Front Page Titles (by Subject) III. Economies in the Generation of Power, Transmission of Power, and Buildings. - Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole
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III. Economies in the Generation of Power, Transmission of Power, and Buildings. - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole 
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, by Karl Marx. Ed. Federick Engels. Trans. from the 1st German edition by Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co. Cooperative, 1909).
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III. Economies in the Generation of Power, Transmission of Power, and Buildings.
In his report for October, 1852, L. Horner quotes a letter of the famous engineer James Nasmyth of Patricrofit, the inventor of the steam hammer, which contains substantially the following statements.
The public is little acquainted with the immense increase of motive power obtained through such changes of system and improvements (of steam engines) as he is mentioning. The machine power of the district of Lancashire was for almost forty years under the pressure of timid and prejudiced traditions. But now the engineers have been happily emancipated. During the last 15 years, but particularly in the course of the last 4 years (since 1848) a few important changes have taken place in the operation of condense steam engines. The result was that the same machines accomplished far more work, and that the consumption of coal was considerably decreased at the same time. For many years, since the introduction of steam power in the factories of this district, the velocity which was considered safe for condense steam engines, was about 220 feet of piston lift per minute, that is to say, a machine with a piston lift of 5 feet was limited by regulation to 22 revolutions of the shaft. It was not considered appropriate to drive the machine faster. And since the entire installation was adapted to this velocity of 220 feet of piston lift per minute, this slow and senselessly restricted motion prevailed in the factories for many years. But finally, either through a lucky unfamiliarity with this regulation, or for better reasons of some daring innovator, a greater velocity was tried, and, since the result was very favorable, this example was followed by others. The machine was given full rein, as the saying was, and the main wheels of the transmission gear were changed in such a way that the steam engine could make 300 feet per minute and more, while the machinery was kept at its former speed. This acceleration of the steam engine had become general, because it had been demonstrated that more available power was gained from the same machine, and that the movements were much more regular on account of the greater impetus of the driving wheel. The same steam pressure and the same vacuum in the condenser produced more power by means of a simple acceleration of the piston lift. For instance, if by appropriate changes we can accomplish that a machine yielding 40 horse power with 200 feet per minute makes 400 feet with the same steam pressure and vacuum, we shall secure exactly double that power, and since the steam pressure and the vacuum are the same in both cases, the strain on the various individual parts of the machine, and thus the danger of accidents, will not materially increase with an increase of speed. The whole difference is that we consume more steam in comparison to the accelerated movement of the piston, or at least approximately so; and furthermore, there is a somewhat more rapid wear of the bearings, or friction parts, but this is hardly worth mentioning. But in order to obtain more power with the same machine by speeding up the piston, more coal must be burned under the same steam boiler, or a boiler of a larger volume of evaporation must be employed, in short, more steam must be generated. This was accomplished, and boilers with a greater volume were installed with the old "accelerated" machines. These accomplished consequently as much as 100% more work. About 1842, the extraordinarily cheap generation of power with steam engines in the mines of Cornwall began to attract attention. The competition in cotton spinning compelled the manufacturers to seek the main source of their profits in economies. The remarkable difference in the consumption of coal per hour and horse-power shown by the Cornish machines, and likewise the extraordinarily economical performances of the Woolf Double Cylinder Machines, brought the question of fuel into the foreground, also in Nasmyth's district. The Cornish and the double cylinder machines furnished one horse-power per hour for every 3½ or 4 pounds of coal, while the machines in the cotton districts generally consumed 8 or 12 pounds per horse-power an hour. Such a marked difference induced the manufacturers and machine builders of Nasmyth's district to accomplish by similar means just such extraordinary economies as were then the rule in Cornwall and France, where the high prices of coal had compelled the manufacturers to restrict this expensive branch of their business as much as possible. This led to some very important results. In the first place, many boilers, one-half of whose surface remained exposed to the cold outer air in the time of high profits, were then covered with thick layers of felt, or bricks and mortar, and