Tools and Machinery of the Granite Industry, Part IV

Tools and Machinery of the Granite Industry, Part IV

Wood, Paul

This article is the last in a series of four on the tools and machinery of granite working. Part I (The Chronicle 59, no. 2) described granite as a material, an industry, and a product and began the description of the granite quarrying process. Part II (The Chronicle 59, no. 3) completed the account of granite quarrying. Part III (The Chronicle 59, no. 4) concerned the most common finishing operations. This final article continues the description of finishing operations, focusing on some of the more exotic but nevertheless important finishing steps and their associated tools and machines including turning, flute cutting, boring, corrugating, lapping and etching. In addition, this article will describe the processing of waste granite including paving-block cutting, paving, and crushing. Finally, the article will conclude with a discussion of power sources, the various finishing job categories, labor unions, and safety and health issues.


The granite-cutting lathe was similar to a wood- or metal-working lathe, but in its largest size was much larger and heavier than the wood or metal lathe (Figure 1 ). The lathe was very important for architectural and monumental granite in the finishing of columns, balusters, urns, vases, and spheres. Like a common lathe, the granite lathe had a headstock and tailstock between which the stone to be turned was supported and rotated. The headstock was driven by a variable-speed pulley cone or set of gears, and the tailstock was movable along the ways to accommodate stones of different lengths up to thirty-five or so feet. The Woodbury Granite Co. of Hardwick, Vermont, had a lathe that could turn columns up to thirty-five feet long and forty-eight inches in diameter. A slower speed was used for the initial rough turning. Before wire saws were available to cut rolls into an octagonal cross section, the stone block was hand pointed by stonecutters to a rough, circular cross section prior to turning in the lathe. The pointed surface was taken to within 1 to 1 Vi inches of the final surface. A tool carriage was screw-driven along the entire length of the lathe and held a freely turning, 8-inch diameter cutting disc. The disc was tempered steel with its working perimeter beveled to a sharp edge (Figure 2). As the tool carriage moved along the length of the lathe, the disc was forced into the stone, crushing and removing granite rather than cutting as with a wood or metal lathe. For each pass of the tool carriage, the disc was moved incrementally inward until the desired column diameter was achieved. Sometimes a driven Carborundum wheel was mounted on the tool carriage for the final cut. Today, instead of the cutting disc, a plunge saw mounted on the lathe tool carriage is used, which makes a series of shallow cuts close to the final surface. The material between the cuts is broken out and a diamond saw mounted on the tool carriage is then used to cut the final surface.

The grinding lathe was used after the cutting lathe to produce a smooth (but not polished) surface-typically for columns. A long, straight-edged strip of iron was held by weighted rods against the stone, and the operator periodically shoveled abrasive slurry from boxes under the turning stone. Initially, sand was used and later tungsten carbide shot when it became available.

The polishing lathe was similar to the cutting lathe except it was usually smaller and did not require a tool carriage (Figure 3). The head stock was driven by a cone of step pulleys allowing for variable turning speed; polishing was done at a surface speed of 230 to 240 surface-feet per minute. For example, a 12-inch diameter column was turned at about 76 rpm, whereas a 36-inch diameter column was turned at about 25 rpm. Initial grinding was performed by a series of three- to four-inch wide cast iron grinding blocks that rested, tightly spaced, on top of the turning column. The blocks came in contact with about one-quarter of the column circumference and were curved according to the desired finished column surface curvature. The blocks were pushed by the rotation against a plank behind the lathe and were thus held in position. First sand and then emery was shoveled up over the grinding blocks by the operator from an abrasive trough under the lathe. The blocks were occasionally pushed a distance of half their width along the column to avoid surface rings. When the grinding was completed, 8-inch wide cast iron polishing blocks (each weighed about a hundred pounds for a 40-inch diameter column and about fifty pounds for a 20-inch diameter column) with felt-covered undersides were substituted for the grinding blocks, and oxide of tin was used as an abrasive. It required a total of from forty to fifty hours to polish a column to a mirror-like surface. The Woodbury Granite Co. had a polishing lathe that could accommodate a stone 25 feet long and 60 inches in diameter.

Large column lathes were not cheap. In 1919, F.R. Patch Mfg. Co. of Rutland, Vermont, advertised a lathe that could turn a 24-foot long stone with a 66-inch diameter; it cost $11,200 with $490 added for each addition foot of length ordered. Another Patch lathe, advertised as a heavy granite lathe, which could turn a 31-foot long by 108-inch diameter stone, cost $35,700 (excluding motors). The largest granite lathe of which the author is aware was the mammoth $50,000 lathe at the Bodwell Granite Company of Vinalhaven, Maine, that was used from 1902 to 1904 to turn eight, 54-foot long by 6-foot diameter columns for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Balusters, urns, vases, and spheres were turned on smaller lathes (Figures 4 and 5). Patch advertised urn lathes that could turn a 16-inch diameter by 2-to 4-foot long stone at a cost of $945 to $1,260 (Figure 6).

Flute Cutting

Many building and monument columns were fluted (Figure 7). That is, long parallel grooves were cut lengthwise into the column. Prior to the availability of flute-cutting machines, flutes had to be cut by hand-an extremely labor-intensive process. One early flute-cutting machine design was used for sectioned columns (i.e., columns made up of a number of stacked two- to three-foot high sections), and looked like a small version of a gang saw (Figure 8). A column section was secured on its side on a saw cart under five or so saw blades, spaced according to the flute separation. Cuts were made to the proper depth and the column was rotated, and more cuts were made until cuts had been made around the entire column circumference. In a second design, the column section was mounted upright on a stand (Figure 9). There were two driven Carborundum grinding wheels that were moved up and down against the column on posts located on opposite sides. The grinding wheel surface had the profile desired for the fluting grooves. With each up and down travel of the grinding wheels, they were incrementally moved in toward the column center until the proper flute depth was reached. The column was then rotated by one flute spacing, and the process repeated until the entire column circumference had been fluted. A third type of fluting machine was designed as an attachment to a stone-cutting lathe and could flute a monolithic column up to the maximum length handled by the lathe (Figure 10). A driven Carborundum grinding wheel, with the proper grinding surface profile, was mounted on the lathe tool carriage. The column was locked into position in the lathe and the Carborundum wheel was moved back and forth the full length of the column, being incrementally moved in toward the column center for each full-length pass until the proper flute depth had been achieved. The column was then rotated in the lathe by one flute spacing and the process repeated until the entire circumference had been fluted.


A boring pit, with a flat-belt-driven, vertical-shaft drill, was used to bore arbor holes in press and chocolate rolls (Figure 11). A paper-mill machine used a pair of granite press rolls at the beginning of the paper-making process where the wet pulp was pressed into a sheet and where the superior releasing property of the granite was essential to prevent the wet sheet from sticking to the rolls. At their largest-5 feet in diameter by 40 feet long or about sixty-six tons-press rolls could be massive (Figure 12). In the manufacture of chocolate, beans were ground into a fine slurry using corrugated granite rolls that moved back and forth on a granite bed until the desired degree of fineness was achieved. The finished dimensions of a chocolate roll were 22 ½ inches long by 11 ¼ inches in diameter (Figure 13).

