There once was a time when simple men (and women) made America great.
Products were built to last, by people who worked with their hands, and were not ashamed of it.
Today, we don’t really seem to excel at anything but breath-takingly expensive healthcare, and shuffling paper around in increasing complicated (yet parasitic) financial transactions.
One of the most common items to be found in every household from the 1900s (until somewhere in the 1960s) was the common domestic sewing machine. So common in fact, that there are literally millions of them lying around in attics, garages (and landfills) across this land.
Produced in a time before computerized design, numerically-controlled machine tools, and electronic control, they seem quaint anachronisms that have little practical value today. I mean, who really sews anymore? In fact, common thinking suggests that making stuff at home today is almost senseless when the material and sundries to fashion (say) a shirt will cost much more than the already finished item off the rack at Wal-Mart.
(Harley motorcycle riders perfectly deflect this kind of “non-productive” stigma this by saying: “The journey is the destination”.)
But don’t forget, the vintage sewing machine represents a period when engineers used slide rules, machinists crafted parts one at a time, and factories that made machines were centerpieces of American Ingenuity. There was no “man on the moon” then, TV wasn’t in widespread use (or even invented), and some areas of the country lacked electricity (and indoor plumbing) until deep into this period of American prosperity.
Yet these machines produced in “primitive” times can still perform like new, decades after their makers have died. They out-perform and out-last their contemporary counterparts, and given simple care will probably outlast more generations of users.
So why can’t we make this type of product in America today?
I guess part of it is because at some point we decided “everyone HAS to go to college if they want to get ahead”, while simultaneously looking down on people who actually made things with their hands.
Three generations along under this policy, we have loads of (dangerously-indebted) college graduates that can’t find jobs in their field (who have to make a panicked call to AAA if they get a flat tire.)
The “brightest” kids sought careers that DIDN’T involve manufacturing. Foreign students packed our universities in the “hard” curriculums, while our students studied “fluff degrees” and “explored their feelings” during protracted 7 year undergraduate quests.
Formerly proud working-class communities became ghost-towns that produced more drug-related crime (and prison inmates) than real opportunities for people who are unable to leap though the dream hoop of college.
It’s sad. Really, really sad.
As an ode to the past, I recently bought my daughter a Singer 401a in pristine condition.
Heather’s 1958 Singer 401a as advertised on Craigslist.
It proudly sings “America the Beautiful” (with the typical Slant-O-Matic whine) and purrs like a kitten wrapped in warm velvet.
You can place a drinking glass on the flatbed and “floor” the pedal, yet scarcely a ripple will form on the water surface due to the precision balance this machine has.
It will effortlessly punch through a wooden ruler, or back-stitch (into the exact same holes) over an eight inch run on thin tissue paper.
That’s what “American Made quality” used to mean!
At over 50 years old, it is still ten times the machine of what I see in the stores today, even in the pricey high-end European sewing machine dealers.
Yes, we have surely lost our way over time in this country, but breadcrumbs to the past like this humble sewing machine remind us of our real potential.