Read LETTING THE CROWD BE BEAUTIFUL - IRON MACHINES - CHAPTER VII of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


There was a time once in the old simple individual days when drygoods stores could be human.  They expressed, in a quiet, easy way, the souls of the people who owned them.

When machinery was invented and when organization was invented-machines of people-drygoods stores became vast selling machines.

We then faced the problem of making a drygoods store with twenty-five hundred clerks in it as human as a drygoods store with fifteen.

This problem has been essentially and in principle solved.  At least we know it is about to be solved.  We are ready to admit-most of us-that it is practicable for a department store to be human.  Everything the man at the top does expresses his human nature and his personality to his clerks.  His clerks become twenty-five hundred more of him in miniature.  What is more, the very stuff in which the clerks in department stores work-the thing that passes through their hands, is human, and everything about it is human, or can be made human; and all the while vast currents of human beings, huge Mississippis of human feeling, flow past the clerks-thousands and thousands of souls a day, and pour over their souls, making them and keeping them human.  The stream clears itself.

But what can we say about human beings in a mine, about the practicability of keeping human twenty-five hundred men in a hole in the ground?  And how can a mine-owner reach down to the men in the hole, make himself felt as a human being on the bottom floor of the hole in the ground?

In a department store the employer expresses himself to his clerks through every one of the other twenty-five hundred; they mingle and stir their souls and hopes and fears together, and he expresses himself to all of them through them all.

But in a mine, two men work all alone down in the dark hole in the ground.  Thousands of other men, all in dark holes, are near by, with nothing but the dull sound of picks to come between.  In thousands of other holes men work, each with his helper, all alone.  The utmost the helper can do is to grow like the man he works with, or like his own pick, or like the coal he chips out, or like the black hole.  The utmost the man who mines coal can do, in the way of being human, is with his helper.

In a factory, for the most part, the only way, during working hours, an employer can express himself and his humanness to his workman is through the steel machine he works with-through its being a new, good, fair machine or a poor one.  He can only smile and frown at him with steel, be good to him in wheels and levers, or now and then perhaps through a foreman pacing down the aisles.

The question the modern business man in a factory has to face is very largely this:  “I have acres of machines all roaring my will at my men.  I have leather belts, printed rules, white steam, pistons, roar, air, water and fire and silence to express myself to my workmen in.  I have long monotonous swings and sweeps of cold steel, buckets of melted iron, strips of wood, bells, whistles, clocks-to express myself, to express my human spirit to my men.  Is there, or is there not, any possible way in which my factory with its machines can be made as human and as expressive of the human as a department store?”

This is the question that our machine civilization has set itself to answer.

All the men with good honest working imaginations, the geniuses and the freemen of the world, are setting themselves the task of answering it.

Some say, “Machines are on the necks of the men.  We will take the machines away.”

Others say, “We will make our men as good as our machines.  We will make our inventions in men catch up with our inventions in machines.”

We naturally turn to the employer first as having the first chance.  What is there an employer can do to draw out the latent force in the men, evoke the divine, incalculable passion sleeping beneath in the machine-walled minds, the padlocked wills, the dull unmined desires of men?  How can he touch and wake the solar plexus of labour?

If any employer desires to get into the inner substance of the most common type of workman, be an artist with him, express himself with him and change the nature of that substance, give it a different colour or light or movement so that he will work three times as fast, ten times as cheerfully and healthfully, and with his whole body and soul, spirit, and how is he going to do it?

Most employers wish they could do this.  If they could persuade their men to believe in them, to begin to be willing to work with them instead of against them, they would do it.

What form of language is there, whether of words or of actions, that an employer can use to make the men who work nine hours a day for him and to whom he has to express himself across acres of machines, believe in him and understand him?

The modern employer finds himself set sternly face to face, every day of his life, with this question.  All civilization seems crowding up day by day, seems standing outside his office door as he goes in and as he goes out, and asking him-now with despair, now with a kind of grim, implacable hope, “Do you believe, or do you not believe, a factory can be made as human as a department store?”

This question is going to be answered first by men who know what iron machines really are, and what they are really for, and how they work-who know what people-machines really are, and what they are really for, and how they work.  They will base all that they do upon certain resemblances and certain differences between people and machines.

They will work the machines of iron according to the laws of iron.

They will work the machines of men according to the laws of human nature.

There are certain facts in human nature, feelings, enthusiasms and general principles concerning the natural working relation between men and machines, that it may be well to consider in the next chapter as a basis for a possible solution.

What are our machines after all?  How are the machines like us?  And on what theory of their relation to us can machines and men expect in a world like this to run softly together?  These are the questions men are going to answer next.  In the meantime, I venture to believe that no man who is morose to-day about the machines, or who is afraid of machines in our civilization-because they are machines-is likely to be able to do much to save the men in it.