The drill bit was a hollow pipe with a notched cutting edge, using the same rectangular notch configuration as used for the gang-saw blades. As with the gang saws, steel shot abrasive was used. The pits were of various depths to accommodate rolls of various lengths. A roll was set into the pit by an overhead crane (Figure 14). It was bored halfway through and then turned over and the other half was bored. Alignment of the two bores had to be precise. A plumb bob and depth gauge were used to accurately position the roll. The plumb bob was hung from the center of the drill bit and this point was marked on the pit floor. A circle with the diameter of the roll was chalked on the floor with the point as center. The roll was then positioned in this circle and plumed using the depth gauge to ensure that the distance between the roll’s top edge and the drill bit was equal all the way around. Boring was a dusty operation so suction equipment was usually installed for this machine.


Corrugating machines were needed for the manufacture of chocolate-milling machines. A chocolate-milling machine consisted of a 6-foot long corrugated granite bed with thirteen straight lengthwise end-to-end grooves. Three, 22 ½-inch long, corrugated chocolate rolls ganged together were driven back and forth through chocolate slurry in the bed by a crank and pitman rod. Roll corrugations would fit precisely into the bed grooves. (The following description is based on the operation at Jones Brothers, Barre, Vermont.)

The chocolate roll started square. The corners were sawed off to make it octagonal in cross section. It was then cut round on a small cutting lathe. The ends of the rolls were parallel to the hard way so that the cutting on the lathe was done in the easier rift and grain directions. Then, an arbor hole was drilled as described above and a shaft was run through and tightened in place with a hub on either side. Finally, the roll was placed in a roll-corrugating machine, similar to a lathe. The roll was rotated under two wedged-in and lever-weighted, corrugated-edged strips of iron in a Carborundum abrasive slurry. The iron strip’s grinding edge had the desired corrugation profile.

A bed-corrugating machine was used to cut the grooves (very much like corrugated metal roofing) in the chocolate mill beds. The bed corrugating machine consisted of an iron rack about 30 inches long and 9 inches wide with thirteen, 1-inch-diameter, heavy-duty pipes that were flattened into oval cross-sections. The weighted rack was driven back and forth across the bed in a Carborundum abrasive slurry with a crank and pitman rod. Periodically, the operator measured the corrugating progress with a template gauge made of galvanized sheet steel. Finally, a corrugation-mating machine drove the newly made chocolate rolls across a newly made bed in a Carborundum-abrasive slurry until the roll ribs exactly fit the bed grooves. Only the roll ribs touched the bed. The rolls and bed were marked with the same number and were meant to be used together.


Today, the aerospace, automotive, electronics, optical, and other industries require precision manufacturing processes involving precise relative positioning of manufacturing equipment. Granite plates are used as the mounting substrate to achieve this precise positioning. Granite plates have exceptional dimensional stability due to a low coefficient of thermal expansion, making granite plates less susceptible to contour changes due to ambient temperature changes. In addition, the density and high resonant frequency of granite help to isolate equipment mounted on a granite plate from ambient vibrations from many sources in the immediate environment. The transmission of vibrations is a very serious problem for any type of precision manufacturing.

The key objectives in the manufacture of a surface plate or a machine base are to make one or more faces as flat (planar) as possible and to generate other types of critical geometry such as perpendicularity, parallelism, and coplanarity between edges and faces of the surface plate. This is achieved by an alternating series of lapping and measuring steps-using progressively finer grit lapping and more precise measuring. Surface plates have been made in sizes up to 28 feet by 10 feet, and as long as 50 feet for applications as diverse as platforms for rocket motor components to bases for measuring machines for the automotive industry.

The initial step in manufacturing a granite plate from a block is slab sawing to the desired thickness with either diamond wire or very large, diamond-tipped multi-blade saws. The plate is next sawed to the desired length and width with smaller, computer-controlled, diamond-blade or diamond-wire saws. The initial flatness or other geometry is established by surface grinders ranging in capacity from 2 feet wide with a 6-foot stroke, to 12 feet wide with a 23-foot stroke, utilizing diamond composition grinding wheels. After the grinding phase, lapping is begun with powered lapping machines using various abrasives. To achieve the final critical geometry, lapping is done by hand with various types of lapping blocks, custom made for each application and utilizing either diamond or other types of special abrasives in progressively finer grits. Alternately, the surface is cleaned and allowed to return to environmental temperature, after which the flatness and/or other critical geometry is measured with extremely accurate electronic levels, autocollimators, or other precision measuring devices. This data is entered into a computer program to create a displayed contour map of the surface, which is then used to determine where and how much additional material needs to be removed from the measured surface. The process continues in this sequence until finally finished to specification. Achieving the final specified geometry can take anywhere from two to three hours for the smallest of plates or components to many days (and possibly weeks) for very large plates. (The above description is based on the current Rock of Ages manufacturing procedure.)


A hand-held carbide or diamond-tipped vibrating tool was used to etch illustrations or designs on the polished granite surface of a monument or other stone artwork (Figure 15). Etching is particularly effective on black granite where the tool leaves a white line on a black background-the reverse of a pencil drawing on white paper. The etcher was usually an artist who did free-hand work. Computer-controlled, laser-etching machines are now available that can etch digitally stored portraits or scenes with photographic exactness.

Paving-Block Cutting

Paving-block cutters were a breed unto themselves, more transient than most granite workers and forced to roam from Maine to Georgia in search of contracts. They were paid by piecework and generally earned more than the average stonecutter, but much of the extra money was eaten up by their forced travels.

Starting with a one- to three-foot long granite block with the easy way (rift) marked, a line of holes was drilled along the rift 8 inches back from the edge using a hand drill and drill hammer. Next, the block was split with wedges and shims placed in the drilled holes, producing an 8-inch thick slab. A cut was then made along the grain (lift) with a line tracer, producing a fracture line a ¼-inch deep along the center of the top of the slab. Next, a hole was drilled in the center of the fracture line. A bull (or opening) wedge was set in the hole and struck with a twenty-pound hammer causing the stone to split along the fracture line (Figure 16). This process was repeated to produce quarter sections and then eighth sections. A line of fracture was now chiseled in each eighth section. The eighth section was turned over and struck two or three heavy blows opposite the line with a six- to sixteen-pound mash hammer which had one rectangular flat face and one sharp peen face or bursting hammer, which had one striking face and one blunt peen face, causing the stone to split along the fracture line (Figure 17). This process was repeated on the sixteenth sections to produce the rough paving blocks. Next, each paving block was faced (trimmed and smoothed) with a four- to seven-pound side hammer, which had two, square, flat faces, or reel hammer, which had two, rectangular, flat faces, until the block was symmetrical and correct in dimensions (Figure 18). The chips resulting from trimming fell into a wooden tub. The paving-block cutter used the wooden chipping tub as a working surface as he faced the blocks (Figure 19). Periodically, the tub was emptied of the waste chips.

Some of the objectives for paving blocks included a secure foothold for horses, long wear, reduction of wheel noise, smooth ride, reduction of surface irregularity, and ease of cleaning. Paving block sizes decreased over time as experience showed that the smaller-sized blocks could better achieve these objectives. By the 1920s, there were thirty-two different sizes! The following are a few of the more common paving blocks: Willard ( 18 by 14 by 12 inches), Russ (10 by 4 by 10 inches), Manhattan Special (5 by 4 by 8 inches), Rectangular (4 by 9 by 7 inches), and Belgian (5 by 5 by 6 inches).

