Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change is a 1977 book by historian Merritt Roe Smith. The central topic is the adoption of new mechanical and social technologies in American manufacturing during the early nineteenth century. Smith uses the microcosm of the manufacture of rifles at the federal government’s armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia to address the question of how American administrators, managers, inventors, and workers handled the new possibilities offered by greater division of labor and interchangeable parts. He argues that armorers at Harpers Ferry did not adopt new technologies and work processes unquestioningly in a spirit of progress, but rather often resisted mechanization. Other historians who have portrayed American workers as technophilic, often in contrast to Europeans, have focused too narrowly on New England, he suggests, and ignored the tensions that often accompanied industrialization.
More specifically, Smith asks the question of why, “from its establishment in 1798 to its fiery destruction in 1861, the armory at Harpers Ferry remained a chronic trouble spot in the government’s arsenal program.” It was consistently less efficient than its sister armory at Springfield, Massachusetts and often turned out lower quality weapons. Smith suggests that this phenomenon had a variety of causes, from neglect by the armory’s superintendent to disease to the variety of weapons produced at Harpers Ferry. Ultimately, he concludes that the “preindustrial way of life” practiced by the citizens of Harpers Ferry emphasized personal relationships over institutions in a way that was incompatible with the innovations of industrialization. The craft ethos of Harpers Ferry gunsmiths demanded individuality and independence, and the standardization upon which the new industrial approach to manufacture depended could not be achieved in an environment dominated by such an ethic.
Another classic history of technology book Two Sheds had to read as part of his indoctrination.