Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1

Author: Benjamin Thompson

Chapter. VI.

Apology for the want of method in treating the subject under
Of the various means used for encouraging industry among the poor.
Of the internal arrangement and government of the house of industry.
Why called the military work-house.
Of the manner in which the business is carried on there.
Of the various means used for preventing frauds in carrying on the
business in the different manufactures.
Of the flourishing state of those manufactures.

Though all the different parts of a well arranged establishment go on together, and harmonize, like the parts of a piece of music in full score, yet, in describing such an establishment, it is impossible to write like the musician, in score, and to make all the parts of the narrative advance together. Various movements, which exist together, and which have the most intimate connection and dependence upon each other, must nevertheless be described separately; and the greatest care and attention, and frequently no small share of address, are necessary in the management of such descriptions, to render the details intelligible; and to give the whole its full effect of order;—dependence;— connection;—and harmony. And in no case can these difficulties be greater, than in descriptions like those in which I am now engaged; where the number of the objects, and of the details, is so great, that it is difficult to determine which should be attended to first; and how far it may safely be pursued, without danger of the others being too far removed from their proper places;—or excluded;— or forgotten.

The various measures adopted, and precautions taken, in arresting the beggars,—in collecting and distributing alms,—in establishing order and police among them,—in feeding and clothing the poor,— and in establishing various manufactures for giving them employment, are all subjects which deserve, and require, the most particular explanation; yet those are not only operations which were begun at the same time; and carried on together; but they are so dependent upon each other, that it is almost impossible to have a complete idea of the one, without being acquainted with the others; or of treating of the one, without mentioning the others at the same time.—This, therefore, must be my excuse, if I am taxed with want of method, or of perspicuity in the descriptions; and this being premised, I shall proceed to give an account of the various objects and operations which yet remain to be described.

I have already observed how necessary it was to encourage, by every possible means, a spirit of industry and emulation among those, who, from leading a life of indolence and debauchery, were to be made useful members of society; and I have mentioned some of the measures which were adopted for that purpose. It remains for me to pursue this interesting subject, and to treat it, in all its details, with that care and attention which its importance so justly demands.

Though a very generous price was paid for labour, in the different manufactures in which the poor were employed, yet, that alone was not enough to interest them sufficiently in the occupations in which they were engaged. To excite their activity, and inspire them with a true spirit of persevering industry, it was necessary to fire them with emulation;—to awaken in them a dormant passion, whose influence they had never felt;—the love of honest fame;— and ardent desire to excel;—the love of glory;—or by what other more humble or pompous name this passion, the most noble, and most beneficent that warms the human heart, can be distinguished.

To excite emulation;—praise;—distinctions;—rewards are necessary; and these were all employed. Those who distinguished themselves by their application,—by their industry,—by their address,—were publicly praised and encouraged;—brought forward, and placed in the most conspicuous situations;—pointed out to strangers who visited the establishment; and particularly named and proposed as models for others to copy. A particular dress, a sort of uniform for the establishment, which, though very economical, as may be seen by the details which will be given of it in another place, was nevertheless elegant, was provided; and this dress, as it was given out gratis, and only bestowed upon those who particularly distinguished themselves, was soon looked upon as an honourable mark of approved merit; and served very powerfully to excite emulation among the competitors, I doubt whether vanity, in any instance, ever surveyed itself with more self-gratification, than did some of these poor people when they first put on their new dress.

How necessary is it to be acquainted with the secret springs of action in the human heart, to direct even the lowest and most unfeeling class of mankind!—The machine is intrinsically the same in all situations;—the great secret is, FIRST TO PUT IT IN TUNE, before an attempt is made to play upon it. The jarring sounds of former vibrations must first be stilled, otherwise no harmony can be produced; but when the instrument is in order, the notes CANNOT FAIL to answer to the touch of a skilful master.

Though every thing was done that could be devised to impress the minds of all those, old and young, who frequented this establishment, with such sentiments as were necessary in order to their becoming good and useful members of society; (and in these attempts I was certainly successful, much beyond my most sanguine expectations;) yet my hopes were chiefly placed on the rising generation.

The children, therefore, of the poor, were objects of my peculiar care and attention. To induce their parents to send them to the establishment, even before they were old enough to do any kind of work, when they attended at the regular hours, they not only received their dinner gratis, but each of them was paid THREE CREUTZERS a day for doing nothing, but merely being present where others worked.