Paving blocks were primarily used as street paving in large towns and cities. Most paving blocks were laid on a base of sand above gravel. A few were laid on concrete. Paving blocks were always laid with the smallest (hardway) surface exposed. This presented the hardest and best wearing face and, with the rift and lift surfaces on the sides, allowed easier trimming by the paver to provide tight-fitting joints between the blocks. A sand rammer was used to compress the sand. A paving hammer, with a grub hoe-like blade on one side and hammerhead on the other, was used to prepare the sand for seating the block and to pound the block into position after it was seated. There were three common styles of paving hammer-Belgian-pattern, Boston-pattern, and Washington, D.C.-pattern (Figure 20). Granite paving blocks have passed into oblivion, having been replaced by lower-cost asphalt paving.


Small- to medium-size pieces of waste granite (grout) were processed into crushed granite (Figure 21). Crushed granite was primarily used for street and road construction, railroad ballast, and as an additive for artificial stone (Figure 22). Crushing granite requires about 33,000 pounds per square inch of compressive force. A rock crusher with crusher jaws measuring 13 by 24 inches was advertised to have a capacity of two hundred tons per day for 1 ½-inch stone and three hundred tons per day for 2 ½-inch stone and requiring thirty horsepower (Figures 23 and 24). Normally, a platform was positioned next to the crusher that received grout from a traveling derrick or cableway and would hold a day’s supply. Screen sections were used to sort crushed rock ranging from 2 ½ inches to fine sand, which was then stored in storage bins according to size. For efficiency, a railroad spur often ran under the bin spouts since a single road contract could amount to a hundred or more car loads. A typical road foundation consisted of, from bottom to top, 5-inch, S-inch, and 1-inch thick layers of crushed granite of decreasing size that was rolled with a fifteen-ton roller while being water saturated.

Tool and Machinery Technology

Most of the world’s great cultures have used stone for buildings, monuments, and municipal structures. The pyramids, sphinxes, and obelisks of Egypt, the temples of Greece, the aqueducts and roads of Rome, Brunelleschi’s dome in renaissance Florence, and the amazing tight-jointed stone walls of Machu Picchu are all well-known examples. All of these cultures developed stone-working techniques and tools. Many machines of the granite industry were developed in the mid 1800s for the granite-producing industry around Aberdeen, Scotland. These included the overhead traveling crane, cableway, stone-cutting lathe, and sandblast machine, all of which were later introduced into and improved by the American granite industry.

It is usually difficult to attribute an invention with accuracy to an individual or country since inventing is an incremental process depending on the work of many earlier inventors. However, there are hundreds of United States patents relating to stone working and handling, and it is safe to say that Americans, at least during the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries were major innovators in granite-working tools and machinery. U.S. innovations include: wedge and shims (Tarbox, ca. 1803), boom derrick and stone jack (Willard, ca. 1820s), bush hammer (Richards, 1828), steam quarry drill (Couch, 1849; Fowle, 1851), gang saw feed (Merriman, 1859), channeling machine (Wardwell, 1867), steam quarry pump (Hall, 1872), polishing machine (Wright, 1878), mechanical-surfacing machine (McDonald, 1879), geared locomotive (Shay, 1881), gang-saw abrasive feed (Ripley, 1883; Shortsleeve, 1885), pneumatic hammer (Dallett, ca. 1883; MacCoy, 1885), silicon-carbide abrasive (Acheson, 1891), pneumatic-surfacing machine (MacCoy, 1895), well railroad car (ca. 1890s), hollow quarry-drill bit (Leyner, 1898), disc-sharpening machine, (Lane, ca. early 1900s), dust-removal system (Ruemelin, 1926), and contour wire saw (Dessureau, 1958). Unfortunately, in the last few decades, the United States has lost its technology lead to countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Finland, and Japan, which are now manufacturing efficient quarrying equipment and complex multi-function, computer-controlled, granite-working machines (see Figure 41 ).

Blacksmiths repaired, sharpened, and tempered granite tools. They also designed and fabricated simple tools-the more complex tools and machines were made in the machine shop. Some stonecutters would sharpen their own tools, sending them to the blacksmith only when they needed to be tempered. Although many of the tools for carving limestone, marble, and granite are similar in general shape, the harder granite requires thicker and heavier versions. Before the advent of carbide-tipped tools, the blacksmith had to temper tools differently for each type of stone. For granite, the hardest of the three, the tool would be heated until overall white. In early days, the stonecutter’s contract mandated one blacksmith for every ten to fifteen stonecutters. The introduction of Carborundum grinders and saws reduced the need for blacksmiths, and the introduction of carbide-tipped tools in the late 1940s and early 1950s virtually eliminated that need. At first, the more expensive carbide-tipped tools were given only to journeyman cutters. Currently, a carbide-tipped tool costs about double the same tool in plain steel; however, the carbide-tipped tool stays sharp as much as ten times longer.

The granite-shed blacksmith used many of the standard blacksmith tools including the forge, anvil, leg vice, post drill, power hacksaw, forging hammer, ball peen hammer, straight peen hammer, cross-peen hammer, bevel-faced sharpener’s hammer, slant-peen sharpening hammer, skew round-faced sharpening hammer, as well as a number of specialized tools for handling and sharpening granite tools. There were specialized tongs such as bush-hammer cut tongs, pneumatic-chisel bit tongs, hand point and chisel tongs, surfacer tooth-chisel tongs, bull-set tongs, and granite-wedge tongs (Figures 25 and 26). The granite-shed blacksmith also used specialized anvil-sharpening stakes such as the surfacer four-point, tooth-chisel stake (Figure 27). The blacksmith shop also housed a tempering forge and quench tub for stone lathe-cutting discs. The forge was larger than normal to handle cutting discs which could measure up to eighteen-inches in diameter. The discs needed to be tempered after being sharpened in the Pirie sharpening machine described below.

Each tool-grinding machine consisted of two, 5-foot diameter grinding wheels and was used for sharpening hand chisels and surfacing-machine bush chisel cuts (Figure 28). A continuous stream of water was applied during sharpening. The grinders were powered by an electric motor via overhead shafting and flat belts. Two sizes of pulley were provided for two grinding speeds. High speed was used for sharpening bush-hammer cuts. The grinding wheels were normally located in a shed alcove or a small shed attached to the large shed so as to be conveniently near the stonecutters. There was a constant movement of tools between the stonecutters and sharpeners, carried by tool boys. After the advent of carbide-tip tools circa 1950, grinding wheels composed of a material specifically designed to grind carbide (for example, National’s “Natalon”) were used to grind worn carbide tips. Carbide tips were ground but not quenched like a steel-tipped tool. Grinding was intended to bring the carbide tip back to its original shape-with edges not too sharp or pointed and corners slightly beveled to prevent carbide breakage. Today, worn carbide tips are replaced and not sharpened.

The Pirie disc-sharpening machine, designed by Willis A. Lane of Barre, Vermont, sharpened the cutting discs for the stone-cutting lathes and, at an earlier time, the cutting discs for the McDonald mechanical surfacer (see Figure 2). It had a large 8-inch wide, 4 ½-foot diameter grindstone that moved back and forth on its axle as it turned (Figures 29 and 30). This ensured even wear on the grindstone. After sharpening on the grinder, the discs were sent to the blacksmith shop for tempering.

Most medium- to large-size granite companies had a machine shop with several trained machinists (Figure 31). This shop would normally be furnished with several metal-working lathes of different sizes, drill presses, grinders, workbenches, welding equipment, a steel-top welding bench, and storage for metal stock and spare parts (Figure 32). None of this equipment was specific to the granite industry. The shop could repair just about any machine in the shed. The head machinist often designed custom machinery or modified existing machinery to meet special needs. Hence, the equipment inventory of a typical large shed included both standard manufactured machinery and many custom-designed and built machines.