other material, by which the radiation of the heat, which had been generated at such high cost, was prevented. Steam pipes were protected in the same way, and the cylinders were also surrounded by felt and wood. In the second place, high pressure came into use. Hitherto the safety-valve had been weighted only so slightly that it opened at 4, 6, or 8 pounds of steam pressure per square inch. Then it was discovered that considerable coal could be saved by raising the pressure to 14 or 20 pounds. In other words, the work of a factory was accomplished by a considerably lower consumption of coal. Those who had the means and the enterprise carried the system of increased pressure to its full extension and employed judiciously constructed steam-boilers, which furnished steam at a pressure of 30, 40, 60, or 70 pounds per square inch, which would have scared an engineer of the old school to death. But as the economic result of this increased steam-pressure soon made itself felt in the unmistakable form of so many pounds sterling, shillings, and pence, the high pressure boilers for condensing machines became very common. Those who carried out the reform radically used the Woolf machines, and this took place in most of the recently built machines. These were the Woolf machines with two cylinders, in one of which the steam from the boiler furnishes power by means of the excess of pressure over that of the atmosphere, whereupon, instead of escaping as formerly after each stroke of the piston into the open air, it passes into a low pressure cylinder of about four times the volume of the other and, after accomplishing there some more expansion, goes to the condenser. The economic result obtained by such a machine is the performance of one horse-power per hour for every 3½ or 4 pounds of coal, while the machines of the old style required from 12 to 14 pounds for this purpose. A clever device permitted the adaption of the Woolf system with double cylinders, that is to say, the high and low pressure machine, to already existing machines and thus the increase of their performance and at the same time a reduction in the consumption of coal. The same result was obtained during the last 8 or 10 years by a combination of a high pressure machine with a condensing machine in such a way that the steam used in the former passed into the latter and drove it. This system is useful for many purposes. It would not be easily possible to obtain any accurate statistics of the increased performances of the same identical steam-engines supplied with some or all of these new improvements. But it is certain that the same weight of steam machinery now performs 50% more service on an average, and that in many cases the same steam-engine, which yielded 50 horse-powers at the time of the limited speed of 220 feet per minute, yields now more than 100 horse-powers. The highly economical results of the employment of high pressure steam in condensing machines, and the far greater demands made upon the old machines for the purposes of business expansion, have led in the last three years to the introduction of pipe boilers, by which the cost of steam generation is again considerably reduced. (Rep. Fact., Oct., 1852, pages 23 to 27.)
What applies to power generating, also applies to power transmitting and working machinery. According to Redgrave's report, on page 58 of the above-cited document, the rapid steps made in the development of improvements in machinery during the last years have enabled the manufacturers to expand production without additional motive power. The more economical employment of labor has become necessary through the shortening of the working day, and in most well-managed factories means are always considered by which production may be increased, and expenses decreased. Redgrave has before him a calculation, which he owes to the courtesy of a very intelligent gentleman in his district, referring to the number and age of the laborers employed in his factory, the machines operated in it, and the wages paid from 1840 to date. In October, 1840, his firm employed 600 laborers, of whom 200 were less than 13 years old. In October, 1852, they employed only 350 laborers, of whom only 60 were less than 13 years old. The same number of machines, with very few exceptions, were in operation, and the same amounts were paid in wages, in both years...
These improvements of machinery do not show their full effects until they are used in new and judiciously built factories.
According to the testimony of a cotton spinner in the factory reports for 1863, page 110, great progress has been made in the building of factories in which such improved machinery is to be installed. In the basement of his factory he twines all his yarn, and for this purpose alone he installs 29,000 doubling spindles. In this room and in the shed alone he saves at least 10% in labor. This is not so much the result of improvements in the doubling system, as of the concentration of machinery under one gearing. He can drive the same number of spindles with one single driving shaft, and thus he saves from 60 to 80% for gearing as compared to other firms. This furthermore results in a great saving of oil, grease, etc. In short, with perfected installations in his factory and improved machinery he had saved at least 10% in labor, not to mention great economies in power, coal, oil, grease, transmission belts and shafts.