Smith, Merritt Roe. Harper's Ferry Armory and the New Technology; The Challenge of Change. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977.

Quotation and paraphrase of introduction:

The story of Harper's Ferry, most notably the efforts of its inhabitants to preserve accustomed life styles and practices in the wake of accelerating technology, presents a microcosmic view of the industrial revolution which is perhaps more suggestive of America's bittersweet relationship with the machine than many historians have heretofore recognized. In addition to specifying the organizational and technological changes that occurred at Harper's Ferry between 1798 and 1861, this study seeks to identify those who initiated new ideas, evaluate the significance of their work in a national context, and determine how the community at large responded to the emergency of novelty in thought and action. …. It pictures an isolated rural society floundering between the two worlds of agrarian pastoralism and industrial progress.

Workers defended traditional rights and privileges, expressing scorn and apprehension about changes to working processes -- and yet finding the changes interesting. "The Harper's Ferry story diverges sharply from the oft-repeated generalization that "most Americans accepted and welcomed technological change with uncritical enthusiasm." Contemporaries in 1854 classed the Armory as a modern institution. But a closer examination shows the difficulties with building the factory, with adopting new techniques, and with getting the workers to follow an industrial regimen. The Harper's Ferry response was "hesitant and equivocal." Perhaps only a small segment of the population embraced technological change and "tried to inculcate them through various agencies of economic and social control."

The Armory land, selected by George Washington, was placed poorly for factory work and gave a lot of trouble in building. Until well after 1812, local employees kept a work schedule adjusted to farms, homes and multiple other tasks, conducted inside the armory as well as out. They used as many hand tools, completed individual guns, and cultivated little mechanical know-how beyond boring and grinding tools then in use. They never met produced as many weapons, or as a good quality, as the Springfield armory. Technology flowed from the North to the South, including the Blanchard Lathe. The Superintendent, James Stubblefield, introduced division of labor, piece rates and the increased use of machinery. But he failed to innovate at a pace with the other armory, and distanced himself from daily affairs, much to the armory's detriment. In the 1820s, John Hall worked for 20 years at contract in Harper's Ferry establishing truly interchangeable parts in his Rifle Works. His expensive and solitary methods won him few friends, but his methods were misunderstood - especially as regards economies of scale. Ultimately the results were inarguably an improvement, and his work an important contribution to mass production. A new superintendent in the Armory in 1829 caused great grief by insisting upon regular working hours (a clock) and reshuffling the hierarchy. He was killed by a worker and the replacement was not much better; pork barrel politics and inept management dogged the armory until 1841 when military officers were assigned to leadership. Workers remained unhappy with regulated work, but for Craig, but even more pressing was the need to modernize all the working spaces. An overhaul meant that the workers lost the ability to hold on to craft techniques and had to adapt to the new machinery and methods. Things progressed slowly and uneasily until the outbreak of the Civil War, at which point much of the Armory was destroyed by Federal troops trying to keep munitions out of the hands of the Confederate Army. Shortly thereafter, workers fled, and the Armory, as an institution, ended.

Book summary p. 328-335. In short, for 40 years locals and workers resisted change until they could resist no longer. Their "kin and clan" attitude was exacerbated by the fact that the Armory had little contact with the outside world. Their society, while backward by Northern standards, allowed everyone (white) a considerable amount of independence and voice in community affairs.