Evolution of Power Sources

Since granite is a tough and heavy material, the availability of power for quarrying, finishing, and transport was critical. The basic problem was the conversion of energy from various sources (draft animals, falling water, and burning wood or coal) into motive power and then transmitting that power to the granite-working and moving machinery. The cost of power was typically only a small part of the total cost of a granite operation, but it was a critical part. Any power interruption could shut down the entire manufacturing process. Granite became a major nationwide industry only after the introduction of highly efficient tools and machines and the availability of reliable power to run them. In the end, the choice of a power source depended on the scale of the granite operation, the number and size of local water power sites, the local availability and cost of fuel, and the possibility of sharing power sources with other local industries.

The evolution of power sources to run the graniteworking tools and machinery was typical of an industry that depended on the latest technologies to remain competitive. At first, granite workers did most of the work by hand-drilling, splitting, lifting, surfacing, polishing, lettering, carving, and sculpting. Granite was quarried with hand tools such as the hand drill, drilling hammer, and wedge and shims. Granite was finished with hand tools such as the hand hammer and chisel. Granite was lifted and moved by such means as lever, hand-operated derrick, sledge and rollers. Granite quarrying and finishing was a slow and costly process and only relatively small granite pieces could be lifted and moved. Except for costal quarries where boat transport was available, granite markets were limited to areas close to the quarry, and the granite products were relatively simple-mostly stones for house foundations, hearths, steps, and window sills and lintels. Granite workers had some help from draft animals for heavy lifting with block and tackle and with sweep-operated derrick hoists, and for transport by sled or wagon. Quarry overburden and waste granite was removed by ox shovel and ox cart (Figure 33). Lifting of quarry blocks was done by horse sweep-powered derrick hoists and transport was accomplished by ox or horse-drawn wagon or, during winter, by sled-sometimes aided by block and tackle for very steep or muddy roads (see back cover). A horse could provide a continuous one-half horsepower, whereas a man could produce only about one-eighth continuous horsepower. The upkeep of a horse was about the same cost as the salary of a skilled worker.

The granite industry followed the factory system pioneered by the textile industry in the early 1800s in Waltham and Lowell, Massachusetts. This included the use of water and steam power, the integration of all manufacturing steps in one building, production by complex machinery, and distribution of power to machines located throughout the building via millworks. Prior to the use of steam engines, granite-finishing sheds were located at waterpower sites (at a rapids or waterfall) on streams and rivers for which the granite company had purchased the water rights or mill privilege. A millrace (or headrace) was used to channel water from a dam to a waterwheel (overshot, breast or undershot), which was connected via a millwork to the various granite-working machines such as gang saws, polishing machines, and lathes. A waterwheel had the virtue of simplicity; it had only a single moving part, could be made almost entirely of wood, and could be constructed by traditional craftsmen such as millwrights, carpenters, and blacksmiths. No precision parts, enclosure or flywheel were needed. Waterwheels rotate slowly-the larger the wheel, the slower the rotation. Wheels mostly range in diameter from eight to thirty feet with rotation speeds of twenty to five rpm, respectively. As a result, one of the tasks of the millworks was to increase the rotational speed (by belts, pulleys, and gears) to that needed by the powered machines.

Later, circa 1850s, waterwheels were increasingly replaced by water turbines, which ran at higher speed and produced more power (Figure 34). In addition, turbines were compact, durable, efficient, and low cost. Whereas waterwheels were made primarily of wood, turbines, because of their design and fabrication complexity, were made of iron and were manufactured at distantly located factories. The turbine operated with water under pressure conveyed from a dam via a wooden or iron penstock. Since turbines were oriented horizontally with vertical shafts, gearing was needed to transfer power from the turbine shaft to the horizontal main shaft of the millworks (Figure 35).

Although water power was relatively inexpensive, it had two major drawbacks. First, sheds had to be located next to a waterpower site where there might not be an available workforce or worker housing and where the shed might be exposed to potential flood damage. Second, during periods of low rainfall, there might not be enough water to operate the shed. For these reasons, waterwheels and water turbines were gradually replaced by stationary steam engines and later by steam turbines. Usually, the same system of shafts, pulleys and belts that had been used for water power was retained. Steam also made possible the development of portable tools and machines powered via a flexible steam hose, such as steam quarry drills. Initially, wood-burning steam boilers were used, supplied with fuel from local woodlots. As coal became available and as local wood became scarce and more expensive (ca. 1880s), boilers were converted to burn coal (Figure 36). For large installations, a coal trestle might be constructed for efficient railroad delivery. An important by-product of the boiler was the use of steam to heat the sheds during winter operation. Steam was a more costly type of power, but the drawbacks of water power were avoided. The steam engine could be located almost anywhere, could be designed with a range of output capacities, and was not dependent on stream flow.

Compared to the waterwheel, the steam engine cost more to purchase, had to be shipped at added cost from a remote manufacturer, had to be continuously attended and maintained, and was more costly to repair. These negatives, added to the fact that small steam engines were not as efficient in fuel use, meant that steam engines were mostly installed by large granite firms. Economy of scale drove the granite industry to build boiler houses with multiple large steam boilers, to build compressor rooms with multiple large air compressors, and finally to purchase electric power from public utilities. This both reduced the cost of power and improved reliability by the backup power generation capability of multiple prime movers. Often an entrepreneur would install a large air compressor and sell compressed air to surrounding small to medium-sized granite sheds that couldn’t afford to buy a compressor. Or, an entrepreneur might build a granite shed with compressed air, electricity, heat, and lighting and rent space to small granite firms. Sometimes, a small firm purchased excess compressed air or electric power from a large neighboring firm.

Quarries posed special problems with respect to power. Quarries were often located at higher elevations with no rivers or streams for water power. By the 1870s and 1880s, coal was often transported to the quarry by wagon to fire boilers, which provided steam for drills and derrick hoists. Later, if the quarry was serviced by a railroad, coal might be brought in more economically. Sometimes water was so scarce that it was a challenge even to find enough to replace the water lost by the steam engine’s escaped steam and to provide water for wet drilling.

Just as waterwheels were replaced by water turbines, reciprocating-piston steam engines were replaced by steam turbines in applications where greater power and rotational speed were needed, such as for driving air compressors and electric generators. Turbines were best used for applications requiring high rotational speed and continuous operation. Compared to the steam engine, the steam turbine was simpler, having only one moving part. In addition, the steam turbine had smaller size and lower weight per horse power and higher efficiency (for large sizes), and could run for months unattended.

Movable boilers and steam engines (with a self-contained fuel supply) allowed the development of the primary means of granite transport-rod locomotives, saddle-tank locomotives, geared locomotives, and locomotive cranes. The steam locomotive made possible the low-cost transport of granite via rail and opened up the interior granite quarries for exploitation. Initially, locomotives were wood fired, but by the 1880s, they were being rapidly converted to coal. Compared to seasoned hardwood of the same heating value, coal weighed half or less and had a volume several times less. Although by the 187s interior New England was well serviced by rail, it was not until quarry railroads with their steep grades and sharp curves were built in the 1880s and 1890s to haul granite from the quarries to the finishing sheds that the interior New England granite companies really began to prosper. Strong-traction, saddle-tank locomotives were often used on quarry railroads and, for extreme grades, geared locomotives, on which all the wheels were driven, were used to provide outstanding tractive power for grades of 10 percent and more.