I have already mentioned that these children, who were too young to work, were placed upon seats built round the halls where other children worked. This was done in order to inspire them with a desire to do that, which other children, apparently more favoured, —more caressed,—and more praised than themselves, were permitted to do; and of which they were obliged to be idle spectators; and this had the desired effect.

As nothing is so tedious to a child as being obliged to sit still in the same place for a considerable time, and as the work which the other more favoured children were engaged in, was light and easy, and appeared rather amusing than otherwise, being the spinning of hemp and flax, with small light wheels, turned with the foot, these children, who were obliged to be spectators of this busy and entertaining scene, became so uneasy in their situations, and so jealous of those who were permitted to be more active, that they frequently solicited with the greatest importunity to be permitted to work, and often cried most heartily if this favour was not instantly granted them.

How sweet these tears were to me, can easily be imagined!

The joy they showed upon being permitted to descend from their benches, and mix with the working children below, was equal to the solicitude with which they had demanded that favour.

They were at first merely furnished with a wheel, which they turned for several days with the foot, without being permitted to attempt any thing further. As soon as they were become dexterous in the simple operation, and habit had made it so easy and familiar to them that the foot could continue its motion mechanically, without the assistance of the head;—till they could go on with their work, even though their attention was employed upon something else;—till they could answer questions, and converse freely with those about them upon indifferent subjects, without interrupting or embarrassing the regular motion of the wheel, then,—and not till then,—they were furnished with hemp or flax, and were taught to spin.

When they had arrived at a certain degree of dexterity in spinning hemp and flax, they were put to spinning of wool; and this was always represented to them, and considered by them, as an honorable promotion. Upon this occasion they commonly received some public reward, a new shirt,—a pair of shoes,— or perhaps the uniform of the establishment, as an encouragement to them to persevere in their industrious habits.

As constant application to any occupation for too great a length of time is apt to produce disgust, and in children might even be detrimental to health, beside the hour of dinner, an hour of relaxation from work, (from eight o’clock till nine,) in the forenoon, and another hour, (from three o’clock till four,) in the afternoon, were allowed them, and these two hours were spent in a school; which, for want of room elsewhere in the house, was kept in the dining-hall, where they were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, by a school-master engaged and paid for that purpose[11]. Into this school other persons who worked in the house, of a more advanced age, were admitted, if they requested it; but few grown persons seemed desirous of availing themselves of this permission. As to the children, they had no choice in the matter; those who belonged to the establishment were obliged to attend the school regularly every day, morning and evening. The school books, paper, pens, and ink, were furnished at the expence of the establishment.

To distinguish those among the grown persons that worked in the house, who showed the greatest dexterity and industry in the different manufactures in which they were employed, the best workman were separated from the others, and formed distinct classes, and were even assigned separate rooms and apartments. This separation was productive of many advantages; for, beside the spirit of emulation which it excited, and kept alive, in every part of the establishment, if afforded an opportunity of carrying on the different manufactures in a very advantageous manner. The most dexterous among the wool-spinners, for instance, were naturally employed upon the finest wool, such as was used in the fabrication of the finest and most valuable goods; and it was very necessary that these spinners should be separated from the others, who worked upon coarser materials; otherwise, in the manipulations of the wool, as particles of it are unavoidably dispersed about in all directions when it is spun, the coarser particles thus mixing with the fine would greatly injure the manufacture. It was likewise necessary, for a similar reason, to separate the spinners who were employed in spinning wool of different colours. But as these, and many other like precautions are well known to all manufacturers, it is not necessary that I should insist upon them any farther in this place; nor indeed is it necessary that I should enter into all the details of any of the manufactures carried on in the establishment I am describing. It will be quite sufficient, if I merely enumerate them, and others, who were employed in carrying them on.

In treating this subject it will however be necessary to go back a little, and give a more particular account of the internal governments of this establishment; and first of all I must observe, that the government of the Military Work-house, as it is called, is quite distinct from the government of the institution for the poor; the Work-house being merely a manufactory, like any other manufactory, supported upon its own private capital; which capital has no connection whatever with any fund destined for the poor. It is under the sole direction of its own particular governors and overseers, and is carried on at the sole risk of the owner. The institution for the poor, on the other hand, is merely an institution of charity, joined to a general direction of the police, as far as it relates to paupers. The committee, or deputation, as it is called, which is at the head of this institution, has the sole direction of all funds destined for the relief of the poor in Munich, and the distribution of alms. This deputation has likewise the direction of the kitchen, and bake-house, which are established in the Military Work-house; and of the details relative to the feeding of the poor; for it is from the funds destined for the relief of the poor that these expences are defrayed: the deputation is also in connection with the Military Work-house relative to the clothing of the poor, and the distribution of rewards to those of them who particularly distinguished themselves by their good behaviour and their industry, but this is merely a mercantile correspondence. The deputation has no right to interfere in any way whatever in the internal management of this establishment, considered as a manufactory. In this respect it is to all intents and purposes a perfectly distinct and independent establishment. But notwithstanding this, the two establishments are so dependent on each other in many respects, that neither of them could well subsist alone.

