Watch Depression-era machinists and laborers forge and mill steel parts

Originally published at:


To clarify - it is a production setting, building cars… the Old School way.
Brutal, dangerous, hard work. Only the Tool and Die folks at the start are very precision.

I cringed watching this video, because, as a manufacturing engineer, I watched the waste just pour out of the processes. Waste of human capital, waste of materials, waste of time, waste of effort, waste of space, etc. etc., etc. And, the incredibly dirty, cramped, dangerous workplace… sigh. The Old School killed off a lot of folks that way.

Search Youtube for ‘Westinghouse night dance’ to see another video of a factory of that era. At 4:20 in the video is an incredible scene of hand-forging a huge ring for a generator. Boggling! (I’d last about 30 seconds doing any of that!)


Oh fuck, I’ll never complain about my shitty job ever again, and to think they had to listen all day to that happy go luck music to boot.


Brave men that work all day around large rotating machinery and wear neckties.

Granted they were all wearing vests or aprons, but still very scary.


The joys of cheap human capital. 3/4 of my great grandfathers ended up injured or maimed in auto or coal during the '30s, and the one who didn’t was hunchbacked from leaning over a drafting table most of his life.


At some point, I thought I was watching Fantasia.

Metropolis more like…


Anybody know what plant that is?

The days when Men were MEN and those who didn’t survive were forgotten…

Here’s that amazingly muscular sequence of hand forge-welding a big ring at the Westinghouse factory:

NO gloves
NO eye protection
NO heat shields
NO steel-toed boots (I’m sure)
NO ear protection (that’s OK, “You’ll ‘get used’ to it”)
NO air purification (I’m sure)
Swinging 16 pound sledges all day



I think this is from the 1936 documentary produced by Jam Handy for Chevrolet, in the Flint, Michigan plant. The title is Master Hands.

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Agreed, but this was the only way; I suspect you know this, but looking back with 2017’s technology isn’t fair. It was interesting to see some of the automation in the frame assembly. In some steps the guys are there to place a few pins or rivets and then step back while the spot welder/rivet robots* do most of the work.

Love the manual forging video; I fall down Youtube ratholes watching these.

I was cringy at first due to the lack of PPE, but jumped when the two guys hopped onto the ring and started wailing away on the inner and outer edge of the ring… miss and the guys on the floor are eating those 16 pound sledges.

* very simple “bang-bang” robots are “robots” in my book.

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Yup! That WAS the cutting edge tech in those days. Tesla got old Westinghouse going and then got shoved out. :frowning:

I have spent years in dust-filled woodshops with MDF (formaldehyde!) dust being shoveled literally through a fan in the wall to be blown outside. I’ve made thousands of parts on manual lathes. Been in a shop that painted with solvent-based and isocyanate-catalysed finishes.

My hearing is going b/c of the high-pitched CNC routers I ran and programmed.

It was a joy to watch us get that bloody shop pounded into shape over a decade or two and it’s now (another decade later) a model of Lean and Toyota Production System approaches.

And, yes, I too wondered how many guys got their teeth knocked out from those inside-to-outside swings!

In 20 years the bots will be doing the manual stuff, and people will either be poking computers on salary or rioting at the factory gates on whatever welfare there is…

and so were the women,

and the livestock was afraid.

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The use of modern equipment and techniques was not possible back then.

Giving a shit about occupational safety was.

Safety rails, helmets, masks, etc etc weren’t delivered by technology. They were fought for by unions.


The mills and lathes in my university machine shop dated back to the 40s and were still going strong 60 years later. They built to last back then.

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I worked as a mold maker in 1990. Wasn’t much different from what’s depicted here. But I think things have changed a lot since then.

The second vid in the OP is more interesting… a lot more hints at the social and economic context.

CNC machining has to have decimated the ranks of toolmakers… and I have a vague feeling we don’t use as much machinery these days.

The principles of lean manufacturing were established around that time in Japan. It took until the 1980s for it to be taken seriously in the west. You don’t need to look at the video with 2017’s technology to see the waste (in the broadest sense) and think about ways to reduce it.

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I should have been more specific… my nope was about the tech not being modern.

Agreed that unions did great work raising the the bar on safety issues, reasonable work/life balance, etc.