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Industry (again)


Agincourt’s economic health has depended on diversity. A one-man band paying a single note is doomed. You should know, however, that as an architecture undergraduate I took ECON 151 and learned very little beyond the notion of “guns or butter”. Does that analogy date me?

One of the earliest manufacturing facilities I designed was the Syndicate Mill, circa 1868, a water-powered plant that made sense as soon as I understood the number of Iowa mills dating from shortly after the Civil War. But the area between the western edge of the Original Townsite and the Mill Pond was limited; it was evident that water-power would be outmoded very early and also that industry would leapfrog the Muskrat onto what had been agricultural land. But what might that industry resemble?

Nineteenth century manufacturing, even in a predominantly agricultural state like Iowa, was surprisingly diverse, and few of them depended on available of local materials. Farm implements came from places like Chicago or Kansas City, but wagon wheels are another matter. One of the weirdest (though it makes perfect sense) was the manufacture of egg cartons; there are chickens galore but all those eggs have to travel.

Innovations in building materials included what was called “straw board”, planks made from compressed straw, used for sheathing rather than structure. As an organic material, its insulating value was probably pretty good—planks of thatch—but I suspect its resistance to combustion was another thing altogether. Probably explains why you won’t find it at the Man’s Mall; look instead for an updated version such as “oriented strand board”, treated for fire resistance and bonded with glue that’s been to the Moon.

Think of “straw lumber” as 19th century bamboo.

This article from 1882 is typical of others I’ve found.

OK, so straw lumber was a thing. But what equipment was required for its production? Photographs of actual 19th century factories aren’t numerous. The facility shown at the head of this entry was unidentified place or product. Does anyone have an idea from what you can see here?


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