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Taking the Curse Off Labor
Condensed from The Nation's Business (April '26)
HEN first I knew Minnesota, an attendance of 400 at the State University was trumpeted as a triumph for higher education. There are today in the State University and its extensions and affiliations 20,000 students.
When first I visited Washington, 200 graduates a year were subject for congratulations. There are today, 8000 students in Washington University.
Now, a lot of persons are asking where this growing army of graduates are to get jobs in an area whose peculiar demand is the horny hand and brawny muscle for forest, mine and farm. Will the white-collar and kid-glove graduate doff collar and glove for blisters from an axe, aching muscles from a miner's pick, and tired back from plow and pitchfork?
It is well known that one big Middle West university last year graduated more teachers than there were teachers' jobs open in the whole state. It is also equally well known that in the slump of 1920-23, there were more starving lawyers and doctors and professional men than there were clients and patients and customers. Perhaps 'starving" is too strong a word; but it is the word they, themselves, used in confessional moods.
I was having dinner one night with President and Mrs. Suzzalo of Washington University. President Suzzalo had worked up from a penniless SlavItalian boy to where he is recognized as one of the wisest heads in the West. I said to him:
"You have 8000 students attending a university in a country where the pri mary need is for men to turn metals and logs and soil into cash. Will your white-collar boys and girls do it? Your masons and bricklayers and car
penters today are earning more than your doctors and lawyers and preachers. What are all these graduates going to do with their education to earn a living?"
"How are they going to earn their living? By taking the curse off labor," the President replied. "If the teacher and the preacher and the doctor and the lawyer are getting, we'll say, only from $1000 to $2500 a year, which is, we'll say, from $3 to $7 a day, and the mechanic is getting from $10 to $20, the cultured man is going to carry his trained mind into mechanics ard 'take the curse off labor.' It will make culture universal instead of the privilege for the few."
"But with four centuries, more or less, of false ideals as to what constitutes an aristocracy of worth, will white collars and kid gloves take to brawn and blisters?"
"They'll have to. Necessity forces these things."
That week I motored down to two of the greatest lumber mills in the world-one was the Weyerhauser; the other was the Long-Bell at the new city of Longview on the Columbia. Now I have known lumber mills all my life; and the lumber-mill machines are the most human monsters I know on earth. The chains and derricks haul up like matches logs that are giants. A machine barks them as a boy would whittle a switch. The great saws and levers toss them like chips and the planed boards or bridge timbers slip out like tape from a ticker. Another derrick and the boards and timbers are being swung aboard ships and rail cars.
Yet there were brains--trained, cultured brains and trained human hands behind the machine. Here was the waste of sawdust, shavings, scant
lings being burned to generate enough electricity to light and heat a city, to cut the logs in the forest, to hoist those logs on flat cars, to run those cars to the water front or mill, then to run a mill which yearly turns out enough lumber for 40,000 houses of five or six rooms-and all with less physical drudgery than the shifting of gears on a motor car.
One of the most marvelous operations is the sawing of the big timbers to boards in lengths of from 2 to 50 feet by a man who operates a switchboard as easily as one would run a typewriter but demanding concentration to the nth degree, and good judg. ment to avoid waste.
But what I wanted to know was, how would the university graduate fare here.
"In the first place, we employ no unskilled men here," said the manager. "We can't afford them. We employ the last word in machinery to do the drudgery and increase the output; but we must always have the man with the trained mind to think for the machine. He must be master of the machine. He must be its brains.
"He must think as quickly as the machine acts; and he must have good judgment to handle it to prevent waste in length, cut, thickness, character of the board, grain of the wood, discard knot holes, snip off slightly decayed or water-spoiled ends and that sort of thing. The first requirement of a good operative in the new electric mechanics is that he must have brains to think for the machines."
"Then good-by old bunk houses with straw beds and pork and beans. You'll have to supply college dormitories and modern hotels and hospitals-"
"Go out and see them," said the manager.
I did. I found the workers' inns clean, modern, scientific as a hospital. In two great mill centers visited, there was a bathroom between each two bedrooms. There were libraries. There were pool and billiard rooms
and swimming pools and tennis courts and radios and phonographs and dance halls and athletic departments.
