Step 1 — Artifact analysis


    1. Provide a physical description of the artifact shown in the advertisement. What materials does it appear to be made from?
    2. From its appearance, when would you say this artifact was produced?
    3. Uses of the artifact:
      • What might this artifact have been used for?
      • Who might have used it?
      • Where would it likely have been used?
      • When might this artifact been in use?
      • Did this artifact need to be powered? If so, by what power source?
    4. What does this artifact tell us…
      • about the technology of the time in which it was made and used?
      • about the life of the people who made it, the people who used it, and about the time in which it was used?
    5. How is the technology connected with the artifact different today?
    6. Provide a sketch of the artifact in use as you visualize it being used.

Step 2 — Artifact description

shingle-ad(Left) Advertisement of a shingle machine produced by the Lane Manufacturing Company of Montpelier, Vermont, from the 1904 catalog of Lath, Shingle and Heading Machinery (Lane) .

The shingle machine was patented in 1878 by the Lane Company. This shingle machine was sold throughout the world for the production of wooden shingles used on the exterior walls and roofs of all manner of buildings. It could be powered by a number of sources, including water power, steam engines, and "one-lunger" petroleum-fired engines. Shingle machines were very successful tools based on the vast number of manufactories that advertised shingles throughout the late nineteenth century and even into the mid twentieth century as their main product or as a side product of their sawmill businesses. Considering the number of buildings whose exterior walls and roofs were shingled throughout New England, visible in countless 19th century photographs, shingles machines were literally everywhere, nearly as numerous as sawmills.

Many Lane shingle machines are still in use today. In 1975 one of these shingle machines was restored by Carmie Messier, Arnold Teller and Norman Vandal and made operational in Roxbury, VT. It was powered by a Wisconsin brand air-cooled gasoline engine that provided adequate power. The machine ran well, but the only difficulty was in filing and setting the teeth of the saw blade so it wouldn't snip off the thin ends of the shingles. The machine was used to saw out the shingles that are now on the roof of the Roxbury Historical Society. This machine is privately owned and now located in Brookfield, VT.

The operator would first cut a bolt from a log using a drag saw or a crosscut saw. A bolt is a cylinder of wood, a section looking pretty much like a piece of firewood. The cuts must be as close to a right angle to the length of the log as possible. The bolt is then clamped to the carriage, which then passes through the spinning saw blade whereupon a shingle is cut each time the bolt passes through the saw. The ratcheting mechanism on the carriage changes the angle at which the bolt passes through the saw, thus creating the typical taper in wooden shingles. The cut shingle will have bark edges and the sides will not be square to the bottom edge. The operator then holds the bottom of the shingle against a fixed fence and the large, spinning flywheel with plane blades acts a planer to cut one edge of the shingle square. Flopping the shingle over then cuts the other edge, and the final product is a shingle that tapers in thickness and has both edges square to the bottom or butt of the shingle. Shingle machines are operated more efficiently by two men. One man loads the carriage with the bolts of cedar or whatever wood shingles were being made from. Another man catches the shingle or picks it up after it has been cut. He then trims the edges square on the large flywheel planer, possible since the saw and the planer are both spinning as the machine is running.

Step 3 Artfact in context

The Lane Shingle Machine in the context of the Gilded Age. Considering both the shingle mill and the your knowledge of the time period, respond to the following questions:

      1. What were the effects of technology and industrialization as represented by the shingle machine on rural Americans? What were the costs incurred by this same technology?
      2. What was the prevailing attitude toward technology at this time in the United States and in Vermont? Did Americans and Vermonters embrace or resist technological changes? Would the shingle machine be an effective representation of the technology that people either embraced or rejected?
      3. For both Americans and Vermonters, did the changes that took place in the Gilded Age affect their sense of identity? Would the shingle machine be an effective representation of a change that affected their sense of identity?

The Lane Shingle Machine represents a genuine transition from making an important building product entirely by hand in a relatively slow and laborious process to producing hundreds or even thousands of shingles in a day entirely by machine. The traditional process involved splitting shingles from a bolt of wood by using a froe, a common splitting or riving tool that had existed for centuries. However, the process was not difficult, and most rural farmers or woodsmen could and did make shingles, more commonly called shakes when riven by hand as opposed to sawn on a shingle machine. After splitting, the shingles had to be tapered in thickness by using a drawknife while sitting on a shaving horse, a type of low bench that incorporated a foot actuated vise to hold the shingles. With the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of the machine came the loss of independence and self-sufficiency that was a common aspect of the Gilded Age. People could still choose to make shingles by hand, but the advantages of purchasing them from the mill made the old process likely seem too time consuming and thus obsolete.

