“Oh! Let Oppression’s Hand Be Stay’d”

The Transformation from Craft to Wage Labor
  • Virginia Free Press
Part of the Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA)


Arms production at the Harpers Ferry Armory began with craftsmen who were knowledgeable in the production of the whole gun. The transformation from craft production to wage laborers in a production line creating interchangeable parts came with great difficulty at the armory; as a result, it was not fully implemented until the 1840s. While it appears that some armorers accepted their fate in return for wages, others felt that their livelihood was at stake, especially when their wages decreased with the introduction of new machinery. However, the craftsman was not immediately transformed into a wage earner at Harpers Ferry. Rather, an intermediate form of production was created—piecework. The piece-worker comprised a significant proportion of the armory’s labor force in the 1820s and 1830s. The pieceworker was no longer considered a true craftsman, since he specialized in the production of only one part. The pieceworker, however, did have some control over his production; he was able to dictate his work hours as well as his rate of production. His presence represented the last vestiges of the freedoms that were synonymous with craft production.


Home Production Domestic Life Craft Production Military System Combination Tool 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

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  • Virginia Free Press

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