The Military Work-house being principally designed as a manufactory for clothing the army, its capital, which at first consisted in about 150,000 florins, but which has since increased to above 250,000 florins, was advanced by the military chest, and hence it is, that it was called the Military Work-house, and put under the direction of the council of war.

For the internal management of the establishment, a special commission was named, consisting of, one counsellor of war, of the department of military economy, or of the clothing of the army,—one captain, which last is inspector of the house, and has apartments in it, where he lodges; —and the store-keeper of the magazine of military clothing.

These commissioners, who have the magazine of military clothing at the same time under their direction, have, under my immediate superintendence, the sole government and direction of this establishment;—of all the inferior officers;—servants;— manufacturers;—and workmen, belonging to it; and of all mercantile operations;—contracts;— purchases;—sales;, etc. And it is with these commissioners that the regiments correspond, in order to be furnished with clothing, and other necessaries; and into their hands they pay the amount of the different articles received.

The cash belonging to this establishment is placed in a chest furnished with three separate locks, of one of which each of the commissioners are jointly, and severally, answerable for the contents of the chest.

These commissioners hold their sessions regularly twice a week, or oftener if circumstances require it, in a room in the Military Work-house destined for that purpose, where the correspondence, and all accounts and documents belonging to the establishment, and other records, are kept; and where the secretary of the commission constantly attends.

When very large contracts are made for the purchase of raw materials, particularly when they are made with foreigners, the conditions are first submitted by the commissioners to the council of war for their approbation; but in all concerns of less moment, and particularly in all the current business of the establishment;—in the ordinary purchases,—sales,—and other mercantile transactions; the commissioners act by their own immediate authority: but all the transactions of the commissioners BEING ENTERED REGULARLY IN THEIR JOURNALS, and the most particular account of all sales, and purchases, and other receipts and expenditures being kept; and inventories being taken every year, of all raw materials;—manufactures upon hand;—and other effects, belonging to the establishment; and an annual account of profit and loss, regularly made out; all peculation, and other abuses, are most effectually prevented.

The steward, or store-keeper of raw materials, as he is called, has the care of all raw materials, and of all finished manufactures destined for private sale. The former are kept in magazines, or store-rooms, of which he alone has the keys,— the latter are kept in rooms set apart as a store,—or shop,— where they are exposed for public inspection, and sale. To prevent abuses in the sales of these manufactures, their prices, which are determined upon a calculation of what they cost, and a certain per cent. added for the profits of the house, are marked upon the goods, and are never altered; and a regular account is kept of all, even of the most inconsiderable articles sold, in which not only the commodity, with its quality, quantity, an price, is specified; but the name of the purchaser, and the day of the month when the purchase was made, are mentioned.

All articles of clothing destined for the army which are made up in the house; as well as all goods in the piece, destined for military clothing, are lodged in the Military Magazine; which is situated at some distance from the Military Work-house; and is under the care and inspection of the Military store-keeper.

From this Military Magazine, which may be considered as an appendix to the Military Work-house, and is in fact under the same direction, the regiments are supplied with every article of their clothing. But in order that the army accounts may be more simple, and more easily checked, and that the total annual expence of each regiment may be more readily ascertained, the regiments pay, at certain fixed prices, for all the articles they receive from the Military Magazine, and charge such expenditures in the annual account which they send in to the War Office.

The order observed with regard to the delivery of the raw materials by the store-keeper or steward of the Military Work-house to those employed in manufacturing them, is as follows:

In the manufactures of wool, for instance, he delivers to the master-clothier a certain quantity, commonly 100 pounds, of wool, of a certain quality and description; taken from a certain division, or bin, in the Magazine; bearing a certain number; in order to its being sorted. And as a register is kept of the wool that is put into these bins from time to time, and as the lots of wool are always kept separate, it is perfectly easy at any time to determine when,—and where,—and from whom, the wool delivered to the sorted was purchased; and what was paid for it; and consequently, to trace the wool from the stock where it was grown, to the cloth into which it was formed; and even to the person who wore it. And similar arrangements are adopted with regard to all other raw materials used in the various manufactures.