The Lane Manufacturing Company was founded about 1868, though there is evidence to indicate it had been making sawmills as early as 1848. It was established by General Perley P. Pitkin, Dennis Lane and James W. Brock. It began under the name of Lane, Pitkin & Brock, but changed to Lane Manufacturing in about 1874. "Lane Manufacturing grew to become a large and successful manufacturer of sawmills, waterwheels, derricks, cranes, and granite working machinery. In 1900 they had about 600 employees in Montpelier" (Manufacturers).

The 28 February 1897 issue of Northeast Lumberman and Manufacturers' Gazette has an ad for Lane Manufacturing Co. The ad lists "Woodworking machinery. Specialties: Lane's patent lever set circular saw mill. Saw mill set works. Clapboard machinery. Shingle machinery. Lath machinery. Swing saws. Planing machines Matching machines" (Manufacturers).

A shingle sawing machine with a 19 Feb 1878 patent date (corresponding to patent number 200,546) on it is labeled with both "Lane Manufacturing Co." and "S.C. Forsaith & Co." names. It was probably made by Lane — who was assigned the patent — and retailed by Forsaith" (Manufacturers). The patent states that it was an improvement in shingle sawing machinery, so it may be the case that other manufacturers produced shingle mills at the same time, but what is clear is that Lane produced the entire machine and not simple improvement mechanisms. As was customary for most inventions at the time, one can assume that Lane produced and sold shingle machines prior to the patent date.

Shingle machines existed prior to those produced by Lane. The earliest patented shingle machine on record was "built by William Earle, of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, in 1813. It may have been fitted with a rotary saw, and by 1821, Earle was definitely using circular saws for his machinery. He claimed he was able to cut about a dozen shingles per minute on his shingle mill. Later model shingle machines built in the 1830's probably made as many as sixty shingles a minute" (Riznik). Some mills operating yet later in Vermont boasted of sawing eight to ten thousand shingles per day. Other shops produced shingle machines after 1821 and before Lane's patented machine.

"There were at least a dozen specialized machine shops supplying clapboard and shingle machines prior to 1840. James Young, who began making shingle machines in Athol, Massachusetts, in 1824, reportedly produced thirty machines in 1832, priced at eighty dollars each. He use black birch, iron castings, and imported English circular saws, and he employed three workmen…" (Riznik). It is likely that early shingle machines were produced with wooden frames, similar to the shingle machine patented by Nathan Swift, of Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1827, or to that machine patented by Daniel B. Moore of Gilmanton, New Hampshire in 1835. Drawings of both of these mills are in the Records of the US Patent Office, National Archives.

Lane sawmills were sold all over the world, so it is likely that shingle machines were sold internationally as well. This highlights another aspect of the Gilded Age, the manufacture of goods produced in certain areas that would then become widely distributed. This was mainly made possible by using the railroad and ships that could carry such heavy loads efficiently over such large distances. Rural Vermont was extending capitalistic tentacles to places most Vermonters had likely never heard of before, or to the expansion westward to the large timber tracts of the Rockies and the Pacific Coast.

Much of the machinery, if not most, produced in the Gilded Age was relatively unsafe to operate. There were no safety provisions or regulations. OSHA did not exist, and liability suits against manufacturers were rare. It was assumed that if one chose to operate the machine, then one was aware of the danger. Many workers operated machines in tight quarters with shafts spinning all around them. Unguarded flat belts spun on clutch and drive pulleys that could easily take off a hand, an arm, or a leg. Presses pounded inches away from one's fingers, and whirring knives could sever fingers, hands or arms if the operator was careless or became tired. The Lane shingle machine has some features that make it dangerous to operate. The saw blade is unguarded. The operator could slip and fall against the blade or the spinning blade could catch loose clothing. The shingles fell off the saw close to the unguarded spinning flywheel planer whose blades were unguarded. When the operator trimmed the edges, the planer blades were dangerously close to his hands, especially when trimming narrow shingles.

Many of the maps in W.H. Beers Atlas of 1873 of towns in various towns in all counties of Vermont show businesses that produced shingles, which meant they were likely right on the cusp of switching to the new technology of using shingle machines (Beers). In 1880, the Town of Elmore, in Lamoille County, had a population of 682. At the time, two firms were producing shingles. "Woodbury and Ward's saw-mill, located in the northern part of the town, on Pond Brook, was formerly used as a starch factory, being converted into a saw-mill in 1881. It has the capacity for cutting 1,000 feet [ board feet ] of lumber per hour. The mill is also supplied with planning and matching machines and a shingle saw" (Elmore). This was a newly constructed mill and likely used a Lane shingle machine which was construction only a few miles south in Montpelier. "F.B. Morse's shingle and clapboard mill, located on Road 30, was built in 1880-81. The building is 40 by 60 feet, three stories in height, and well equipped for the purposes for which it is intended" (Elmore).

