The factory system was a new way of making products that began during the Industrial Revolution. The factory system used powered machinery, division of labor, unskilled workers, and a centralized workplace to mass-produce products.
Lowell Mills: An Early Factory in Massachusetts (1850) by Sidney & Neff
What was there before the factory system?
Before the factory system products were made one at a time by individual workers. The work was generally performed at a small workshop or at home. As machinery became larger and more expensive, factories formed where business owners purchased the machines and hired workers to run them.
What makes up the factory system?
The factory system of the Industrial Revolution introduced new ways of making products. Products could be made cheaper, faster, and in larger volume. Some of the key characteristics of the factory system include:
Centralized workplace - Rather than have individual workers spread out in their homes and workshops, the factory was a large central place where many workers came together to make products. Factories were necessary because the machinery was expensive, large, needed power, and was operated by many workers.
Division of labor - The factory system introduced the division of labor. This is where different workers each have a specific task in making the product. Each worker can specialize in one small task and doesn't have to know how to make the entire product.
Unskilled workers - Because of the division of labor, many of the workers could be "unskilled" workers. They could be taught one simple task that they would repeat over and over.
Standardized parts - Different parts of a product were standardized. This meant they were built the same way and to the same measurements. This concept eventually led to interchangeable parts where individual parts could easily be replaced and repaired.
Woman and Children Workers
During the Industrial Revolution, women and children became an important part of the workforce. At first, this was because they would work for low pay compared to men. Often the working conditions were poor and dangerous. Eventually laws were passed to outlaw child labor.
Changes in Society
The factory system had a large impact on society. Before the factory system, most people lived on farms in the countryside. With the formation of large factories, people began to move to the cities. Cities grew larger and sometimes became overcrowded. This movement from a rural society to an urban society created a dramatic shift in the way people lived.
Interesting Facts about the Factory System
In order to fight dangerous working conditions and long hours, workers began to form unions and strike.
Early factories used water for power and were usually located along a river. Later factories were powered by steam and, eventually, electricity.
Many factories during the Industrial Revolution had dormitories on site where the workers lived.
Many factories use an "assembly line" where products move from workstation to workstation getting new parts added at each station until the final product is complete.