The advantages arising from this arrangement are too obvious to require being particularly mentioned. It not only prevents numberless abuses on the part of those employed in the various manufactures, but affords a ready method of detecting any frauds on the part of those from whom the raw materials are purchased.

The wool received by the master-clothier is by him delivered to the wool-sorters to be sorted. To prevent frauds on the part of the wool-sorters, not only all the wool-sorters work in the same room, under the immediate inspection of the master wool-sorter, but a certain quantity of each lot of wool being sorted in the presence of some one of the public officers belonging to the house, it is seen by the experiment how much per cent. is lost by separation of dirt and filth in sorting; and the quantity of sorted wool of the different qualities, which the sorter is obliged to deliver for each HUNDRED POUNDS weight of wool received from the magazine, is from hence determined.

The great secret of the woollen manufactory is in the sorting of the wool, and if this is not particularly attended to; that is to say, if the different kinds of wool of various qualities which each fleece naturally contains, are not carefully separated; and if each kind of wool is not employed for that purpose, and FOR THAT ALONE, for which it is best calculated, no woollen manufactory can possibly subsist with advantages.

Each fleece is commonly separated into five or six different parcels of wool, of different qualities, by the sorters in the Military Work-house; and of these parcels, some are employed for warp;— others for wool;—others for combing;—and that which is very coarse and indifferent, for coarse mittens for the peasants;—for the lists of broad cloths, etc.

The wool, when sorted, is delivered back by the master-clothier to the steward, who now places it in the sorted-wool magazines, where it is kept in separate bins, according to its different qualities and destinations, till it is delivered out to be manufactured. As these bins are all numbered, and as the quality and destination of the wool which is lodged in each bin is always the same, it is sufficient in describing the wool afterwards as it passes through the hands of the different manufacturers, merely to mention ITS NUMBER; that is to say, the number of the bin the sorted-wool magazine from whence it was taken.

As a more particular account of these various manipulations, and the means used to prevent frauds, may not only be interesting to all who are curious in these matters, but may also be of real use to such as may engage in similar undertakings, I shall take the liberty to enlarge a little upon this subject.

From the magazine of sorted wool, the master-clothier receives this sorted wool again, in order to its being wolfed,—greased, —carded;—and spun, under his inspection, and then delivered into the store-room of woollen yarn. As woollen yarn he receives it again, and delivers it to the cloth-weaver. —The cloth-weaver returns it in cloth to the steward.—The steward delivers it to the fuller;—the fuller to the cloth-shearer;—the cloth-shearer to the cloth-presser;—and the cloth-presser to the steward;— and by this last it is delivered into the Military Magazine, if destined for the army; if not, it is placed in the shop for sale. The master-clothier is answerable for all the sorted wool he receives, till he delivers it to the clerk of the wool-spinners; and all his accounts are settled with the steward once a week.— The clerk of the spinners is answerable for the carded and combed wool he receives from the master-clothier, till it is delivered in yarn in the store-room; and his accounts are likewise settled with the master-clothier, and with the clerk of the store-room, (who is called the clerk of the control,) once a week. The spinners wages are paid by the clerk of the control, upon the spin-ticket, signed by the clerk of the spinners; in which ticket, the quantity, and quality of the yarn spun being specified, together with the name of the spinner, the weekly delivery of yarn by the clerk of the spinners into the store-room, must answer to the spin-tickets received and paid by the clerk of the control. More effectually to prevent frauds, each delivery of yarn to the clerk of the spinners is bound up in a separate bundle, to which is attached an abstract of the spin-ticket, in which abstract is specified, the name of the spinner;—the date of the delivery;—the number of the spin-ticket;—and the quantity and quality of the yarn. This arrangement not only facilitates the settlement of the weekly account between the clerk of the spinners and the clerk of the control, when the former makes his weekly delivery of yarn into the store-room, but renders it easy also to detect any frauds committed by the spinners.

The wages of the spinners are regulated by the fineness of the yarn; that is, by the number of skains, or rather knots, which they spin from the pound of wool. Each knot is composed of 100 threads, and each thread, or turn of the reel, is two Bavarian yards in length; and to prevent frauds in reeling, clock-reels, proved and sealed, are furnished by the establishment to all the spinners. It is possible, however, notwithstanding this precaution, for the spinners to commit frauds, by binding up knots containing a smaller number of threads than 100.—It is true they have little temptation to do so, for as their wages are in fact paid by the WEIGHT of the yarn delivered, and the number of knots serving merely to determine the price BY THE POUND which they have a right to receive, and advantages they can derive from frauds committed in reeling are very trifling indeed. But trifling as they are, such frauds would no doubt sometimes be committed, were it not known that it is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE for them to escape detection.

