Of The Division Of Labour

The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labour, and the

greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment, with which it is

anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the

division of labour. The effects of the division of labour, in the

general business of society, will be more easily understood, by

considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures.

It is commonl
supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling

ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in

others of more importance: but in those trifling manufactures which are

destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the

whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in

every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same

workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.

In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to

supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different

branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen, that it is

impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom

see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though

in such manufactures, therefore, the work may really be divided into a

much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature,

the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less


To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one

in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the

trade of a pin-maker: a workman not educated to this business (which the

division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with

the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the

same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce,

perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly

could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now

carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is

divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are

likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire; another straights

it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top

for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct

operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is

another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and

the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into

about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are

all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will

sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory

of this kind, where ten men only were employed, and where some of them

consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they

were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the

necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make

among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound

upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons,

therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins

in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight

thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred

pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently,

and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business,

they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not

one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth,

perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth, part of what they are at

present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and

combination of their different operations.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of

labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one, though,

in many of them, the labour can neither be so much subdivided, nor

reduced to so great a simplicity of operation. The division of labour,

however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art,

a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. The

separation of different trades and employments from one another, seems

to have taken place in consequence of this advantage. This separation,

too, is generally carried furthest in those countries which enjoy the

highest degree of industry and improvement; what is the work of one

man, in a rude state of society, being generally that of several in an

improved one. In every improved society, the farmer is generally nothing

but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but a manufacturer. The labour,

too, which is necessary to produce any one complete manufacture, is

almost always divided among a great number of hands. How many

different trades are employed in each branch of the linen and woollen

manufactures, from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the

bleachers and smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of

the cloth! The nature of agriculture, indeed, does not admit of so many

subdivisions of labour, nor of so complete a separation of one business

from another, as manufactures. It is impossible to separate so entirely

the business of the grazier from that of the corn-farmer, as the trade

of the carpenter is commonly separated from that of the smith. The

spinner is almost always a distinct person from the weaver; but the

ploughman, the harrower, the sower of the seed, and the reaper of the

corn, are often the same. The occasions for those different sorts

of labour returning with the different seasons of the year, it is

impossible that one man should be constantly employed in any one of

them. This impossibility of making so complete and entire a separation

of all the different branches of labour employed in agriculture, is

perhaps the reason why the improvement of the productive powers of

labour, in this art, does not always keep pace with their improvement

in manufactures. The most opulent nations, indeed, generally excel all

their neighbours in agriculture as well as in manufactures; but they are

commonly more distinguished by their superiority in the latter than in

the former. Their lands are in general better cultivated, and having

more labour and expense bestowed upon them, produce more in proportion

to the extent and natural fertility of the ground. But this superiority

of produce is seldom much more than in proportion to the superiority of

labour and expense. In agriculture, the labour of the rich country is

not always much more productive than that of the poor; or, at least, it

is never so much more productive, as it commonly is in manufactures. The

corn of the rich country, therefore, will not always, in the same degree

of goodness, come cheaper to market than that of the poor. The corn of

Poland, in the same degree of goodness, is as cheap as that of France,

notwithstanding the superior opulence and improvement of the latter

country. The corn of France is, in the corn-provinces, fully as good,

and in most years nearly about the same price with the corn of England,

though, in opulence and improvement, France is perhaps inferior to

England. The corn-lands of England, however, are better cultivated than

those of France, and the corn-lands of France are said to be much

better cultivated than those of Poland. But though the poor country,

notwithstanding the inferiority of its cultivation, can, in some

measure, rival the rich in the cheapness and goodness of its corn, it

can pretend to no such competition in its manufactures, at least if

those manufactures suit the soil, climate, and situation, of the rich

country. The silks of France are better and cheaper than those of

England, because the silk manufacture, at least under the present high

duties upon the importation of raw silk, does not so well suit the

climate of England as that of France. But the hardware and the coarse

woollens of England are beyond all comparison superior to those of

France, and much cheaper, too, in the same degree of goodness. In Poland

there are said to be scarce any manufactures of any kind, a few of those

coarser household manufactures excepted, without which no country can

well subsist.

This great increase in the quantity of work, which, in consequence

of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable of

performing, is owing to three different circumstances; first, to the

increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the

saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species

of work to another; and, lastly, to the invention of a great number of

machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do

the work of many.

First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workmen, necessarily

increases the quantity of the work he can perform; and the division of

labour, by reducing every man's business to some one simple operation,

and by making this operation the sole employment of his life,

necessarily increases very much the dexterity of the workman. A common

smith, who, though accustomed to handle the hammer, has never been

used to make nails, if, upon some particular occasion, he is obliged

to attempt it, will scarce, I am assured, be able to make above two or

three hundred nails in a day, and those, too, very bad ones. A smith who

has been accustomed to make nails, but whose sole or principal business

has not been that of a nailer, can seldom, with his utmost diligence,

make more than eight hundred or a thousand nails in a day. I have seen

several boys, under twenty years of age, who had never exercised

any other trade but that of making nails, and who, when they exerted

themselves, could make, each of them, upwards of two thousand three

hundred nails in a day. The making of a nail, however, is by no means

one of the simplest operations. The same person blows the bellows, stirs

or mends the fire as there is occasion, heats the iron, and forges every

part of the nail: in forging the head, too, he is obliged to change his

tools. The different operations into which the making of a pin, or of a

metal button, is subdivided, are all of them much more simple, and the

dexterity of the person, of whose life it has been the sole business to

perform them, is usually much greater. The rapidity with which some of

the operations of those manufactures are performed, exceeds what the

human hand could, by those who had never seen them, be supposed capable

of acquiring.

