I’ve just added a new small Category that one of you suggested.
The new Category is… wait for it… Laundry which oddly enough relates to Krupp Steel as you’ll understand
Laundry sounds pretty underwhelming until you stop and think about it a little. Except for a few rare individuals most of us do laundry with an electric washing machine and likely an electric or gas dryer. Some folks still hang their freshly washed clothes on a clothes line to dry but even that is becoming the exception rather than the norm.
Even students who otherwise live in a sort of modern poverty while going to school still have access to laundromats where they can use modern washers and dryers while they read, study, listen to music or, more likely these days, send and receive texts.
I’ve mentioned the BBC series Victorian Farm and while it’s well worth watching for a number of reasons one episode sticks in my mind and that was the one where the female historian living the role of a Victorian farm wife had to do the laundry. It was a pretty massive, all day process that would leave even a large physically fit man exhausted much less a woman of 2/3 of his weight and with less upper body strength.
When you watch the process and understand just how labor intensive and time consuming it is you will develop an appreciation for electricity and washing machines that you did not have before. Believe me it is not a task for wimps and sluggards and the lazy need not apply. That’s why the term Laundry Day exists. In the 1800s until at least manually powered washing machines emerged doing laundry took the entire day and sometimes more.
Obviously some of these books will be less than useful in parts since even they assume an industrial infrastructure that would not exist early in a community rebuilding. A number of them are simply catalogs or a sort of “brochure” for manufacturers of washing machines. Unlike modern machines, which appear on the surface to be a featureless metal cube, the older machines, especially the manual ones, are easy to understand once you see them. One of the catalogs even shows diagrams of the parts that make up some of their machines. With those diagrams and pictures a half way competent mechanic or craftsman could duplicate the designs without a great deal of trouble. While none of them are comparable to a modern washer in capability they are a tremendous advance over doing laundry by hand. Even something as simple as a hand cranked wringer to squeeze excess water out of clothes before hanging them to dry can save an enormous amount of hard physical labor and time.
Some of the books are oriented towards commercial laundry services and that is actually useful information. In a community of more than a couple dozen families it makes sense to centralize something like laundry. It’s not much harder to wash 50 shirts and pants than it is to wash a dozen especially when the alternative could be a dozen families all spending an entire day doing laundry. If two people could do the communities laundry in a 10 hours day as opposed to a dozen people each doing their family’s laundry that’s 100 man hours of labor that could be put to other uses. The labor saving is tremendous for a small community.
Remember too that in early agricultural communities specialization is what led to the development of a manufacturing infrastructure and the advancement of technology which raises another important issue which few people think through to it’s logical conclusion… Self-Sufficiency.
While Self-Sufficiency is all well and good and in many ways an admirable endeavor in a modern age when we have become so detached from the natural world, our food sources and our understanding of the environment, it ultimately is not a desirable goal towards which to strive in the long run. While it can help you survive a collapse or disaster such as an EMP event in the long run it is more of an obstacle to rebuilding a society than it is a help.
After people survive a catastrophic event, a pandemic, a social or economic collapse, a Solar or man-made EMP they will have to start rebuilding their society. That can’t be done with each family or small group maintaining “self-sufficiency”. Rebuilding a society will be the product of Community and Specialization. If every family has to master blacksmithing to the point of being able to forge all of their own tools, collecting ore and smelting iron then producing steel all the while planting and harvesting crops and performing all of the other chores of running a farm… they are never going to get much beyond a subsistence level and will be nothing more than prey to the first stronger group that encounters them.
On the other hand as soon as there is enough surplus that one man can devote himself full time to being a blacksmith his skill will develop and pretty soon he will be the go-to guy for iron and steel implements as was the case in many towns not that long ago. Whichever blacksmith is best at this craft will attract more customers, bring in additional help, will grow wealthier and will in time.. train and employ more workers… expand his operation… relocate his smithy next to a river where he can build a waterwheel to power a trip hammer and later perhaps add a steam engine to replace the water wheel and so on and so on. That is how Krupp Steel grew from a small one room operation into one of the world’s largest and best steel manufacturers. It still is today and it started as a small operation trying to make and forge crucible steel in a single room in the Ruhr Valley of Germany.
So what do books on Laundry have to do with Krupp Steel? Everything in the world since each is part of the process of moving from pounding clothes on a rock by the stream to clean them to modern steel washing machines that do the same job in a fraction of the time and with not much more effort than throwing clothes in the opening and turning a dial.
Moving from a single person doing laundry by hand to a machine that saves some time to a better machine that frees up more time then beginning to do the laundry of other people in exchange for their surplus products and services freeing up more of their time to devote to what they are good at…
That is how you rebuild a technological and industrial infrastructure from scratch. One step, one clean shirt and one clean, ironed pair of pants at a time.