I also found where many of the women graduates are absorbed. I found them in the scientific kitchens -only they didn't call them "maids." They were "diet specialists." I found them in the libraries, in the hospitals, in the community houses acting ostensibly as entertainers but really as mentors. These conditions are more general than exceptional from the paper mills and lumber mills in the hinterlands of James Bay to the big timbers of Northern British Columbia and Washington and Oregon.
The last day I was in Longview was the end of the university year; and in that week came university graduates from as far south as Missouri, and as far north as Canada, seeking manual jobs; and 70 had been placed in one day. The minimum wage was $100 a month. The highest placed was a technical chap at $300-as much as the governors of some states get today. . . .
Consider what the machine is doing today. The self-binder drawn by a tractor will cut 40 acres in ten hours, or what formerly required the backbreaking work of 40 men for 16 hours a day, for rich crops know no union hours.
One signal on a rail track today replaces the labor of seven, and though you may howl over the displaced seven men, also think of the lone lantern man in wintry blizzards at 40 degrees below.
I saw on the Pacific, salmon brought in, which were cleaned, cut, cooked, canned, sealed and put on a vessel ready for shipment within one half hour from the time the fish were tossed up from the nets, uncontaminated by a human hand after the first toss. I saw the same thing with strawberries after the first hand-picking and hulling.
Yes, the curse is being taken off labor, as President Suzzalo said.
Fletcherizing in Reading
Condensed from The Golden Book (April '26)
luncheon, dinner. What care we take about feeding the lucky body! Which of us does as much for his mind? And what causes the difference? Is the body 30 much the more important of the two?
By no means: but life depends on the body being fed, whereas we can continue to exist as animals (scarcely as men) though the mind be utterly starved and neglected. Therefore Nature provides that, in case of serious neglect of the body, such terrible consequences of discomfort and pain shall ensue, as will soon bring us back to a sense of our duty; and some of the functions necessary to life she does for us altogether, leaving us no choice in the matter. It would fare but ill with many of us if we were left to superintend our own digestion and circulation. "Bless me!" one would cry, "I forgot to wind up my heart this morning! To think that it has been standing still for the last three hours." "I can't walk with you this afternoon," a friend would say, "as I have no less than eleven dinners to digest. I had to let them stand over from last week, being so busy, and my doctor says he will not answer for the consequences if I wait any longer."
Well it is, I say, for us that the consequences of neglecting the body can be clearly seen and felt; and it might be well for some if the mind were equally visible and tangible—if we could take it, say, to the doctor, and have its pulse felt.
"Why, what have you been doing with this mind lately? How have you fed it? It looks pale, and the pulse is very slow."
"Well, doctor, it has not had much regular food lately."
"Ah, I thought so. Now just mind this: if you go on playing tricks like that, you'll spoil all its teeth, and get laid up with mental indigestion. Take care now!"
Considering the amount of painful experience many of us have had in feeding and dosing the body, it would, I think, be quite worth our while to try and translate some of the rules into corresponding ones for the mind.
First, then, we should set ourselves to provide for our mind its proper kind of food. We very soon learn what foods will, and what will not agree with the body; but it takes a great many lessons to convince us how indigestible some lines of reading are.
Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or overreading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite: we know that bread is a good and wholesome food, but who would try the experiment of eating two or three loaves at a sitting?
I have heard a physician telling his patient-whose complaint was gluttony and want of exercise-that "the earliest symptom of hyper-nutrition is a deposition of adipose tissue," and no doubt the fine long words greatly consoled the poor man under his increasing load of fat.
I wonder if there is such a thing in nature as a FAT MIND? I really think I have met with one or two: minds which could not keep up with the slowest trot in conversation; could not jump over a logical fence, to save their lives; always got stuck fast in a narrow argument; and, in short, were fit for nothing but to waddle helplessly through the world.
Having settled the proper kind and amount of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind.
