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1901 - Nearly $600,000. Amount Paid in Wages Annually By Southbridge Firms. Importance and Vastness of the Business of Optical Goods Manufactures.
George W. Wells, Head of the American Optical Company, Says the Proposed French Reciprocity Treaty Would be a Menace to the Industry.
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, in his much-talked-of reciprocity speech before the Middlesex club, recently, said that in the opinon of those interested in the manufacture of optical goods at Southbridge, the adoption of the new French reciprocity treaty would be a great danger to this industry.
Comparatively few people in Massachusetts know that in the town of Southbridge there is located the largest optical goods manufactury in the United States, if not the largest in the world.
Nearly 1500 hands are employed in this industry in Southbridge, producing over 3,000,000 pairs of specatacles and eyeglasses yearly and 3,500,000 spectacle and eyeglass lenses in the same period.
Nearly $600,000 in wages is paid annually.
About $700,000 worth of gold and silver is used every year in the manufacture of these goods, and something in excess of 110 tons of lens stock is used in the same time in producing the lenses for these spectacles and eyeglasses.
And one nee dnot stop at this point ot prove the importance and vastness of this industry.
Almost everybody who is obliged to wear eyeglasses or spectacles finds it necessary to have a case to carry them in. In this thriving Yankee town there were sold last year to the jobbers of the trade throughout the country nearly 1,000,000 of these leather cases for eyeglasses and spectacles. To be exact, 983,496 cases were sold during the year 1900 as the product of the town of Southbridge. These cases were made in 86 styles and 23 varieties, ranging from the cheap, old-fashioned spectacle case, just like grandma used to have, to the expensive soft, pliable sealskin one, carried by the man of wealth today.
Made in 547 Styles.
The 3,500,000 eyeglasses and spectacles sold last year were made up in 547 styles. Seven different metals were used in their manufacture, namely, gold, gold filled, silver, alumnico, roman alloy, german silver and steel. One hundred and eighteen styles of chains for eyeglasses were made in this town, besides lens wipers, eye shades and other paraphernalia, such as opticians trial sets, trial frame and trial rings, necessary for the conduct of a first-class optical store.
If Edward Atkinson, the statistician, were to deal with the figures of the American optical compay he would probably put them somtehing like this: Sold in the year 1900: 2,276,524 paris of spects and eyeglasses, or 7585 pairs per day, or 632 dozen per day, or 13 pairs per minute; 3,496,220 pairs of spectacle lenses, or 11,654 pairs per day, or 971 dozen per day, or 19 pairs per minute; 983,496 spectacle or eyeglass cases, or 3278 per day, or 273 dozen per day, or 5 per minute.
And this great Massachusetts industry was started only 40 years ago, when spectacle maker Robert Cole began manufacturing the old-fashioned, clumsy spectacles, such as the men of the last generation were wont to wear. Business prospered with him, so that in a year or so he had to emply a man or two himself, and when in 1869, the American optical company was formed there were 60 men on Mr Cole's payroll. The good people of the town, including Mr Cole himself, thought that the industry had reached its bounds.
But this was not so. Successful business men like Andrew Carnegie say that to be a success business men cannot remain at a standstill. They must go on expanding, progressing, reaching out for more everywhere and all the time, else somebody will overtake them, and, maybe, surpass them.
Once Worked at the Bench.
And so it was with Mr Cole and those associated with him. George W Wells, the present head of the American optical company, was one of Mr Cole's employes, and he has aided materially in building up the business to its present extensive proportions.
Whit justifiable pride he looks back at the time when he worke at the bench for $1 a day, and counted the number of help employed by Mr Cole on the fingers of his hands.
There are two other optical goods makers in town, Dupaul & Young and a recently organized concern, called the Central optical company. Compared with the output of the American company, however, their productions are small, but both report practical gains and increasing business. The two latter concerns were founded by old employes of the American company.
Pres Wells of the American optical compay was seen at his office by a Globe reporter yesterday,a nd asked for his view on the effects of the French reciprocity treaty on the Southbridge industry.
