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Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)
 

Mere Machines of Labor

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

— National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior —

 
 
Mere Machines of Labor Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, July 11, 2009
1. Mere Machines of Labor Marker
Inscription.  Work in the Smith and Forging Shop that stood here was dirty, smoky, noisy, and dangerous. Worse still, in the early 1800s armorers changed from skilled craftsmen - creating unique handcrafted weapons - into wage laborers tending machines for less pay.

Calling themselves "mere machines of labor" armory workers took their complaints directly to U.S. President John Tyler in 1842. Tyler dismissed them saying the workers "must go home and hammer out their own salvation." Conditions did not improve and armorers kept working in the factories until the armory was destroyed at the start of the Civil War in 1861.
 
Erected 2009 by National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Industry & Commerce. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #10 John Tyler series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1842.
 
Location. 39° 19.449′ N, 77° 43.837′ W. Marker is in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in Jefferson County. Marker can be reached from Potomac Street, on
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the right when traveling west. Located on the old armory grounds in Harpers Ferry National Historical Site. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Harpers Ferry WV 25425, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. By the aid of these machines... (here, next to this marker); Railroad Embankment (a few steps from this marker); Found Underground (within shouting distance of this marker); Tailrace (within shouting distance of this marker); Power of the Potomac (within shouting distance of this marker); Warehouse (within shouting distance of this marker); Chimney (within shouting distance of this marker); Smith and Forging Shop (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Harpers Ferry.
 
More about this marker. On the left is a tactile feature replicating the rifle components produced in the shop. Rifle hammers and lock plates excavated here show how separate gun parts, made by different workers and assembled together, formed a single interchangeable unit.

In the center is a drawing depicting a worker in the armory. Armorers labored up to 10 hours a day in the heat of burning forges, breathing coal smoke and performing repetitive tasks.

On the right a portion of a newspaper is highlighted. Horrible Assassination! A murder was perpetrated at Harpers Ferry Friday last.... Thomas B. Dunn,
Hammer and Lock Plates image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, July 11, 2009
2. Hammer and Lock Plates
Esq. Superintendent of the Armory, was shot through the heart while sitting in his office in open day! Virginia Free Press - February 7, 1830.

Tensions between workers and management exploded in 1830 when armory worker Ebenezer Cox shot and killed Superintendent Thomas Dunn.
 
Mere Machines of Labor Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, July 11, 2009
3. Mere Machines of Labor Marker
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 8, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 20, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 768 times since then and 41 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on October 20, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.

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Jun. 23, 2024