As mentioned above, steam was initially used to power quarry drills and derrick hoists. Steam was difficult to handle and always dangerous. After circa 188Os, compressed air gradually replaced steam (Figure 37). Pneumatic rock drilling was pioneered in the U.S. in 1866 with the building of the Hoosac Tunnel in western Massachusetts where the drills were powered by air compressors directly connected to water turbines. Compressed air had many advantages. There was an inexhaustible supply of air, air exhaust was no problem in confined areas, and pipe leaks were not as dangerous. Also compressed air could be transmitted several miles without significant loss, and it could be easily subdivided for use by many tools and machines. Finally, compressed air could be used expansively in unmodified steam engines or in a variety of specialized air motors. The one major drawback was the inefficiency of a compressed air system (only 4O-55 percent in the 189Os) due to heat loss during compression. However, the convenience of compressed air more than made up for this inefficiency. Air compressors required relatively high torque and rotational speed, which could be delivered by steam turbines. Electric motors did an even better job of driving air compressors. The use of compressed-air, deep-hole quarry drills, plug drills, jackhammers, and derrick hoists as well as surfacing machines and pneumatic hammers in the sheds did not really become widespread until the advent of the electric motor-driven air compressor in the 1890s (Figure 38).

The next major step in power technology was the introduction of electrical power in the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century. The introduction of electricity had the most profound effect of any new power source on the organization and operation of the granite quarry and granite shed. Initially, granite sheds generated their own electric power by water- or steamturbine-powered electric generators (Figures 39 and 40). Later, in the early-twentieth century, public electric power utilities increasingly supplied power to the sheds. In addition to making possible the efficient production of compressed air, the electric motor was used to power virtually all the non-pneumatic granite working tools and machinery. At first, a single, large, electric motor would be used to replace the steam engine or turbine, using existing millworks. As smaller, lower-cost motors became available, multiple motors were used, each powering a group of similar co-located granite-working machines. Finally, each machine was manufactured with its own integral electric motor. The use of one motor per machine greatly simplified power transmission from motor to machine (usually a geared or direct connection) and meant that the motor needed to be running only when the machine was in use. Also, a machine with an integral motor could be more easily moved. The mechanical millworks, which consumed from 20 to 50 percent of the power generated were thus replaced by electrical conductors that consumed 5 percent or less of the power generated. As electric motors continued to decrease in size, the power per motor volume and weight increased and hand-held tools were developed with integral motors powered via an electric cord. An important by-product of the electric generation was the ability to use electric lighting for late winter afternoons and cloudy days.

Steam and compressed air is more difficult to transport over long distances due to frictional and heat losses and therefore led to the use oflocalized boiler houses and compressor rooms. Transport of power mechanically, for example by hemp or manila rope, steel cable, or rods, is even more limited, typically only a fraction of a mile. Electrical power can be transmitted over long distances (at high voltages) without significant energy loss, which made region-wide electric utilities possible and allowed the tapping of previously unexploited remote hydro power. Later in the twentieth century, the internal combustion engine began to power both electric generators and air compressors, especially at remote quarry locations where electric service might not be readily available (Figure 41). In modern quarries, diesel engines power large forklift trucks and long-haul flatbed trucks (Figure 42). The Fletcher Quarry in Woodbury, Vermont’s highest producing quarry, consumes forty thousand gallons of diesel fuel per year.

Immigrant Granite Workers

During the mid- and late-1800s and early-1900s, granite workers from Scotland, Italy, Ireland, England, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and other countries were attracted by America’s booming marble and granite industries. Later, French Canadians came in large numbers, many as strike breakers, a role that some have still not forgiven. Immigrant granite workers filled jobs at all levels, including quarry and shed owners, architects, artists, sculptors, stonecutters, quarrymen, machine operators, engineers, mechanics, and draftsmen. Many Scots came from Aberdeen, an important granite center, and many of these immigrants purchased and operated granite quarries in America. Immigrants from Spain and Sweden often came from the granite centers at Saragossa and Goteburg, respectively. The Italians came mostly from the marble region of Carrara in Tuscany and the granite region of Viggiu in Lombardy. Many were highly trained and had apprenticed for as many as ten years, starting as young boys. As Vermont’s granite industry boomed, Italian marble carvers moved from Rutland to Vermont’s granite centers to try their hands (and as it turned out, successfully) at granite carving. (See following pages for a description of the jobs in the finishing shed.)

The training of Italian carvers often included formal art school, for example Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara or Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (Milan), as well as practical work in a stone shed. The apprentice went from watching to applying what he saw to taking responsibility and performing for critics, the master carvers. In the early stages of his apprenticeship in the stone shed, he might clean up the shop, pick up chips, put away tools, deliver tools to the blacksmith, pick up stone from nearby shops, run a variety of errands, sharpen tools, take pay to the carvers, build scaffolding, polish stone, and pull rope for the master’s bow drill. When an apprentice was ready after a few years of training, he would start to work on stone, typically in the following sequence as his skill grew: break down a stone with a hand hammer and point; draw and carve letters; put a straight face on a stone with chisels and bush hammer; put a cornice or molding on a stone; carve leaves and other simple ornaments; carve flowers, foliage, and capitals; rough out a relief, bas-relief, or full-round statue; and then watch the master finish the carving. As a point of comparison, consider the apprenticeship standards developed in Barre in 1946. The term of apprenticeship for stonecutters was three years and for polishers and sawyers two years. Sharpeners worked on tools for six cutters during the first six months, eight cutters during the second six months, ten cutters for the third six months, and fourteen cutters for the last six months.

Since many immigrants were itinerant workers, following the work wherever it was available, wives and children often stayed home and husbands sent money back home. Wages in the American granite industry were much better than in Europe. Some waited until they were established and then sent for their family. In the meantime, they usually lived in boarding houses provided by the granite companies or in private boarding houses (Figure 43). Many returned home to retire and, tragically, often to die from silicosis. With the warmer climate of southern Europe, many immigrant granite workers were used to working in open-sided sheds which allowed the granite dust to dissipate to the outdoors. Also, there were fewer dust-producing machines in use and the granite itself was softer, resulting in less dust. The European marble workers who came to work in the granite industry were completely unfamiliar with silicosis since marble dust does not cause silicosis. European stone workers called silicosis the “American disease”!

Silicosis, Tuberculosis and Granite Dust

“I’ve lived through most of Barre’s labor troubles. … Men wanted the elimination of dust. That was always a sore spot. I don’t blame them. I know what I’m talking about. My father, brother and three uncles all died from stonecutter’s TB.”1 Those are the words of a granite worker describing the effects of silicosis in Men Against Granite. Silicosis was caused by the prolonged -seven to eight years- inhalation of excessive levels of airborne granite dust produced primarily by pneumatic, granite-working tools and machinery that were in use as early as 1887.

