Manufacturing was an important aspect of the city of Birmingham, England. In the Jewelry Quarter we found a pen museum. Cutting and forming steel into pen nibs grew out of jewelry making. Pen nibs are something that is largely unknown to most of us today. But William Mitchell was the premier manufacturer of steel pen nibs in England and at the time. Joseph Gillott was another manufacturer and it was estimated that 90 per cent of American school children used Gillott's pens.
First there was the quill pen, but these pens required constant trimming—I think at the end of every line of writing—and thus it took a long time to write anything. The metal pen nib was invented/developed and Birmingham was the center of nib manufacturing. Much of the factory work was done by girls whose small hands could more easily manipulate the materials.
Working 10 hours a day, the workers were required to produce 18,000 nibs each day. They were not allowed to talk or sing—in fact they were fined if they did so—because concentration was so important. Each girl performed only one task, truly being a cog in an assembly wheel.
This container show the "lot" of pen nibs each worker was to perform the same repetitive task on.
A machine cuts the nib blank from a strip of steel. Imagine feeding this piece of metal in so the required number of blanks are cut each time—one blank each 2 seconds!
This is an illustration of one area of a pen factory, the grinding room. All of these girls are preforming the same task.
Pen nibs were made for many special tasks, including these, designed for musicians wishing to write musical scores.
The next day we visited Coventry Cathedral, which I will cover in a separate post. One thing we learned there is that Coventry was the heart of the weaving industry. There, women or girls worked in conditions similar to what we saw in the pen museum.
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