Cottage Industry

Cottage Industry Definition

Cottage industry best refers to the homemade production of manmade physical items for public sale. This rules out agriculture, household chores, do-it-yourself projects and hobbies–though much effort may be involved. Also excluded for now are products and services like those provided in banks, bars and restaurants, beauty salons, casinos, courtrooms, groceries, hospitals and schools. Before the Industrial Revolution’s advances in machinery and large-scale capital financing, most production was done at home.

Cottage Industry

Cottage Industry Examples

Winter Income for Farm Families

Home-made products for sale have often comprised three principal categories: fabrics, wood and metals. Cottage manufacturing in fabrics have included spinning thread, weaving cloth, sewing garments and shoemaking. Woodworking and carpentry have produced housewares such as cabinetry and furniture. Home businesses have also featured the ironwork production of farm-friendly hardware: blacksmithing, locksmithing, gunsmithing and handtooling. In a sense, an agricultural town could act as a “winter factory” where one citizen would spin, and others would weave, then sew. Yet, such a division of labor separated in time and distance would yield slow production rates with the general store merchant charging his expensive commission as a clearing house and transfer point for each phase in a costly textile process.

The 1800s saw advances in concentrated coal-fired energy, machinery, chemical processing of new materials, steam-powered transport, and assembly-line organization of specialized, synchronized labor. These financially-backed developments drove much industry from the cottage to the factory. After all, how can assembly lines have ten miles between workstations? Even Karl Marx noted that specialized divisions of labor make the most sense under the roof of a centralized worksite.

Post-Industrial Revolution Examples

High-quality chemical processing has recently miniaturized to support the recent rise in home-based wineries and microbreweries. Will 3D printing of plastic substrates open up decentralized, customized production possibilities for home businesses? If the definition of industry is expanded to embrace the offsite design, documentation, programming, testing, monitoring and control of manufacturing processes, could a home-based “virtual assembly line” emerge through a high-speed Internet of Things (IoT)?

Production Returns Homeward?

As automation evolves, human hands and muscle will make fewer and fewer products. Maybe “industry” should rightly include scalable “knowledge” products involving data, model simulation, e-books, graphics, law, education, medicine and entertainment? In these cases, the “where” of work no longer matters. Future tasks can be done at the cottage with less commuting or relocating for work, fewer real estate transactions and office properties, more family “face” time and freelance flexibility–all incurring less stress plus improved health. Welcome home, Work … where have you been all these years?

Quiz

1. Which activity best represents a possible cottage industry?

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2. Select a traditional cottage industry during the 1700s.

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3. What dramatic development severely curtailed cottage industries?

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4. True or False: Cottage industries are ancient businesses, not future production models.

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B.

 

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