“Modern machinery came in and silicosis slaughtered family after family-through ruthlessness of big industry,” noted the Mayor in Men Against Granite. ‘The safety devices now are far from perfect. … And they come too late to save the men who worked in the shed before. That dust is already in their lungs. Even if they leave the sheds, as many of them do, the damage is done. It will get them. Some go fast and others linger on for years.”2

As Messrs. Tobin and White noted in their application for a 1924 patent for a “Dust Remover for Stone Dressing Machinery,” “This dust is injurious to the health and it has been found that in the granite districts of Vermont and elsewhere, the life of a stone-working mechanic is relatively short. If a mechanic works on surfacing stones for too long a time, the dust will effect his lungs and eventually cause his death by tuberculosis”3

Silicosis-induced tuberculosis was the cause of the premature death of large numbers of granite workers and the devastation of their families-most dying in their 50s, 40s, and even 30s. Stonecutter’s TB or the “white death” had been known to stonecutters themselves by the late 1800s and was known to exist in foundry, mining, and other stone processing industries long before that. By 190s, convincing statistical and epidemiological evidence of the severity of the disease in granite workers had been published.

“The present problem-In 1915 there were 2,050 granite cutters working [In Barre], while in 1919 only 1,240. An analysis of the death certificates for the past twenty years indicated that 86 percent of the cutters died from tuberculosis,” noted Dr. D.C. Jarvis, in 1923 in ‘The Upper Respiratory Tract in Granite Dust Inhalation.”4

Granite workers were exposed to, and were willing to accept, a wide variety of risks that could be minimized but not completely eliminated, such as explosives, falling rocks, flying stone and metal chips, excessive noise, and exploding machinery. However, granite workers were less willing to accept airborne granite dust that they viewed as an unnecessary risk.

Increased competition in the industry put strong pressure on stone-shed owners to purchase more efficient stone-working machinery. Unfortunately, much of this machinery greatly increased the levels of dust-especially the surfacing machines. By around 1903, Barre’s granite-cutters union was advocating the installation of dust-removal equipment and was including dust-control clauses in its labor agreements. Some examples of the clauses include: “Cutters must provide themselves with brooms, and no air power to be used to remove dust unless by special permission”;5 “Turning down of grindstones to be done outside working hours unless water is kept running on them in sufficient quantities to keep down the dust”;6 and “No surface cutting machines to be worked in the cutting shed during working hours.”7 Union president James Duncan wrote in a 1904 issue of the Granite Cutters’ Journal “To those familiar with the modern granite cutting plants, it is easy to understand the high mortality among granite cutters because respiratory disease exists. These sheds are splendidly equipped with all the known appliances facilitating the output of granite, but they are generally lacking in one thing, mainly a means of ventilating dust which is produced in the course of granite cutting.”8

Dust control was the single most important health issue for the granite industry. By the early 1900s, deaths due to silicosis and tuberculosis were so numerous that there actually developed a shortage of skilled granite workers. If the climate allowed, working outside or in open-walled sheds was an effective measure (Figures 44 and 45). However, during New England’s cold winters, the sheds were kept closed-often resulting in dust so thick that a worker could not see a coworker at the next banker. Exhaust fans in shed walls and ventilating roof cupolas were not very effective (Figure 46). Face masks with filters and helmets with an air supply were tried but found to either clog or to be too clumsy, hindering a man’s work (Figures 47 and 48). Wet stone working was introduced in both the quarry and finishing shed and for certain operations like quarry drilling and tool sharpening on grindstones was quite effective.

Dr. D.C. Jarvis, a local Barre physician, was very vocal on the health problems of granite workers and did a great deal to focus the public’s attention on the need to find solutions. Highly trained workers were being lost to early deaths. Sons were not entering the granite business, often at the urging of their granite worker fathers. There was declining immigration of skilled Europeans who, having heard of working conditions from relatives and friends in the U.S., did not want to risk silicosis. Although he had a great concern about the future of the industry, Dr. Jarvis, along with most other physicians at this time, did not seem to have a clear understanding of the connection between the dust and the disease. Dr. Jarvis’s medical writings seem to imply that manufacturers had a limited responsibility for the health of their employees, that workers had a personal responsibility to remain productive, and that the workers’ personal sanitary habits away from the workplace were a cause of tuberculosis infection.

Prudential Life Insurance and Metropolitan Life, the two primary insurers of America’s industrial workers, had been collecting morbidity and mortality data for many years. In the early 1900s, using statistical and epidemiological methods to analyze this data, Frederick L. Hoffman, a statistician at Prudential, along with his counterpart at Metropolitan, Louis Dublin, were the first in America to convincingly link the presence of granite dust in the workplace to the incidence of tuberculosis among granite workers. “The sanitary dangers of air contaminated by disease-breeding germs are probably not so serious as generally assumed … [rather] the destructive effects of the dust-laden atmosphere of factories and workshops are a decidedly serious menace to health and life,'”‘ This linkage was strongly suggested by the nationwide decline in the incidence of tuberculosis after 1900, except for workers in the dusty trades. By 1919, the death rate in Barre from tuberculosis was 23.3 per 10,000 whereas the rate for the rest of Vermont was only 9 per 10,000. In 1929, the U.S. Public Health Service published a definitive mortality study of Barre’s granite workers, which showed that at sixty million particles of dust per cubic foot, “100 percent of the workers had at least early signs of silicosis within four years.”10 It also established a safe limit for dustiness at between nine to twenty million parts per cubic foot. The authors of this study commented “With a properly designed system of exhaust ventilation, it is possible to remove a large proportion of the dust, even without the use of an individual fan for each machine.”11 (Figure 49)

Tragically, although the necessary technology existed to solve the problem, it was not until another decade had passed (1939) that effective dust removal equipment was universally installed in Vermont. Why was it that universal installation of dust control equipment occurred only after 1939 even though the connection between dust inhalation and tuberculosis had been recognized, at least by some, as early as 1900 and effective dust removal equipment had been installed in a few sheds in Concord, New Hampshire, and Barre as early as the late 1910s and early 1920s? Some probable reasons are: (1) the high cost of really effective dust removal equipment (the typical cost for a dust control system for an average size stone shed in the 1920s-30s was $5,000, in some cases this was almost the cost of the shed itself); (2) an unwillingness to make this investment due to increased costs of doing business (salaries, taxes, complex machinery) and the increased competition from other granite areas (for example, Elberton, Georgia, and St. Cloud, Minnesota); (3) the mistaken assumption that existing dust control measures were effective; (4) the confusion caused by the medical profession pointing to causes for tuberculosis other than dust inhalation such as home hygiene; (5) the strong work ethic of granite workers who continued to work even though most of them knew that the work environment was killing them; and (6) the reduced union bargaining strength after the influx of strike-breaking French-Canadian workers resulted in an open shop (“American plan”) workplace.

In 1922, Barre shed owners proposed a 20 percent wage cut and a health commission to begin a study for the removal of dust created by tools and machinery used in cutting granite. The workers rejected this offer and the owners declared the “American plan” to be in effect. Finally, on September 1, 1937, the Barre Granite Cutters Union and the shed owners agreed to a labor contract that mandated the universal installation of effective dust removal equipment. Stonecutters agreed to a reduction of salary demands of a dollar per day to help pay for the dust removal equipment. After two years of delay, the equipment was finally universally installed by 1939. At the same time, the Vermont Department of Public Health, Industrial Hygiene Division, instituted periodic inspections of the dust removal equipment to insure compliance with the dust control agreement. This included the regular testing of the dust removal equipment, with a vacuum gauge, to insure adequate suction.