The town of Holland, in the eastern corner of the Northeast Kingdom, had a population of 913 in 1880. Here three manufactories were producing shingles. " Russell A. Moulton's saw and shingle mill, located on Road 19, was built in 1878. It has the capacity for cutting 8,000 feet of lumber and about 10,000 shingles per day. Fitzgerald & Grindle's saw and shingle mill, located on Road 7, has the capacity for cutting 10,000 feet of lumber and 8,000 shingles per day. Goerge H. Tice's saw and shingle mill, located on Road 13, was built by Huntoon & Hall in 1866, and came into the possession of the present proprietor in 1880. It employs twelve men and cuts 1,000,000 feet of lumber and 800,000 shingles per year (Child). One has to assume that shingles produced in Holland were being sold elsewhere because of the large number being produced. The shingle machines cutting shingles there were likely made by Lane Manufacturing.

In the little town of Granville, in Addison County, "large tracts of timbered land attest…to the proper worth of the town for industrial purposes" (Smith). "The shingle and clapboard mill owned and operated by Newman D. Rice and Aldus Hill, established as a shingle mill in 1879; steam power has lately been added, greatly increasing the capacity of the factory" (Smith). This indicates that prior to 1879, the mill shafts were driven by water power. A bowl and clapboard mill still operates in Granville in the banks of the East Branch of the White River, though it is no longer water-powered.

Eastern white cedar makes the finest quality shingles because of their resistance to weather and rot. Cedar grows in specific areas of Vermont, most numerous in the Northeast Kingdom. Since shingle mills were located throughout Vermont, either mills were purchasing logs cut in areas where cedar was plentiful, or they were producing shingles from other species. These likely included spruce, hemlock, balsam, and eastern white pine, all coniferous softwoods. Poplar, a soft hardwood, makes good utility shingles suitable for sidewalls where exposure to weather is minimal. Nearly all shingles marketed today are made of cedar. The highest quality product is of western red cedar, and it is commonly used on roofs where weather exposure is greatest. White cedar shingles are used mainly for sidewalls, and certain areas of New England still manufacture eastern white cedar shingles, and most still use the Lane shingle machine. Shingles tend to be most popular along the entire coast of New England, but the cost of using red cedar on a roof has skyrocketed, attesting to diminishing supplies of cedar in the West.

Many talented tradesmen were required in order to produce shingle cutting machines. The basic frame of the machine is cast iron. Wooden patterns had to be made by skilled woodworkers known as patternmakers. Cast iron shrinks as it cools, so patternmakers had to work with special rules that accommodated the predictable shrinkage. They then had to construct the molds into which sand was packed to create the pattern for the pouring of the iron, done by foundry workers who were trained in this specialized craft. Blacksmiths had to fashion many of the working parts out of wrought iron or mild steel. They also had to temper other parts produced on various metal cutting or shaping machines by skilled machinists. These parts would include gears, pulleys, shafts and other parts that would wear excessively if not hardened in the tempering process. Lastly, special saw blades were produced that would accurately cut the shingles so the thinly tapered tops would remain crisp and intact. Saw blades had to be hammered so they would run true and not be distorted by centrifugal force and the lateral forces put upon them as they came in contact with the bolt of wood. They also had to be tempered so they would remain sharp. The Lane shops would have to have included a carpenter and patternmakers' shop, a machine shop, a foundry, a drafting/ design shop and a large area where the machines were assembled.

The Lane Shingle Cutting Machine is emblematic of progress that was occurring in Vermont during the Gilded Age. New technologies and modes of manufacturing were replacing the country processes whereby local people could produce their own material goods. Self-sufficiency and independence were sacrificed to the centralization of industry where goods could be produced with great speed, accuracy, and consistent quality. The time equals money equation was being shifted; now farmers had to spend their time producing goods and providing services that would give them the money to purchase such necessities as shingles for the house or the barn rather using their time to produce the products themselves. Farms thus became less self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Typical of most machinery in the Gilded Age, the shingle machine was somewhat dangerous to operate. Vermont products, such as the shingle-cutting machine, were exported all over the country and the world. Transportation systems were created and improved for this commerce. Vermonters had to adapt by learning skills and professions that translated into employment in the new manufactories. Vermont was changing, and the Lane Manufacturing Company in Montpelier was at the center of this revolution.

Lesson plan and commentary by:

Norman L. Vandal
Old Warren Mountain Road
Roxbury, Vermont 05669
August 18, 2007