Cover image for The craft apprentice : from Franklin to the machine age in America
The craft apprentice : from Franklin to the machine age in America
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1986
Physical Description:
xii, 270 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index


Call Number
Material Type
331.550973 Rorab 4-Week Loan

On Order



The apprentice system in colonial America began as a way for young men to learn valuable trade skills from experienced artisans and mechanics, and soon flourished into a fascinating and essential social institution. Benjamin Franklin got his start in life as an apprentice, as did Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, William Dean Howells, William Lloyd Garrison, and many other famous Americans. But the Industrial Revolution brought with it radical changes in the lives of craft apprentices. In this book, W.J. Rorabaugh has woven an intriguing collection of case histories, gleaned from numerous letters, diaries, and memoirs, into a narrative that examines the varied experiences of individual apprentices and the massive changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Rorabaugh traces the evolution of apprenticeship from its colonial roots, to the part it played in the settlement of the West, through to its decline in the 19th century, when money and machines transformed age-old crafts, and relations between master and apprentice began to crumble. No craft was transformed more than printing, and this original study shows how the Civil War destroyed lingering tradition and left in its wake a powerful economy dominated by machines, nostalgic memories of handicrafts, and idle, alienated youths.

Author Notes

W.J. Rorabaugh is Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The author of this well-researched study of the nature of apprenticeship in America in the years 1720-1865 is also the author of a previous book on alcoholism in American history. Using hundreds of autobiographies, diaries, and letters, Rorabaugh (University of Washington) pieces together the broad outlines of the apprentice's experience and the impact of the American Revolution, the ideology of equality, technological changes, and the Civil War on the relations between masters and apprentices. These relations were breaking down even before the revolution because of labor scarcity and the ease with which a runaway apprentice could move from colony to colony without punishment. From the descriptions the author selects, there is little to lament in the passing of the apprentice system. Apprentices were regularly ill-fed, cheated, and abused. The problem with this book, which should be read by all students interested in the history of labor and education, is that it tries to cover too many crafts and too many years, and fails to place the excerpts from the sources in a context that would allow the reader to judge their reliability. An introduction or an appendix on the uses of personal accounts would have improved the study. Upper-division undergraduates and above.-B. Mergen, The George Washington University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Prologue: Benjamin Franklin's Legacyp. 3
Chapter 1 Chaosp. 16
Chapter 2 The Master's Authorityp. 32
Chapter 3 A Cash Wagep. 57
Chapter 4 The Crisis in Printingp. 76
Chapter 5 Personal Relationsp. 97
Chapter 6 The Limits of Reformp. 113
Chapter 7 The Machine Agep. 131
Chapter 8 A Way Out?p. 157
Chapter 9 Lingering Traditionsp. 176
Epilogue: Civil Warp. 198
Statistical Appendixp. 211
Notesp. 213
Indexp. 255