Over time, a wide variety of dust control measures, many of limited effectiveness, were attempted. However, by far the most effective and universally applicable safety measure was the removal of granite dust at its source-the stonecutter’s banker, sandblast room, or dust-producing machine-by suction through a system of ducts. This system had to be engineered for each installation, taking into account the building configuration and the type and location of each stone-working machine and stonecutter banker (Figure 50). The various elements of a dust collection system included: a suction head (or nozzle) at the banker or attached to a machine’s frame near the pneumatic tool (Figure 51); a flexible duct connecting to the suction head that allowed easy movement as the work location changed; a flexible duct support with friction rod, friction wheel, and counterweight; a chip trap to remove granite chips from the airflow so as to prevent damage to the fan, duct work and dust filter bags; a fan or blower; a rigid duct work system, running through the shed, increasing in size as more and more of machines and workstations were connected; and an external (located outside the shed) dust filter with an array of self-cleaning cloth bags. The bags required periodic replacement due to the highly abrasive nature of granite dust. The pile of trapped dust was shoveled out from the bottom of the filter.

Richard Ruemelin of the Ruemelin Manufacturing Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a key innovator in dust control equipment. Although there were earlier patents, Ruemelin was the first inventor and manufacturer to provide a full line of effective and reliable equipment including banker dust collectors, surfacer dust collectors, sand blast cabinets with curtains, and dust filters. This was the first time a complete dust removal system could be assembled from standard manufactured parts. Ruemelin was issued three important dust removal patents: a dust collector (filter) with multiple hanging cloth filter bags, which were periodically shaken by an electric motor to prevent the bags from clogging (1926); a dust removal device for a single stonecutter banker, which was easily positioned to the work (1933); and an adjustable dust and chip collector for pneumatic surfacing machines (1934). Although almost all granite sheds are now equipped with effective dust removal equipment, it is still necessary to educate workers about the hazards of dust, to train them for proper use of the equipment, and to keep the equipment in good working order.

Safety and Health

“Last week a stone had dropped [from the derrick chain] with the toppling crash of thunder, skidded across the floor and pinned the Spaniard Manuel against the wall with a crushed leg. Manuel’s scream pierced the echoing roar of the hurtling block.”12 This story was one of many reported in Men Against Granite that illustrates the perils of working in the granite industry. “I used to handle the dynamite too,” one Scots-Irish derrickman remembered. “The worst one I ever saw was when they were blasting out under a ledge. The fuse was lit all right, but it took a long time to go oft”. They thought it had gone dead or something. I told them not to go back under there but this fellow did, this French fellow. It went off just as he was crawling under. Jesus help me, I never want to see anything like that again! Blew him out like a cannonball. Blew the hair right oft’his head, the clothes oft” his body. Blew his eyes out, his ears oft”, there were pieces of wood and stone blown right into his head and body.”13

These granite worker stories from Men Against Granite leave no doubt that the quarrying and finishing of granite was an inherently dangerous occupation. Injuries to eyes were caused by flying granite and steel chips. Injuries to the ears were caused by the high noise levels of the tools and machinery. The noise often continued in their heads when they were at home and some developed tinnitus-a permanent ringing in the ears.

“Just Another Guy Working” described how the noise affected him. “The noise is the worst thing. It makes me deaf. It’s a hell of a racket with the saws grinding back and forth. You know it takes an hour to saw four inches into granite. The drills are going all the time, and them big cranes are smashing overhead. You get vibration from the air-pressure machines. Jack hammers sound like machine guns. At quitting when the noise stops your head feels funny inside, the ringing stays in your ears, but you get used to it.”14

Large, powerful, hand-held pneumatic hammers caused numb fingers. Bodily injuries were caused by a variety of events. A granite worker could be crushed between two stone blocks, between two railroad cars, or under a falling block or grout box. He could be struck by a sliding block, a flying stone from a premature or delayed quarry explosion, flying metal from an exploding steam boiler or machinery, or a falling derrick caused by an oversize load. He could be entangled in a moving rope or injured by falling from a quarry ledge, a quarry ladder, a grout box, a derrick mast, or while riding on a lifted block. He could be wound around machinery shafting or caught in machinery gearing or belts. He could be scalded by steam escaping from a steam drill or from a burst steam boiler. Hands were crushed in pulley blocks and limbs severed by flying cables or chains. In the six years after 1914, when Vermont’s Compensation Law went into effect, there were fifteen fatalities at Barre granite quarries and stone sheds that were reported to the Commissioner of Industries.

When a worker could not work due to injury, it typically inflicted severe financial hardship on his family. The company might continue his salary for a short time, but if the disability was of long duration, the salary stopped. Any financial help was voluntary on the part of the company. In some cases, this help was forced by legal action. In 1913, the Woodbury Granite Co. was sued by the brother of Fred Angelo, who was killed by a blast in the Woodbury Granite Co. No. 9 quarry in Woodbury. He had just arrived from Italy and left a wife and four children in Italy. The company settled for $2,500.

Gradually, due to union pressure and government regulation, safety rules and regulations were instituted such as, never ride the derrick hook or a lifted stone, never stand under a suspended stone, immediately take cover when a blast whistle sounds, avoid loose clothing around machinery, and use only sparkless implements when handling explosives. The wearing of safety equipment was mandated, for example: safety glasses or goggles when using tools or operating machines that produce flying stone or metal chips, steel-tip shoes, hard hat, ear protectors (muffs) and ear plugs near noisy machinery, safety belt, safety harness, and safety line (Figure 52). The safety line was attached to the safety harness and had a snap hook at the end. The quarry worker was required to snap the hook onto the ride box when being lifted out of the pit, and a rigger had to snap his safety line onto a derrick rope, mast ladder rung, or rope eye wherever he was working on the derrick. Today, all quarrymen must wear hard hats, long pants, and steel-toed shoes. Some quarry drill operators wear double ear protection-both ear plugs and ear muff protectors.

Labor Unions

The granite industry was one of the earliest and most completely unionized of any industry in America. The Granite Cutters Union and its associated publication, the Granite Cutters Journal, was established in 1877 by granite workers in the Maine granite communities of Hurricane Island, Clark Island, Dix Island, and Vinalhaven. The South Ryegate (Vermont) Branch of the Granite Cutters National Union was organized on April 2, 1885. When management of the local granite companies heard of the impending organization of a union, they petitioned the State’s Attorney to dispatch deputies. The deputies arrived in South Ryegate armed with revolvers and handcuffs only to find the granite workers totally peaceful. The workers were arrested and taken away to be jailed but were immediately bailed out with money raised among the town’s citizens. An indictment was brought against the workers but was quickly dismissed by the court for all except for three of them. After a long series of legal maneuvers, the three were fined a nominal twenty dollars each. This incident established that the union was, in fact, a legal institution in Vermont.

Reasons for early unionization of the granite industry are not hard to find. The granite industry was (and is) highly competitive with tight margins and required large capital investment in tools and machinery, which strongly motivated management to keep the payroll down. Work was highly variable, especially in the building granite industry, where a large contract was often completed before the next contract had yet been signed, leading management to hire and fire large groups of workers at one time. Safety rules were often viewed by management as reducing efficiency and production. Finally, many immigrants from Europe had a strong socialist tradition and tended to view management with suspicion, perceiving worker exploitation (Figure 53). The Granite Cutters International Association (successor to the Granite Cutters National Union) was the earliest and most effective of the granite unions. Unions were also organized for other workers such as quarrymen, sharpeners, lumpers, derrickmen, and boxers. As a counterbalance to the increasing strength of unions, granite manufacturer’s associations were organized by company owners in most of the major granite communities. For example, by 1909, there were thirty-one manufacturer association members in Hardwick and Woodbury, Vermont.

