In today’s age, skilled machinists are crucial to the mass production manufacturing system. Virtually all the manufactured products that we use in our everyday lives depend, at some point during their production, on the skills of precision machinists.
The United States owes much of its present-day power and wealth to the use of machinery and mass production techniques by industry. When our nation was founded, all machines and all products were essentially handmade. One person made all the parts and then assembled them, adapting and modifying where necessary to make the individual parts fit and work together. That same person generally applied the finishing touches, the paint or varnish, or decorative embellishment, so that each item was actually an individual work of art-one of a kind.
The industrial revolution dramatically changed the social and economic formats for the world. Extensive mechanization of production systems shifted manufacturing from a home- or cottage-type industry to a large-scale factory system.
In 1798 Eli Whitney, already famous for his invention of the cotton gin, developed the first standardized manufacturing process. He had contracted with the United States government to produce 10,000 muskets. To do so, he developed the first assembly line manufacturing system, based upon the use of uniform, interchangeable parts. In doing so, he became the world's first tool and dies maker and laid the foundation for our present mass production system. Many people say that Whitney was the inventor of mass production.
The word "tool" used in this sense does not mean hammers, saws, or screwdrivers. A tool is any device that is used in holding, forming, or shaping a material so that hundreds or thousands or even millions of identical parts can be produced, to the specific size and configuration required by the product design or blueprint. In order to make these tools, the toolmaker uses many machines and measuring instruments.
With the invention of the steam engine, and later the internal combustion engine, people recognized the tremendous advantages of mechanical power as compared to animal or human power. Once the first handmade automobile was invented, many people wanted one. To meet this new demand, and to reduce costs so that an even greater demand could be created, Henry Ford, and later his contemporaries, began to produce automobiles for the national market with assembly line production techniques far beyond anything Eli Whitney could have envisioned.
Yet it was Whitney's original concept, with its special tools for mass producing identical, interchangeable parts that made it all possible. "Tooling up" became a part of our vocabulary, and the making of tools and dies became an industry in its own right, serving not only the auto manufacturers but all other industries, which quickly adopted the new and faster manufacturing techniques. Mass production was here to stay!
Many people famous in American industry and business were toolmakers, die makers, and machinists. For example, Walter P. Chrysler started his career as a machinist at age 17 and later founded and headed one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the United States. James Watt, a machinist and instrument maker, is renowned for his innovative designs that helped produce cheap and abundant power for steam engines. George Westinghouse also began as a machinist and is recognized for many inventions that had significant influence on the American standard of living. The Wright brothers, machinists and bicycle makers, taught themselves the principles of aerodynamics and went on to make the first successful flights in a heavier-than-air craft. The Reuther brothers, both toolmakers, pioneered labor-management relations, which led to the establishment of one of the early effective labor unions in the automotive field.
Because of these men, and many others whose genius fueled the tremendous manufacturing growth, Americans have and continue to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. We thrive in an environment of growth and opportunity which results, primarily, from our enormous and sophisticated system of mass production and mass merchandising.
Machinist's training has proven, in countless cases, to be but the preliminary step to careers in many manufacturing fields. Thousands have spent challenging and interesting lives as machinists, helping our country achieve and maintain its preeminent status.
Frequently the tooling and machining industry is called the "keystone of mass production." By using machines to mass produce items such as automobiles, hospital beds, computers- virtually all manufactured products-America's standard of living has become the envy of the world.
Our entire economy is based upon production. Few nations have ever attained as high a living standard as ours. America's genius for mass production of goods has resulted in comparatively lower costs to consumers. These machines must be both built and maintained; it is the machinist who does just that. Other highly skilled machinists, called toolmakers and die makers, build the jigs, fixtures, and dies that produce the interchangeable parts that are the basis of our mass production. Again, it is the machinist who makes cutters and tools and lathes and other machines that cut, form, shape, and process metals. Wherever machinery exists or is needed, machinists are present in one capacity or another-from the auto service center where they may be grinding camshafts or turning down armatures to the sewing machine plant or the linotype shop where they may be maintaining the machinery.
The machinist is a key factor in our industrial life. Even though our production machinery is becoming more automatic, thus requiring less attendant manpower, these complex mechanisms require additional and higher skilled personnel to build and maintain them. Teams of highly skilled toolmakers built many of the incredibly intricate parts and components for the first atom bombs. Present experiments in space travel, space satellites, rockets, atomic power, jet engines, gas turbines, environmental controls, guided missiles, and other weapons are even newer areas challenging the skilled machinist.