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Thomas Dyott

( Originally Published 1940 )

One of the many poor boys who came to America near the end of the 18th century was Thomas W. Dyott. He began his efforts in Philadelphia as a bootblack. He differed from the average bootblack in that he manufactured his own blacking. From this highly successful chemical endeavor it proved but a stone's throw to "Dyott's Patent Medicine Ware House; No. 57 South Second Street."

Shortly thereafter, just as Henry Stiegel had decided that he was a Baron, Thomas Dyott made up his mind that he was a Doctor of Medicine and appended the requisite M.D. He an nounced that his products were "celebrated for most of the diseases to which the human body is liable." His offerings included:

Stomack Elixir of Health
Vegetable Nervous Cordial
Celebrated Gout Drops
Stomachic Bitters
Infallible Worm Destroying Lozenges
Patent Itch Ointment
Infallible Toothache Drops
Anti Bilious Pills
Ointment for the Cure of Tetter, Ring Worm, etc.
Embrocation for the Rheumatism
Balm of Iberia (for the complexion)
The Circassian Dye Water
The Restorative Dentifrice

He was selling such huge quantities of these salubrious remedies to the new American public that he decided to manufacture his own containers, and in 1833 bought the Kensington Glass Works, which had been founded in 1772 by James Leacock and Robert Towers.

Under his management this establishment rapidly expanded. He soon had five furnaces in operation, but shortly thereafter he began to suffer from what many another glass manufacturer had encountered; the drunkenness of his glass blowers. Whereupon, despite the fact that one of his main productions was whiskey flasks, of which many are the most prized by antiquarians, he began an experiment in prohibition and in the general moral direction of his laborers. His effort was the first largescale example of "Paternalism" in American industry.

Despite the manufacture of whiskey flasks and balms of life he discovered within himself, as occasion required, unsuspected depths of piety. Out of these depths he evolved The System of Moral and Mental Labor Established at the Glass Factory of Dyottville, in the County of Philadelphia.

His brochure is a masterpiece of empty eloquence combined with the cunning moral justification of bad labor practices. "It is too much the propensity of our nature, to run after Fortune with intoxicating ardour, without considering how many human hearts we may crush in the heat of the pursuit; or without paying very punctilious regard to the means by which we accomplish profit. The passion for gain is often too powerful to be modulated by Reason, arrested by judgement, or qualified by justice. It is perhaps to this point that we are to refer the hitherto neglected point of combining mental and moral with manual labor. . . ."

So keen was the social conscience of Dr. Dyott that he decided to put little children, six years of age, to work in his factory: "I projected the plan of instructing boys in the art of Glass Blowing, taking them at so tender an age that their pliant natures could be molded into habits of temperance, industry, docility, piety, and perfect moral decorum, under a system of instruction within the walls of the Factory, fully adequate to develop all these moral and intellectual faculties, which make the happy man, the good citizen, and the valuable operative."

He employed about 400 persons at one time. 130 of these were boys of 10 to 16 years, who were apprentice glass blowers. The still younger children were employed in sifting clay and in weaving baskets for wrapping around flasks (which Dyott claimed was one of the most moral of all endeavors). He confessed that having all these young persons, most of whom were orphans of the poor, under his tutelage, imposed ". . . the most serious duties upon the proprietor, as to the best means of shedding light on the benighted understanding, and reforming the evil passions of the vicious heart."

He was the first glass manufacturer in America to work his men twelve months per year, in defiance of all previous tradition. As regards the supposed strenuousness of glass blowing, the Doctor writes, "The mere act of blowing does not cause an exertion of the lungs . . . and habit soon renders the heat imperceptible." In fact, he adds later, ". . . the exertion of blowing glass, by giving a slight and healthy expansion to the chest and lungs, adds vigor and energy to the whole frame."

He employed his men and children not only throughout the year but eleven hours per day. His moral and mental instruction took place between the hours of 7 and 8 P.M., and inasmuch as this period opened and closed with singing and prayer it seems questionable whether a great deal in the way of culture was conveyed to the orphan boys concerning whose welfare Dr. Dyott felt so deeply.

The clothes of the apprenticed boys were dispensed to them one suit at a time, without consulting their taste, again under the guise of moral welfare, for they were thus saved from ". . . the temptation to sell their garments, or to elope; as they never have a single change in their own possession . . ." Thomas W. Dyott was seventy years of age when he became too deeply involved in the intricacies of his Manual Labor Bank, in Philadelphia, and was convicted of "criminal insolvency." He lived nearly a quarter of a century longer, but his glassworks had been closed and he was never able to launch another enterprise. When he died in 1861 America bid farewell to one of its most energetic and unscrupulous fakers.

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