First, as to the intervals: these are as really necessary as they are for the body, with this difference only, that while the body requires three or four hours' rest before it is ready for another meal, the mind will in many cases do with three or four minutes. I believe that the interval required is much shorter than is generally supposed, and from personal experience, I would recommend anyone, who has to devote several hours together to one subject of thought, to try the effect of such a break, say once an hour, leaving off for five minutes only each time, but taking care to throw the mind absolutely "out of gear" for those five minutes, and to turn it entirely to other subjects. It is astonishing what an amount of impetus and elasticity the mind recovers during those short periods of rest.
And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author, So much greater an exertion is it, that we are far too apt to neglect it altogether, and go on pouring in fresh food on the top of the undigested masses already lying there, till the unfortunate mind is fairly swamped under the flood. But the greater the exertion the more valuable, we may be sure, is the effect. One hour of steady thinking over a subject is worth two or three of reading only.
And just consider another effect of this thorough digestion of the books we read; I mean the arranging and "ticketing," so to speak, of the subjects in our minds, so that we can readily refer to them when we want them. Many a man hurries through book after book, without waiting to digest or arrange anything. A wellread man, on the other hand, is he who has sorted his knowledge into properly ticketed bundles; who thinks over what he reads, questions or confirms it through reflection, and associates it with other related information or ideas already on file in his own mind.
Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his very amusing book, The Professor at the Breakfast Table, gives the following rule for knowing whether a human being is young or old: "The crucial experiment is this offer a bulky bun to the suspected individual just ten minutes before dinner. If this is easily accepted and devoured, the fact of youth is established." He tells us that a human being, "if young, will eat anything at any hour of the day or night."
To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject-a mental bun, in fact. if it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, "I can't read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of The Mysterious Murder?" you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.
What Burbank Still Plans to Do
Condensed from the Popular Sclence Monthly (April '26)
HAT is yet to be done?" Luther
W Burbank repeated my ques
tion in a tone of gentle scorn. "Everything! I have made only a beginning in the development of plants in the service of man. In the next five years I hope to produce plants with grains and fruits larger than any we have at present, with more varied flavors and colors, with better storing and shipping qualities, with more nutriment and less waste, and with every poisonous or injurious element eliminated.
"There is hardly a day in which I do not learn something new from the plants in my garden. In the years to come I hope to be able to do more useful work than I have done, even in the fruitful years just passed."
Luther Burbank stood on the threshold of his 78th year that morning I talked with him in Santa Rosa. Behind him lay more than 50 years of continuous effort. But in the active mind of Burbank, the wizard of growing things, is supreme confidence that he will fill his unique place in the world for many years. Calm, temperate, industrious, he works ten hours a day, six days a week. A patient man, he has grown and destroyed nine million specimens of one variety of plant to obtain a single perfect one.
It is since he passed his 70th milestone that Luther Burbank has brought his most important plant developments to completion. In these last few years he has produced his composite black walnut tree, which in ten years attains the size of a 50year-old wild black walnut and has a wood as fine-grained and valuable as the wild tree; his chestnut tree, that begins to produce at six months and is in full bearing in two years; his late
bearing cherry tree, with clusters of cherries nearly an inch in diameter; a mulberry tree with leaves twice as large and thick as the ordinary mulberry, worth millions to the silk industry of the Orient.
He has brought out a new wheat having heads inches longer than any other. This wheat, suitable for all climates, has seven to ten more grains to the head, ripens earlier, and resists disease better than other kinds. He has perfected a beardless, hull-less white barley almost indistinguishable from wheat, with six to eight grains added to each head; and a new rye that grows twice as high as any other and has five to seven more grains to the head.
The Burbank free-stone prune, six inches in circumference, has added millions to the incomes of California fruit growers. He has raised a sunflower with a head 18 inches in diameter, which grows with its blossoms turned toward the earth, so that the birds cannot harvest the seeds; and a new asparagus with stalks nearly three inches in diameter and as tender at the base as at the tip. Most remarkable of all the Burbank wonders is a spineless cactus, a wonderful cattle food.
In the last two years Burbank has presented to the world a new type of corn with more and larger kernels and shorter stalks than any other species. More than 15,000 experiments were necessary to develop this, and one of his plans for the future is to add more and larger kernels to each ear of this corn.
"What we need most today," Mr. Burbank said to me, "is not more varieties of food-producing plants, but greater production from those we