"They would be very serious," began Mr Wells. "We cannot afford to have that treat go through with its present provisions as it relates to optical goods.
"I was invited by Col Albert Clarke of the Home Market club to go to Washington and attend the reciprocity convention now sitting in that city, and represent the optical goods manufacturers, but family matters prevented me from doing so. Otherwise I would have been very happy to have gone.
"Let Well Enough Alone."
"We want to let well enough alone. This constant agitation of the tariff - for this is all this reciprocity amounts to - is a menace to all business. What the manufacturers of the country want is to be let alone. Give us a breathing spell. This talk disturbs business, so that manufacturers cannot plan ahead over two years. Every time congress meets somebody has a scheme to alter or mend the tariff.
"I have had the honor to represent our trade before the senate committee on finance, and before the ways and means committe for - well, I can't say just how long - but for a number of years I have been going to Washington every time our tariff has been up asking of justice for our business.
"And when I say our business I mean the trade throughout the country. We are practically a unit in the belief that this new French treaty would be a bad thing for the trade and the country.
"I take the ground that if the tariff is right at all, it is all right. If it is wrong, it is wrong clear through. That being so, why do public men keep nagging at the business interests all the time.
"I am not a lawyer, but it is my opinion that the executive branch of the government has not and cannot have anything to do with the tariff except to enforce it. It am one of those old-fashioned people who believe that the legislative branch of the government cannot delegate such matters to the administrative arm of the government.
"I stand with Blaine on the reciprocity question. I believe that Sec Blaine's idea of reciprocity was that we should have reciprocal trade relations with such countries as did not compete with us in manufactured goods. I do not beleive that intended in making reciprocity treaties we should include those good that compete with ours.
"I am in favor of exchanging goods with other nations that do not compete with ours, and I am not in favor of taxing articles that we do not manufacture in this country.
"It is impossible to get a tariff that will do justice to everybody, but I think that the present law is as near right as it is possible to get it. That being so, why change it?
"Look around youa nd see this monument to the protective policy which this government has pursued for a generation. We never would have been able to make the progress we have if we had not had protection.
"I'll tell you somtehing, which, perhaps, you don't know. Under the protective tariff prices in optical goods have steadily declined, and the public gets the benefit of that. During my connection with the trade the tendency of prices has been downward. We have never advanced prices.
"No. I'm wrong there. We were obliged to increase the price of our leather goods some time ago, because of the rise in the price of leather, but that is another branch of the trade. I repeat what I said before, that prices in optical goods have steadily declined under out protective tariff.
"Why is this so? Because the tariff has shut out the cheap goods of foreign manufacturers and permitted us to produce and put on the market a superior make.
"Take the lens department alone. When we began to manufacture lenses a dozen years ago prices began to fall and today they are from 25 to 33 1/ 2 percent lowere than they were when we had to import them.
Note Difference in Wages.
"Every time I have been before the ways and means committee I have told them if they would look out for the difference in wages here and abroad that was all that the manufacturers would ask."
"What is the difference of the wages paid in your industry here and the same industry abroad?" asked the Globe man.
"I cannot speak about them as they stand today, but I know that the last time I looked that matter up we paid fully twice as much for the same class of help as they did on the other side."
Mr Dupaul of the Dupaul, Young optical company does not take the same view of the French treaty as does Mr Wells.
"It might hurt in some ways," said he to the Globe representative, "but it would hel in another. We see no reason to bother about the treaty. If it is made, why we will have to adapt ourselves to the new conditions."
"Do you sell any goods abroad?" was asked.
"O, yes," replied Mr Dupaul. "We send good to South Africa for the Boers. We sell goods to the English and Germans also.
"We do not fear foreign competition, but, of course, if the manufacturers want us to oppose the treaty, why, we would have to accommodate them."
Pres. F. X. Tetreault of the Central optical company said: "We have not considered the matter of the French treaty. Being a new concern most of our time during the past 10 months since we have been organized has been spent in gettin gour plant into shape for manufacturing. I should hope, however, that we could sucessfully compete with any foreign manufacturer."
The Boston Globe
Thu, November 21, 1901
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