Here is an intelligent people who understood early on how industry and commerce are the most solid foundation of its splendour and wealth.
If there is a country where industry reigns supreme and is most honoured, it is certainly Belgium; this quality, for it is one, - and the economists who for a long time have been giving their theories on the prosperity of peoples the absolute basis of the ease of work, have repeated it often enough, - this quality, I say, is one of the first which has distinguished this active people. For some years now, we in France have been seeking to free ourselves from the tributes we pay to other nations; a tribute implies a superiority to the one to whom it is paid, and it was to recognise one in Belgium to be its tributaries for a host of products of the linen and setiferous industry.
Today French industry has risen above all others, perhaps more by the path it has travelled and which testifies to its ardour for work, than by the economic results obtained; but its first representatives have also been elevated to the highest offices of the State, and the Universal Exhibition, which offers us the grandiose spectacle of all the sovereigns of the earth coming to visit this other powerful sovereign in her gigantic palace, is an event well capable of supporting our assertion and of confirming its consequences. Now, among the sovereigns who were the first to visit the Champ de Mars, is it not also a characteristic sign to be able to cite the King of the Belgians.
The exhibition which sums up the efforts of this intelligent nation is, in fact, the one which, in a certain sphere, is the most worthy emulator of the French exhibition. I exclude, of course, England, that old rival of France, which, except in matters of taste, often rubs shoulders with it and sometimes exceeds it.
Belgian products are distinguished, in general, by a superiority of manufacture combined with the advantage of cheapness.
We enjoy, while browsing through the galleries of this nation, the sight of a crowd of objects which are admirably manufactured and established on cost prices very-inferior to ours.
I no longer know which economist cried out on leaving the Crystal Palace: "Taxes and prohibitions are a nonsense after a World's Fair. "This exclamation seems to me quite natural; what is the use of showing the best if one cannot enjoy it, and if one is fatally condemned to the worst? All this is said from the economic point of view, for we recognize no rival in France when it comes to the perfection brought to the execution of our works, whether artistic or industrial. This little aspiration towards a situation better defined by slightly more liberal trade treaties having been satisfied, allow me to add a simple statistical overview.
If we compare the number of French exhibitors with that of Belgian exhibitors, we will be surprised to see that the proportion is almost identical. At first sight, one would think that, because of the small size of its territory, one could not count on a similar ratio between Belgium and France? This is not the case; in France we have one exhibitor for every 3,300 inhabitants, and Belgium has one for every 3,500 or so. This ratio seems even more remarkable when one considers that Paris alone provides more than half of the number of French exhibitors, and that to have a capital like Paris, one needs a population of 38 million men who feed and nourish it with their work. Let us add that, out of a population of about 5 million Belgians, agriculture and forestry occupy more than a million, and various industries nearly another million, which in total makes up two-fifths of the general figure, and one will judge by what elements of prosperity this country deserves to be ranked first for its agricultural and manufacturing organisation.
In an Exhibition such as that of 1867, where the general regulations have provided for a special series of exhibits with a view to improving the physical and moral condition of the people, we thought it necessary to bring out the lesson which for us follows from the study of the various exhibitions of the Belgian people.
And now, as we cannot enter into a detailed review, we shall follow the draughtsmen who have reproduced various parts of the Belgian section, and we shall endeavour to bring out the merits" from the point of view of our industrial education.
Although, in the large machinery nave, a fairly important place has been given over to Belgium, where, in addition to the numerous machines of Messrs. Houget and Teston, a gigantic wind tunnel of Mr. Cockerill can be seen, it seems that the objects truly typical of Belgian industry are more especially grouped, for the enclosure of the Palais, in the fabrics class and, for the Park, in this rotunda situated near the diamond cutting factory, and which is accompanied by another small park laid out along the reserved garden.
The visitor who follows the numerous gates forming the enclosure of this enchanting asylum, of which our collaborator, M. Edmond About, has given such a dazzling description, and who enters the Belgian park by the transverse path which leads to the covered walkway, will first see two specimens of workers' dwellings, then the great rotunda, opposite, the exhibition of the quarry masters, and finally a charming kiosk which occupies the middle of a green meadow.
It is with intention that I place myself at the point of view opposite to that chosen by our draughtsman, because this situation allows me to compare the two workers' dwellings and to mention the exhibition of the small granite which is offered to our eyes with the help of a slender colonnade worthy of examination.
Let us start with the rotunda.
The coal industry is widely represented here. It occupies an area of 120,099 hectares in Belgium, consisting of 268 mines employing 79,187 workers. The average wage for men is 2.60 francs per day, for women 1.40, for boys 1.10 and for girls 1 franc.
