This is part II of my description of the history of Solingen, Germany as it relates to the cutlery industry.
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The development of steam power emerged in Solingen in the early to mid 19th century. This allowed for larger manufacturing plants to be built anywhere in the city and did not limit production to the Wupper Valley.
Previously the mills were limited to the rivers edge as they depended on the movement of the water to power them.
In some ways this new technology improved the work environment. It took the workers into an environment that was drier and warmer generally.
But, it did lead to much longer hours exacerbating somehealth problems. Previously there were natural built in breaks in production that were beneficial to the overall health of the worker.
For example, the Wupper would sometimes freeze during the winter or dry up in the summer months. This allowed for unplanned vacations and rest from the tough work.
It would be fair to assume that technological developments lead to the loss of craft and jobs and quality. Although this may have been true to a small extent the overall industry benefited from a symbiotic relationship with hand-work and emerging machine work.
Dr. Jochem Putsh, curator of the Rheinisches Industriemuseum, calls this productive relationship flexible specialization. It describes the way in which the Solingen cutlery industry was able to adapt to changes in demand. Between the pool of experienced hand workers (grinders, polishers, assemblers ect.) and the emerging mechanization leading to increased production Solingen could handle jobs that other world cutlery hubs could not.
This ability to produce more of the right thing at better prices and higher quality made Solingen the single largest producer of knives, edged weapons and scissors in the world. During the turn of the century Solingen was responsible for producing a full 60% of the cutlery exported world wide!
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