Plzeňské sympozia

Jan Hozák

Factory Work in the light of Period eyewitness Accounts from the So-called klepl Collection of Memories and Manuscripts

pp. 82–87 (Czech), Summary p. 88 (English)

This essay offers eyewitness period accounts of factory work and the deal of industrial workers, including women and children, surviving in writing in a collection of memories and manuscripts kept in the archives of the National Museum of Engineering and Technology in Prague. The collection currently comprises close to 2,000 inventory numbers. It was started by archivist Jan Klepl (1907 – 1965) in the mid-20th century (hence its commonly used sobriquet, Klepl Collection). The first contribution came from the Czech woman author, Božena Němcová, in 1859 (its original is now reposited in the Literary Archives of the Museum of Czech Literature in Prague), following her visit to a mechanized spinning factory in the town of Česká Skalice, a condensed text describing not only the actual production process involving both menial and machine operations, but also the labour force’s working conditions, including the workers’ male-female ratio, and their pay. Her text represents a remarkably manysided probe into the state of industrial factory production in Bohemia in the mid-19th century. Another two testimonies quoted here relate to child labour in the glass-making industry, near the town of Tanvald in northern Bohemia, and near Vsetín in northern Moravia. These accounts provide information about the life of children aged between eight and ten years, who were obliged to add to their time at school several hours daily of factory work for six, and sometimes seven days per week. Child labour was an inevitable source of income for the majority of families from these social strata. The essay is concluded by a description of coal mining work in a small pit in the region of Slaný, as recorded in his account by a miner who had spent 32 years at work in the industry.

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