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The History of Industrial Development and Toolmaking in US

  The Book of Illustrious Mechanics of Europe and America by Edward Foucaud, 1845      

Introduction to Working-men

The celebrated Lamennais has said: "The mechanic rises before day, lights his little lamp, and labors diligently to gain a livelihood for himself and his children." When Lamennais inscribed this sentence in his admirable Words of a Believer, he gave a complete summary of a working-man's life.

Work, work on, work ever: such is the inscription which glitters on the standard of every mechanics' association.—At the first glance, such an existence wears a melancholy aspect; but soon, in enlarging its objects, and in consecrating all its hours to laborious occupation, it adds a new and continually increasing luster to the already brilliant crown of industry.

I have thought it a great and honorable task, to write the history of the mechanic, the humble and modest annals of the working-man, who has devoted all his faculties to manual labor; and I think this task will be appreciated by all, because it is great; understood by all, because it is honorable.

I had originally divided this work into three great historical periods:—from the time of Francis the First, to 1789; — from the Republic to the revolution of 1830,—and from 1830 to the present day. Hut at the time of preparing the work, the first of these great divisions, although perhaps one of the most curious eluded all research.

If we turn to history, we find nothing there. Mechanical ingenuity seems to have had no existence in the early ages, or at least an obscure and unimportant one. If we seek the date of a disastrous war, the historian is scrupulously exact; but if we inquire of him a brief account of the progress of arts, he is silent, or gives uncertain and incomplete data, as if he were ashamed to enter upon so insignificant a subject.

From the time of Francis the First until the end of the eighteenth century, industry has had no historians. I have not therefore been able to enter fully upon my subject, until after this epoch, and have been obliged to content myself with giving a general sketch of the first memorable advancement of manual labor, that queen of nations.

Let me not be misunderstood. The history I am about to publish is not written in a biographical style; I am fully aware that such would be tedious and uninteresting, as well as unnecessary. The illustrious mechanics will contain an account of the laborer at his work-bench, tools in hand, and every piece of handicraft whose object has been the improvement of any one art will be here recorded; and if the subject sometimes diverges into the privacy of families, it will be but for the sake of casting a few flowers on the lonely path of some who have been most -unjustly the victims of adversity.

When an architect has decided upon a plan for the foundation of his edifice, he reflects long and well upon it, lest it should present to the eye of an observer any defect in the arrangement; nor is he satisfied until the slightest details harmonize and form a perfect whole. In striving to bring my work to perfection, a work of a popular nature, and one conceived in the liberal and progressive spirit of the age, I have deemed it advisable to give a place in it to every man of low birth, who, by manual labor, by deeds of generosity or of self-devotion, has rendered his name distinguished. Such are the illustrious mechanics.

Thus, side by side with the mechanic Jacquarel, the agriculturist Grauge, &c., the reader will find the illustrious Ney, Duke of Elehingen, and Prince of Moscowa, entitled in battle, the bravest of the brave; Lannes, the dyer's apprentice, who, after enjoying all the grades of military honor, was made Duke of Montebello by Napoleon; Augereau, general of the Empire, son of a Paris fruit-seller; Bernadotte, son of the humble citizen of Bearn, placed upon the throne of Sweden, under the name of Charles John ; Murat, the intrepid soldier, who woke up one morning King of Naples—he, the child of the tavern-keeper! and number of others.

Other names will also be registered in our work, names not less known, nor less beloved by the people.

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