When Disraeli's hero, Coningsby, visited Manchester, part of his education consisted in learning for the first time about machines, those mysterious forms full of existence without life, that perform with facility, and in an instant, what man can fulfil only with difficulty and in days.
After visiting the spinning mills and. the weaving sheds, he turned to the making of machines themselves. The mystery of mysteries is to view machines making machines; a spectacle that fills the mind, with curious, and. even awful speculation".(1) A hundred years later most of the mystery appears to have gone, and. economists talk learnedly about the relationship between the demand for machines and the demand for finished goods, while technologists continue to mechanise processes, which were previously dependent upon human labour. Yet even to an observer brought up in the atmosphere of a machine age, there is still an element of mystery of mysteries about some of the giant machines in workshops such as those of Mather & Platt Ltd.
Machines constructed by the Company fall into certain definite categories, corresponding to the several trading departments of the modern business. The General Machinery Department is primarily concerned with the design, manufacture and installation of textile finishing machinery but, in addition, is responsible for the production of certain special plant for the chemical and other industries; the Pump Department concentrates in the supply of a wide range of centrifugal pumps applicable to the great majority of modern pumping duties; the main interest of the Electrical Department is the production of the larger sizes of A.C. and D.C. motors and generators: the products of the Fire Engineering Division are manifold, covering specialities for extinguishing and restricting the spread of fire: and. the Food. Machinery Department provides complete lines of machinery for the canning of vegetables, fruit, fish, meat and milk. Certain common features emerge in the story of each of the departments the scientific background of new invention, the technical basis of design, the change from hand made to more mechanised methods of production, and finally the relationship between technical progress and business initiative. But before these general problems can be discussed, it is essential to trace the main lines of development separately. The relative economic importance of the different products has shifted in different periods of the history of the firm, just as have the opportunities of technical progress.