Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chapmans vs Waterman: Chasing machines

One of the ways in which the Chapmans' counsel attempted to discredit Waterman (background to the case here) was by claiming that Waterman wasn't really a manufacturer, but instead merely assembled parts made by others. Even in 1915, many manufacturers relied upon subcontractors, so I'm not sure this was a well-chosen tactic. In any event, it led to many exchanges about the sourcing of holders (that is, hard rubber pen parts) and the application of chasing. Waterman's counsel emphasized how chasing required time, skill, and experience, and thus how, along with hand-fitting, nib-setting, and clip attachment, it constituted real manufacturing and not mere assembly of premade parts. The Chapmans' counsel in turn tried to trivialize the chasing operation, as in this cross-examination of Waterman's William I. Ferris (pp. 186-87):
Q. The chasing is a simple matter, isn't it? A. It is part of the manufacturing.
Q. You simply put the pen in a machine and run it through? A. You may say the same thing of the holder, you put it in and turn it around.
Q. It takes skill to do that? A. The other requires skill.
Q. Doesn't any dollar a week girl do that? A. She does not.
Q. How much do you pay her for running the chasing machine? A. My recollection is the girl gets $12 a week.
Q. Is it run by unskilled labor? A. Experienced labor; it takes a lot of experience to operate them properly.
Q. Do they not put half a dozen holders into a machine and simply run it through a little machine and it comes out chased; is that right? A. Yes; but the machine has to be properly adjusted and operated or they don't come out chased.
In later exchanges, Ferris clarified that "boys" ran the chasing machines, with "one girl in charge under a superintendent, and young men operate the machines", each "boy" running two to four machines at once, depending on the class of work. (pp. 197-98). He also stated that it typically took four to five minutes to chase a holder, depending on its size (p. 275).

Ferris's was not the only testimony about Waterman's chasing methods. A Brooklyn stationer, Van Brunt Tandy, owner of the stationery firm formerly known as John M. Bulwinkle -- reputedly Waterman's first commercial account -- was queried about his visits to the Waterman factory (pp. 238-39):
Q. Did you see anybody chasing penholders at the L. E. Waterman & Company shop? A. Yes.
Q. How is it done? A. It is done with six holders put in at a time, six caps in one section and six holders in. another section, in which a tool goes around like that and cuts them; possibly the steel escapes the part where there is any plain spaces.
Q. The result is that with all this chasing, a plain holder has this wavy appearance? A. Yes.
Q. Does one boy manipulate a number of machines? A. Manipulates two machines, one for the holders and one for the caps and one for the body. . .
Q. What did you see? A. I saw him put six caps in one machine to the left and six holders in another machine to the right, and those two machines were both working at the same time.
Q. With respect to the rapidity of the number that are produced in that way? A. I would say it would take about ten minutes to do six complete.
Q. A little over a minute apiece? A. They had six at a time.
Q. Do you mean to say it takes ten minutes to go through that machine? A. I certainly do. '
Q. Isn’t it done in ten seconds? A. No, sir.
I've been working on a full article on the history of hard rubber chasing and chasing machines, and sources are remarkably few. The material above is a useful addition to what we know of how these machines were actually used in a production environment. For further description and illustrations of the machines used by Waterman in this era, see the article on Waterman pen manufacture in Machinery, vol. 18 (Dec 1911), p. 253.

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