| By Wendell Garrett


February 1, 2009  |  An American mechanic does not exercise his trade as he has learned it: he is constantly making improvements, studying out new and ingenious processes either to perfect his work or to reduce its price, and is, in most cases, able to account for the various processes of his art in a manner which would do credit to a philosopher.

---Francis J. Grund, The Americans in Their Moral, Social and Political Relations, 1837

The Bohemian-born, Vienna-educated immigrant Francis J. Grund admitted to a lack of "a certain mechanical perfection" in American-made products, especially compared to those made in England, where "a greater division of labour and long-followed practice in a narrow circumscribed trade" assured a refinement in handiwork. But, as he observed, the American craftsman more than compensated through his versatility and willingness to innovate. With the abundance of wood in the New World, a furniture maker could afford to make a mistake and begin over again.


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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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