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Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Furnishing of Desks

Bayou Renaissance Man was talking about bookcases, which led to JK Brown posting a link to Woodgears.ca wherein Matthias mentions tables made at Blackberry, which because I haven't had my coffee yet, I took to mean an old line furniture manufacturer, so I went looking for this venerable old company and found nothing. Well, nothing about the Blackberry Furniture Manufacturing Company, mostly because there didn't seem to be one, but I did find this story from 1917, which you might find entertaining. I know I did.
The Furnishing of Desks 
THERE came from the Quarter Master General, who has his headquarters in Chicago it seems, on June 30, blanks upon which were to be filled out bids for 2,375 flat top desks. With some of these blanks there were also enclosed specifications for these desks which, according to these specifications, could not be made for less than $35, even if they could be built at that figure. The desks were to be cross-banded, with heavy legs, brass cup feet, etc. Remember that it was then the 30th day of July. The specifications called for bids to be in the quartermaster’s office with a sample of the article to be furnished on the 2nd day of August, and the 2,375 desks to be ready for delivery on the 15th day of August. Needless to say to furniture makers that the thing could not be done. These desks are wanted for the cantonments now being built, scattered from Battle Creek to Waco, Tex., and from Ayers, Mass., and Yaphaw, L. I., to Linda Vista, Cal. Similar calls have been made by other of the Quartermasters in five cities to the total of approximately 10,000 desks. All the desk factories of the country have been busy for months and have accumulated no stock. The proposals assume that the desks could be had from stock, and assumed further that they could be built within two weeks, and called for an article unnecessarily good. The desk manufacturers were thrown into a panic. They would like to get some of the business—or manufacturers of furniture in other lines would like to have a hand at it, but found it absolutely impossible to enter the competition. The situation in the desk market is typified by some illustrations which Henry M. Hyde, a careful investigator for the Chicago Tribune gives in one of his letters from Washington to that paper. Here is the story as told by Mr. Hyde:  
The War Department has experts on almost every subject in its employ. They are real experts. They are careful, scientific men of recognized authority in their specialties. One of them is an expert on jams.
As the result of long continued and scientifically conducted experiments he has demonstrated that blackberry Jam is the most appetizing and nutritious of all the jam family. Consequently blackberry jam is part of the official ration of the American soldier.
Having reached that determination. the War Department would, in normal times, prepare careful specifications defining the quality of jam desired and the exact size of the containers in which it must be packed. It would then advertise for bids and, at the end of some 90 days. would let the contract to the lowest and best bidder.
That system worked well enough when there was plenty of time and jam had to be supplied to less than 100,000 men.
Now. with the biggest war in history on our hands. the situation is entirely changed.
In the first place the need of jam is instant. To advertise for bids and wait 90 days before letting contracts would leave all the new armies, now gathering in their cantonments, jamless.
In the second place. though it is not difficult to find blackberry jam enough to feed 100,000 men. there is probably not sufficient blackberry jam in the United States to spread the bread for more than 1,000,000,000 soldiers.
At this point the bureaucrats of the War Department and the business men who serve on the advisory board of the National Council of Defense come into one of their characteristic conflicts.
The position of the business men is that, since the jam must be secured without an instant's delay, the proper plan is to go out into the open market and buy it, using such patriotic appeals and such government pressure as are available to get low prices and quick deliveries.
Also, since the existing supply of blackberry jam is vastly insufficient, the business mind can see no other way out than to add to all the blackberry jam which can be purchased. enough plum, raspberry. and other jams to make up the necessary quantity.
Now, the bureaucrats of the war and all government departments work by system. The chief characteristics of that system are its exactness and its rigidity. It is put together like the wheels of a fine watch and when properly oiled and wound up it works with equal perfection. It is related that, at the time of the Spanish war, one of the permanent officials of the war department complained bitterly of the situation.
"I have spent 20 years putting the system in my office in perfect condition," he declared, "and now just when the work is done, along comes this damned war and knocks it all to pieces."
Here is another instance illustrating the same defect: Until a few days ago the regulations of the Quartermaster’s Department required that corned beef for the army be packed in cans containing exactly two pounds of meat. A two pound can of corned beef is not put up commercially. The great Chicago packers, on the other hand, make millions of cans which hold 28 ounces of meat. All their machinery and their arrangements are made for packing corned beef in 28 ounce cans.
When the War Department has asked for bids on cans holding 32 ounces. most of the packers have not even troubled to submit figures. And the extra four ounces of meat in the cans supplied to the army have cost proportionately as much as the same quantity in cans of ordinary commercial sizes.
It took a lot of diplomacy and a special trip to Chicago, with a formal conference at the Union League club to persuade the powers that be to agree to accept corned beef in the smaller cans at a reduced rate per ounce of meat. 
It will take diplomacy to bring about the changes which need to be made, and possibly a trip by furniture makers and a personal interview with the officials of War Department in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Seattle and Washington to make it evident that the furniture factories of the country are not able to get out in two weeks, or two months, 10,000 of the kind of desks which are being called for, that they can not be had at any price within the period specified.
We haven’t heard about refrigerators at this writing. But the same thing must needs be gone through when the refrigerator stage is reached, and refrigerators are vastly more important when the health of the troops are under consideration than are crossed banded, brass tipped desks, or anything akin thereto.
Foreseeing some of these difficulties, THE FURNITURE MANUFACTURER AND ARTISAN two months ago urged that the Federation of Furniture Manufacturers send a delegation to Washington to get out of the oilicials in that seat of government some of the adoration of red tape, and offer them instead a workable plan for obtaining the furniture which must be used by 1,000,000 men at war. But no one seems to have listened. Possibly because they did not then appreciate, and seemingly do not now, that we are at war.

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