Secondly, The advantage which is gained by saving the time commonly lost

in passing from one sort of work to another, is much greater than we

should at first view be apt to imagine it. It is impossible to pass

very quickly from one kind of work to another, that is carried on in a

different place, and with quite different tools. A country weaver, who

cultivates a small farm, must loose a good deal of time in passing from

his loom to the field, and from the field to his loom. When the two

trades can be carried on in the same workhouse, the loss of time is, no

doubt, much less. It is, even in this case, however, very considerable.

A man commonly saunters a little in turning his hand from one sort of

employment to another. When he first begins the new work, he is seldom

very keen and hearty; his mind, as they say, does not go to it, and for

some time he rather trifles than applies to good purpose. The habit of

sauntering, and of indolent careless application, which is naturally, or

rather necessarily, acquired by every country workman who is obliged to

change his work and his tools every half hour, and to apply his hand in

twenty different ways almost every day of his life, renders him almost

always slothful and lazy, and incapable of any vigorous application,

even on the most pressing occasions. Independent, therefore, of his

deficiency in point of dexterity, this cause alone must always reduce

considerably the quantity of work which he is capable of performing.

Thirdly, and lastly, everybody must be sensible how much labour is

facilitated and abridged by the application of proper machinery. It is

unnecessary to give any example. I shall only observe, therefore,

that the invention of all those machines by which labour is so much

facilitated and abridged, seems to have been originally owing to the

division of labour. Men are much more likely to discover easier and

readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of

their minds is directed towards that single object, than when it is

dissipated among a great variety of things. But, in consequence of the

division of labour, the whole of every man's attention comes naturally

to be directed towards some one very simple object. It is naturally to

be expected, therefore, that some one or other of those who are employed

in each particular branch of labour should soon find out easier and

readier methods of performing their own particular work, whenever the

nature of it admits of such improvement. A great part of the machines

made use of in those manufactures in which labour is most subdivided,

were originally the invention of common workmen, who, being each of them

employed in some very simple operation, naturally turned their thoughts

towards finding out easier and readier methods of performing it. Whoever

has been much accustomed to visit such manufactures, must frequently

have been shewn very pretty machines, which were the inventions of such

workmen, in order to facilitate and quicken their own particular part

of the work. In the first fire engines {this was the current designation

for steam engines}, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut

alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder,

according as the piston either ascended or descended. One of those boys,

who loved to play with his companions, observed that, by tying a string

from the handle of the valve which opened this communication to

another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without

his assistance, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his

play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made

upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the

discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour.

All the improvements in machinery, however, have by no means been

the inventions of those who had occasion to use the machines. Many

improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the

machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade;

and some by that of those who are called philosophers, or men of

speculation, whose trade it is not to do any thing, but to observe

every thing, and who, upon that account, are often capable of combining

together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects in the

progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other

employment, the principal or sole trade and occupation of a particular

class of citizens. Like every other employment, too, it is subdivided

into a great number of different branches, each of which affords

occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this

subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other

business, improve dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes

more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the

whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.

It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different

arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a

well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to

the lowest ranks of the people. Every workman has a great quantity of

his own work to dispose of beyond what he himself has occasion for; and

every other workman being exactly in the same situation, he is enabled

to exchange a great quantity of his own goods for a great quantity

or, what comes to the same thing, for the price of a great quantity of

theirs. He supplies them abundantly with what they have occasion for,

and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a

general plenty diffuses itself through all the different ranks of the


Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or daylabourer in

a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number

of people, of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been

employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.

The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse

and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a

great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the

wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver,

the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different

arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many

merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting

the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a

very distant part of the country? How much commerce and navigation in

particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers,

must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs

made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners

of the world? What a variety of labour, too, is necessary in order to

produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of

such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the

fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what

a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple

machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner,

the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of

the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the

smelting-house, the brickmaker, the bricklayer, the workmen who attend

the furnace, the millwright, the forger, the smith, must all of them

join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine,

in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household

furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the

shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the

different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares

his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from

the bowels of the earth, and brought to him, perhaps, by a long sea and

a long land-carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the

furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter

plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different

hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window

which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the

rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that

beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the

world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together

with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those

different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and

consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we

shall be sensible that, without the assistance and co-operation of many

thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be

provided, even according to, what we very falsely imagine, the easy and

simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated. Compared, indeed,

with the more extravagant luxury of the great, his accommodation must no

doubt appear extremely simple and easy; and yet it may be true, perhaps,

that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much

exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation

of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute masters

of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.