The metal mining industry, which also sent many samples, also employs 10,902 workers in Belgium, spread over 45,740 hectares of land and 82 concessions.
In addition to these two fundamental bases of the iron and steel industry and the processing of various metals, the Belgian roundhouse offers us specimens of the industrial products for which these same metals provide the raw materials.
It is known that one of the most fertile branches of Belgian exports after coal are the irons and large metal parts used in the construction of buildings and works of art.
It is particularly in the Ardennes that workers working at home or in workshops manufacture hinges, bolts, hinges, shovels and tongs, which they supply to most of France.
The ramming and hardware industries flourish especially in Herstal-lès-Liége and have acquired a well-deserved reputation. The clouterie, which was specially manufactured by workers living in the districts of Liège and Charleroi, and which has flourished from time immemorial, now has factories which have increased production by means of steam. Since the adoption of this powerful auxiliary of labour, Belgium has considerably increased the number of her factories; she is admirably provided with fuel, and certainly it is not she who would have left the motive power which we owe to steam inactive.
In France, we are rightly concerned to foresee the moment when fuel will run out, which must infallibly happen if I am to believe certain statistics, and it is still uncertain what new element will be allowed to replace coal.
Will the chances that led to its first discovery be repeated for other new agents? Will oil, on which many studies are now based, be able to provide useful fuel for our machines and retorts? No one knows, and the World's Fair does not yet give us the solution to the problem; electric motors themselves have not yet reached practical operating prices, assuming, however, that the forces available to electricity are sufficient and easy to use. We have been exhausting the earth's sources of fire for almost 900 years now; coal has been known since 1044. A poetic legend links this discovery to a fortunate chance, whose hero was a poor boy called Tiel, grandson of a count of Huy, named Ansfrid, who had devoutly ruined his family by giving all his estates to the bishop of Liège. Tiel worked as a blacksmith and lumberjack, and it is said that during an excursion through the Brion woods, a superior genius indicated the first coal mine to him.
Today, it is to human genius alone that industry must ask for its resources, and we hope that from Belgium, France or England will finally emerge the solution so desired and so feverishly sought.
The Belgian rotunda, which has led us to this little digression, offers us still other subjects for study. If we refer to the Belgian catalogue, which is admirably designed and far superior to ours, we will be extremely surprised to find, instead of the names of industrialists, an innumerable number of operating companies. There are few countries that have so many industrial associations. Capital is raised with marvellous ease, and there is not a serious operation which does not immediately give rise to the formation of a company.
This is easy to understand: the railways and the byways are the object of admirable maintenance and solicitude, which favours their multiplication; the exhibition of the plan in relief of the Crammont tunnel leads us naturally to this observation. Moreover, the freedom of movement, trade and transport has extended its benefits to all commercial relations. The abolition of city grants and barriers on state roads, the lowering of customs tariffs, and commercial freedom, enshrined in numerous treaties with foreign powers, have given transactions a very considerable development.
We therefore think it advisable to complete our information in this respect by making use of documents which have been kindly placed at our disposal by Mr. Arthur Renier, secretary of the Belgian commission, and which are based on the conscientious work of Mr. Faïder, who is specially responsible for Belgian statistics; we find therein figures which have their eloquence, but which date back to 1865.
At that time, the imports of general trade amounted to 1,364943,353 fr.
Those of special trade, at ..................... 756 420 342
This gives a total of 2,121,363,695 fr.
On the other hand, exports are divided as follows:
For general trade, at ................... 1 204 298 664 fr.
For special trade at ...................... 601 651 543
In total. ... 1 805 950 207 fr.
The difference between Belgian imports and exports would therefore be about 300 million; this may be considered as a sign of commercial and industrial prosperity by the followers of this economic doctrine which sees a resultant impoverishment for the soil of the country whose exports exceed its imports; however, it is precisely the opposite which follows from the figures indicated above.
From the products of labour to the workers themselves the transition is easy, and if we leave the rotunda, the park immediately offers us some very interesting specimens of workers' dwellings.
In 1861, a Society for the construction of workers' houses was established in Verviers. The specimen exhibited by this Society is the closest to the Belgian rotunda. It takes the form of a brick house, quite spacious, well ventilated and distributed over ground and ground floors. These houses can be sold for 4000 francs and rented for 20 francs per month. The building on display consists of two entirely similar dwellings. On the ground floor, there are two rooms, one of which is on the street and is 4.45 m wide and 4.65 m long; the other, which opens onto the garden and serves as a kitchen, is 2.50 m deep and 4.45 m wide, including the staircase which leads to the first floor; there, there are three completely independent bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. Finally, under the staircase is a cellar which is 4m35 by 4" 55, and which is lit by a window well. The kitchen is paved with tiles, the front room has fir-wood floors, and the cellar has a ceiling. The roof is made of Dutch tiles, the oak roofs of zinc with moulded cornices, the window sills and door jambs are made of ashlar, and the interior staircase is made of beech. Such is the layout adopted by the Verviers Society; it offers, as can be seen, elements of well-being from which the workers are able to benefit.