The main concerns of the granite unions were regular paydays, hourly rates, and hours worked per week. In the late 1800s, granite workers were paid at irregular and unpredictable intervals, were earning on average only 30 to 35 cents per hour, and were working six ten-hour days per week. The other big union issue was its concerns about airborne granite dust. Workers strike demands included regular paydays, an eight-hour workday, increased hourly wages, and safety conditions on the use of pneumatic tools. Granite workers at this time did not have medical insurance, workman’s compensation, or retirement plans, although granite workers could buy voluntary insurance for $1.00 per week with the employer contributing $ 1.50 per week. They also had to endure the ups and downs of the granite business. Added to this were the strikes; for example, there were more than a dozen strikes in Hardwick and Woodbury from 1896 to 1933. The granite worker could expect to have a lot of unpaid “vacation time”!

As an example of a labor agreement, in 1911, a five-year settlement on a new scale of wages was agreed upon in all branches of the granite industry in Hardwick. Lumpers and drillers were to get an increase from $2.08 to $2.25, from $2.23 to $2.35, and from $2.35 to $2.40. Those earning $2.50 or more would have no change. Stonecutters were to get an increase from $3.10 to $3.25 for monumental granite and from $3.20 to $3.30 for building granite. Weekly pay and the Saturday half holiday (that is, the men worked only half a day on Saturday) were included in the agreement. The half holiday would be in force during the summer months or when there was light during the working hours. During the winter months, the men would labor seven and one-half hours in the day in lieu of the half holiday. The bumper was excluded in the new contract. Blacksmiths and sharpeners were to receive the same increase as the cutters and the polishers would also receive an increase in pay.

From the perspective of the employer, labor strikes significantly increased his labor costs, impacted his ability to deliver on schedule, and caused cash flow problems in meeting fixed costs. The result of these strikes was an ever-increasing wage scale-from 250 to 300 per hour and a ten-hour workday in 1890 to $1.00 per hour and an eight-hour workday in 1920.

The building granite business declined during the 1920s and finally collapsed in the early 1930s due partly to worker strikes and the onset of the Great Depression but due mostly to the increasing availability of alternative lower-cost building materials such as concrete, glass, steel panels, and stone veneers and the unwillingness of governments and companies to spent extra for granite ashlar-clad buildings. The American monumental granite business is still active but is under increasing pressure from international competition, especially from China and India.


1. Mari Tomasi and Roaldus Richmond, “A Modern Guild,” Men Against Granite. Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers Project, 1936-40 (Also available at or in Tomasi, Mari, et al., Men Against Granite (New England Press, 2O04).

2. “The Mayor,” Men Against Granite

3. Edward M. Tobin and Emmet M. White, “Dust Remover For Stone-Dressing Machinery,” U.S. Patent Office, no. 1,504,994, August 12, 1924.

4. D.C. Jarvis, M.D. “The Upper Respiratory Tract in Granite Dust Inhalation,” The Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, vol. XXXII, (1923).

5. Granite Cutters’ International Association, 1903 contract with Barre manufacturers.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. James Duncan, Granite Cutters’ Journal (1904).

9. Frederick L. Hoffman, “Mortality from Consumption in Dusty Trades,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Bulletin no. 79, (1908): 633-875.

10. Albert E. Russell et al., “The Health of Workers In the Dusty Trades,” US. Public Health Service Bulletin no. 187 (1929).

11. Ibid.

12. “Up On The Hill,” Men Against Granite.

13. “Scots-Irish Derrickman,” Men Against Granite.

14. “Just Another Guy Working,” Men Against Granite.

Additional References

Books and Journal Articles

Bale, M. Powis. Stone-Working Machinery. London: Crosby Lockwood and Co., 1884.

Barre Granite Association. Apprenticeship Standards for the Granite Industry. Barre, Vermont: Barre Granite Association 1946.

Barre Museum of the Aldrich Public Library. Carlo Abate-A Life in Stone (pamphlet). Barre, Vermont: ca. 1986.

Bielenberg, Kristina, et al. Granite Artists and Their Work (exhibition catalog). Barre, Vermont: Barre Ethnic Heritage Studies Project and First Branch Gallery, 1978.

Bigelow, Jacob. History of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Boston: James Munroe and Co., 1860.

Bowles, Oliver. Stone Cutting and Polishing. U.S. Department of Interior, 1958.

“Credit Ratings, 1917-18.” Boston: National Association of the Granite Industries of the United States, 1918.

Dale, T. Nelson. The Granites of Maine. U.S. Geological Survey, 1907.

Dale, T. Nelson. The Commercial Granites of New England U.S. Geological Survey, 1923.

Fenwick, Carrol, ed. Barre In Retrospect. Barre, Vermont: Friends of the Aldrich Public Library, 1975.

Forbes, Harriette M. Gravestones of Early New England and the Men Who Made Them 16S3-1800. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927.

Gove, Bill. Sky Route To The Quarries Quarry. Williamstown, Vermont: View Publishing, 2004.

Grindle, Roger. Tombstones and Paving Blocks, the History of the Maine Granite Industry. Rockland, Maine: Courier of Maine Book, 1977.

Hatch, Theodore. “Control Of The Silicosis Hazard In The Hard Rock Industries,” The Granite Cutters Journal, June 1930 .

Hoffman, Frederick L. “Mortality from Consumption in Dusty Trades,” U.S. Bureau of Labor, Bulletin no. 79, (1908): 633-875.

Jones, Robert C. et al. Vermont’s Granite Railroads. Boulder, CoL: Pruett Publishing Co., 1985.

Munroe, Charles E. and Clarence Hall. A Primer on Explosives for Metal Miners and Quarrymen. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1915.

Peele, Robert. Compressed Air Plant. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1920.

Preserving a Palace of Art (brochure). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 2000.

Pinkstone, William G. The Abrasive Ages. Lititz, Pennsylvania: Sutter House, 1974.

Richardson, Wendy. “‘The Curse of Our Trade’: Occupational Disease in a Vermont Granite Town.” Vermont History, 60, no. 1 (Winter 1992).

Russell, Albert E. et al. “The Health of Workers In the Dusty Trades: Exposure to Siliceous Dust (Granite Industry),” U.S. Public Health Service Bulletin, no. 187(1929.

Sass, Jon A. The Versatile Millstone-Workhorse of Many Industries. Newton, N.C.: Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, 1984.

Seager, D. R. “Barre Vermont Granite Workers & The Struggle Against Silicosis, 1890-1960.” Labor History, 42, no. l (20O1): 61-79.

Sessions, Gene. Celebrating A Century of Granite Art. Montpelier, Vermont: TW. Wood Art Gallery, 1989.

Smith, Robert. The Granite City. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1989.

State of Wisconsin. Wisconsin State Capitol Guide and History (brochure). Madison: Division of Buildings and Police Services, 2000 .

Stebbins, EH. “Dust Collecting Systems Adapted for Use In Connection with the Granite Industry.” The Granite Cutter’s Journal, September 1924.

Tomasi, Mari. Like Lesser Gods. Milwaukee, Wise.: Bruce Publishing Co., 1949.

Tymeso, Mildred McClary. The Norton Story. Worcester, Mass.: Norton Co., 1953.


EAIA member Paul Wood is a retired electrical engineer, who worked his entire career in the computer industry. He is interested in the tools, implements and machinery of the granite industry and of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century farming in New England.

Copyright Early American Industries Association Mar 2007

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