Not only the clerk of the spinners examines the yarn when he receives it, and counts the threads in any of the knots which appear to be too small, but the name of the spinner, with a note of the quantity of knots, accompanies the yarn into the store-room, as was before observed, and from thence to the spooler, by whom it is wound off; any frauds committed in reeling cannot fail to be brought home to the spinner.

The bundles of carded wool delivered to the spinners, though they are called pounds, are not exact pounds. They contain each as much more than a pound, as is necessary, allowing for wastage in spinning, in order that the yarn when spun may weigh a pound. If the yarn is found to be wanting in weight, a proportional deduction is made from the wages of the spinner; which deduction, to prevent frauds, amounts to a trifle more than the value of the yarn which is wanting.

Frauds in weaving are prevented by delivering the yarn to the weavers by weight, and receiving the cloth by weight from the loom. In the other operations of the manufactures, such as fulling, shearing, pressing, etc. no frauds are to be apprehended.

Similar precautions are taken to prevent frauds in the linen;— cotton;—and other manufactures carried on in the house; and so effectual are the means adopted, that during more than five years since the establishment was instituted, no one fraud of the least consequence has been discovered; the evident impossibility of escaping detection in those practices, having prevented the attempt.

Through the above-mentioned details may be sufficient to give some idea of the general order which reigns in every part of this extensive establishment; yet, as success in an undertaking of this kind depends essentially on carrying on the business in all its various branches in the most methodical manner, and rendering one operation a check upon the other, as well as in making the persons employed absolutely responsible for all frauds and neglects committed in their various departments, I shall either add in the Appendix, or publish separately, a full account of the internal details of the various trades and manufactures carried on in the Military Work-house, and copies of all the different tickets,—returns,—tables,—accounts, etc. made use of in carrying on the business of this establishment.

Though these accounts will render this work more voluminous than I could have wished, yet, as such details can hardly fail to be very useful to those, who, either upon a larger, or smaller scale, may engage in similar undertakings, I have determined to publish them.

To show that the regulations observed in carrying on the various trades and manufactures in the Military Work-house are good, it will, I flatter myself, be quite sufficient to refer to the flourishing state of the establishment;—to its growing reputation;—to its extensive connections, which reach even to foreign countries;—to the punctuality with which all its engagements are fulfilled;— to its unimpeached credit;—and to its growing wealth.

Notwithstanding all the disadvantages under which it laboured in its infant state, the net profits arising from it during the six years it has existed, amount to above 100,000 florins; after the expences of every kind,—salaries,—wages,—repairs, etc. have been deducted; in consequence of the augmentation of the amount of the orders received and executed the last year, did not fall much short of HALF A MILLION of florins.

It may be proper to observe, that, not the whole army of the Elector, but only the fifteen Bavarian regiments, are furnished with clothing from the Military Work-house at Munich. The troops of the Palatinate, and those of the Duchies of Juliers and Bergen, receive their clothing from a similar establishment at Manheim.

The Military Work-house at Manheim was indeed erected several months before that at Munich; but as it is not immediately connected with any institution for the poor,—as the poor are not fed in it,—and as it was my first attempt, or coup d’essai,— it is, in many respects, inferior in its internal arrangements to that at Munich. I have therefore chosen this last for the subject of my descriptions; and would propose it as a model for imitation, in preference to the other.

As both these establishments owe their existence to myself, and as they both remain under my immediate superintendence, it may very naturally be asked, why that at Manheim has not been put upon the same footing with that at Munich?—My answer to this question would be, that a variety of circumstances, too foreign to my present subject to be explained here, prevented the establishment of the Military Work-house at Manheim being carried to that perfection which I could have wished[12].

But it is time that I should return to the poor of Munich; for whose comfort and happiness I laboured with so much pleasure, and whose history will ever remain by far the most interesting part of this publication.


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Chicago: Benjamin Thompson, "Chapter. VI.," Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1 Original Sources, accessed February 27, 2024,

MLA: Thompson, Benjamin. "Chapter. VI." Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1, Original Sources. 27 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Thompson, B, 'Chapter. VI.' in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1. Original Sources, retrieved 27 February 2024, from