Next to the Exhibition of the Verviers Society, we can see, under the name of Mr. Jacquemyns, a house for agricultural workers for the Antwerp Kempen. This specimen is particularly aimed at farmers whose morals are more Flemish, if I may say so, than those of the other inhabitants of Belgium.
This is the little house with its main room, whose beds are enclosed in a thick plank wall, like the bunks on a steamer. Two bunks are arranged in the back wall and separated by a cupboard; on the right, as you enter, is the large Flemish fireplace where huge logs can be burnt, and under whose mantle sit, on the right, the old father, on the left, the old mother.
At the back, another room gives access to a garden; outside, one can see a stable enclosed by fir poles squeezed together, above the back room is an attic, so that the drying room, the wash house and the winter workshop are juxtaposed to the main room, and thus complete the rooms needed by these workers.
The Antwerp Kempen has also been the subject of many improvements. The irrigation canals have been multiplied, and more than 3,000 hectares of bare and barren heathland have been transformed into rich meadows and fat pastures.
The agricultural wage, however, is still low; at the last census in Belgium it did not exceed an average of 1 fr. 36 c. per day. The opposite progression has been followed for leases and rents, and the market value of land has undergone a constant increase in the last ten years.
We shall end this study born of the view of the Belgian park with a few words about the Quarry Masters' Exhibition. The bluestone of which the eight-columned peristyle is built is called "the little granite". "The exploitation of this stone constitutes an important industry in Belgium. The value of its products reaches an annual average of 10 million francs, and according to a statement drawn up on 31 December 1866, the quarries alone employed 7076 workers.
It seems that this stone has great resistance to crushing, and each of the column shafts taken separately could support a load of one hundred thousand kilograms.
This is the entire Belgian park. We do not pretend to have given a complete study of it, but we believe we have sufficiently touched on the interesting parts most capable of contributing to our industrial instruction.
The trophy of the apprenticeship workshops.
In the middle of the Salon des Fabrics Belges, where the main factories are grouped together under the galleries of the Exhibition Palace, there is a trophy of symbolic appearance which attracts both attention and questions.
This small monument was erected by the Belgian government, which wanted to bear witness to the improvements it had introduced into the moral and physical situation of its workers.
This trophy represents, in addition to specimens of the material in use, a varied collection of linen, cotton and mixed fabrics produced in the various apprenticeship workshops of Flanders.
Their creation was provoked at the time of the linen and food crisis of 1847, and it is to the commendable initiative of Mr. Ch. Rogier, a man of whom Belgium is proud, that we owe the foundation of these professional training establishments.
To train skilled weavers for the private industry, to initiate them to all the processes of a varied work, capable of satisfying wider outlets, to popularise also the most perfect looms and utensils of weaving, to establish on logical and solid bases the professional instruction of the weaver, to provide him with the elements of a better work and by this means to increase the value of the labour force, such was the goal which was proposed by the foundation of these workshops.
The excellent results which this far-sighted institution was intended to produce have been able to soften the effects of the crisis suffered at the time of the American war; so we think it is not inappropriate to say a few words about its operation.
There are at present sixty-eight apprenticeship workshops in Flanders; the costs of these institutions are borne partly by the State, partly by the provinces, partly by the municipalities for whose benefit they are founded.
This is a direct impulse to individual initiative.
Here is a brief description of the organisation of these workshops. Literary primary education is given either by a local teacher or by any other agent chosen by the local authority.
The vocational instruction of the apprentices is directed by* foremen specially chosen for this purpose.
Certain conditions are imposed on apprentices for their admission to these workshops. The first is age, which must not be less than twelve years; the second is suitability for the branch of industry taught there, i.e. good health and a natural aptitude for the choice of the profession which is to be the subject of the workshops' instruction.
An intelligent measure favourable to the development of primary education also facilitates entry to the workshops before the age of twelve to children who can prove that they already possess the elements making up this same primary education.
The working day is regulated at twelve hours and may not exceed this limit; in addition, administrative commissions ensure that the work is always in keeping with the physical strength of the apprentices.
