. On the Montgolfiers’ new regime, see Rosenband, Papermaking, ch. 3. The quoted phrase “curtail their autonomy” appeared in Lis, Catharina and Soly, Hugo, “‘An Irresistible Phalanx’: Journeymen Associations in Western Europe,” in Before the Unions: Wage Earners and Collective Action in Europe, 1300–1850, International Review of Social History, 39 (Supplement 2) (1994): 51 . This phrase is an elegant formulation of Lis and Soly's claim that early modern journeymen in a variety of trades were willing to accept limited technological change so long as it did not undo their custom or capacity to bargain.

103. Rosenband, Papermaking, 157.

104. On the course of labor discipline at Josiah Wedgwood’s works, see Thompson, Customs in Common, 385–386.

105. Eineder, Ancient Paper-Mills, 45–46.

106. Quoted in Balston, William Balston, 12.

107. On the “bull ring,” see Stirk, Industrial Relations, 83, 177.

108. Ibid., 82.

109. Quoted in Shorter, Paper Mills and Paper Makers, 79.

110. Quoted in Stirk, Industrial Relations, 84.

111. Ibid., 86.

112. Ibid., 91.

113. Quoted in Mathias, The Transformation of England: Essays in the Economic and Social History of England in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1979), 23.

114. As Robert put it, “It has been my dream to simplify the operation of making paper by forming it with infinite less expense, and, above all, in making sheets of an extraordinary length without the help of any worker, using only mechanical means.” Quoted in Hunter, Papermaking, 344–45.

115. Ibid., 348.

116. Joel Mokyr argued that “The Industrial Enlightenment then created a set of bridges between intellectuals and producers, savants and fabricants.” I would include the journeymen paperworkers in this equation. After all, it was their fingertip know-how, based on experience and observation, that Robert, Donkin, and the manufacturers appropriated and embedded in the papermaking machine. See Mokyr, Enlightened Economy, 54.

117. Coleman, D. C., “Proto-Industrialization: A Concept Too Many,Economic History Review 36 (1983): 435–48.

118. Voth, Hans-Joachim, “Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London,Journal of Economic History 58 (1998): 2958 . See also Trentmann, Empire of Things, 74–75.

119. Ashworth, Customs and Excise.

120. De Vries, “Industrial Revolution and Industrious Revolution,” 262.

The Industrious Revolution: A Concept Too Many?

  • Leonard N. Rosenband (a1)


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