A salary is agreed for them with the industrial contractors; a deduction intended to be paid into a special fund is used, if necessary, when the apprentices leave, to buy the tools they will need to carry out their trade at home. This deduction is never less than 5 per cent, nor more than 10 per cent. In addition to a certificate of aptitude, which they obtain at that time according to their merits, the government often grants them, in the case of proven superiority, an allowance to make up for what would not be covered by the deduction, both for the purchase of improved utensils and to provide for other needs arising from the exercise of their trade. In short, these apprenticeship workshops are for the countryside what industrial schools are for craftsmen and workers in the cities. They have the added advantage of popularising the working tools that science is making available to workers on a daily basis and whose adoption is often seriously resisted either by ignorance or by the force of habit, which is tenacious among the inhabitants of the countryside. This result is certainly very serious to note. For a long time, the most fertile industries have been slow to take off due to the obstinacy of these brave craftsmen who are as attached to the primitive tools of their fathers as to the thatched cottage where they were born.
The various communes of Flanders have made considerable sacrifices to provide these institutions with perfected utensils and suitable shelters; also the linen industry recruits in these workshops a whole population of workers whose professional training is complete and who contribute to giving Belgian factories this brilliance and this perfection of work that no one can refuse to recognise and for which we must congratulate them.
There exists in Belgium a limestone whose deposit belongs exclusively to it and which has only one extension going towards Holland. In the machine room there is a relief plan made of the material itself, representing the physiognomy of these mines. They are considered to be inexhaustible. A drawing by a talented artist, Mr. Stroobant, served as the basis for the engraving in our publication.
This limestone, which is of recent formation, provides agriculture with a powerful fertilising agent. It is well known how much the question of fertilisers preoccupies nowadays the serious men who take care of the maintenance of the richness of the soil, this richness which is the principal basis of the prosperity of all countries.
As early as 1849 a distinguished chemist, M. Malaguti, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Rennes, said in one of his public lectures: "The farmer will one day be able to fix the nitrogen in the atmosphere himself and transform it into nitrates, which constitute one of the most powerful fertilizers.
What the professor predicted, nature has taken care of. Nitrates are sought after precisely because of the nitrogen they contain; the fertilizing influence of this body, mysterious to the vulgar and so perfectly studied by science, is now universally recognized. Its origin is in the decomposition of animal matter; but this explanation, which is quite clear for the usual places in which nitrates are formed, such as stables, cellars, and damp pits where human detritus gathers, is no longer sufficient everywhere else where nitrates are nevertheless found. It is then in the air itself that the nitrogen must be sought. It is known in this respect that the contact of the air with the porous calcareous materials and the contribution of humidity favour the combinations of oxygen necessary for the formation of azotates. However, it is sufficient to expose the limestone deposits in question for nitrification to take place naturally. Indeed, as we have said, nitrates are produced by the sole action of atmospheric air on polypier limestone; the stone of the Ciply mines is eminently friable and porous; it spreads out with great ease in layers arranged in such a way as to favour atmospheric action and consequently to help nitrification.
Agriculture is thus enriched free of charge with a very powerful fertiliser; trials have been tried and frequently repeated; at Britannia Farm, in particular, it has been found that the increase in produce was considerable, and that it was felt for several years.
In the past, the exploitation of artificial nitrate pits was a most important industry; the one at Fox-les-Caves, for example, supplied the powder factories* with large quantities of saltpetre during the First Empire.
But soon the alkali nitrate industry became free again, and the considerable duties which embarrassed it having been greatly reduced, Indian saltpeter dominated the market, and the artificial nitrate industry was completely extinguished. It is therefore a good fortune for a country to find in it a constant, natural, automatic nitrifying formation, so to speak, considerably shortening the old exploitation processes, if one wants to extract the chemical principles, or bringing a new source
of fertilizer, the abundance of which is so necessary to the prosperity of agriculture.
Now, the new discovery which chemistry, that great violator of the secrets of nature, has given us, endows us with an extremely fertile source of fertilising agents, since it is true that nature can always give us back what we take away from her, and that all we have to do is to ask her in that once mysterious language, which is now so widespread, which is called Science, for her to reply: Fertility!
Never, in fact, has its triumph been more widespread than in our time. The Universal Exhibition of 1867 was to be the eloquent interpreter of this in many parts of its organisation. More than any of its predecessors, this exhibition directed its teachings in a truly practical direction. It makes known, what had not yet been done, the use of raw materials, not used until now.
This is a condition of progress well worthy of our praise, for if we can say with Garnier: "The great conquests of industry are to be found in the use of unappropriated natural resources", we can add that it is to provoke these conquests to put before the eyes of the people the elements which they assimilate.
Let us add in conclusion that His Excellency the Minister of Public Education, always full of initiative, wished to keep in France the small showcase that we are reproducing, and that its owner, Mr. Bortier, has graciously offered it to him. We shall therefore see it in the collections of the Ministry of Public Education, and we shall be able to study it at leisure when the Universal Exhibition is over, and its marvels will be no more than a glorious memory for us.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée