The Kitchen-Table Industrialists @ NYTimes.com… A lot of familiar makers celebrated. A version of this article will appear in print on May 15, 2011, on page MM50 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Meet The Makers.
If you lived in Detroit in 1961 and watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” at a drive-in, you might have caught a 30-minute trailer called “American Maker,” sponsored by Chevrolet. “Of all things Americans are, we are makers,” its narrator began, over footage of boys building sand castles. “With our strengths and our minds and spirit, we gather, we form and we fashion: makers and shapers and put-it-togetherers.”
Fifty years on, the American maker is in a bad way. Such is the state of American industry that waste paper is among the top 10 exports to China, behind nuclear equipment but far ahead of traditional mainstays like iron and steel. Manufacturing employment has fallen by a third in the last decade alone, with more than 40,000 factories shutting down. More Americans today are unemployed than are wage-earning “put-it-togetherers.” But the American romance with making actual things is going through a resurgence. In recent years, a nationwide movement of do-it-yourself aficionados has embraced the self-made object. Within this group is a quixotic band of soldering, laser-cutting, software-programming types who, defying all economic logic, contend that they can reverse America’s manufacturing slump. America will make things again, they say, because Americans will make things — not just in factories but also in their own homes, and not because it’s artisanal or faddish but because it’s easier, better for the environment and more fun.
What makes this notion something less than complete fantasy is the availability of new manufacturing machines that are cheap, simple and compact enough for small companies, local associations and even amateur hobbyists to own and operate. What once only big firms with hulking factories could fabricate can now be made in a basement or by e-mailing a design to an online factory-for-hire. These machines can produce all sorts of things, including plastic pencil holders, eyeglass frames and MP3 players.
Since it was not included in the article, I’d like to say thanks to Dale and the MAKE/Maker Faire team for always being the expert match maker for makers & reporters – and of course if you really want to “meet the makers”, Maker Faire is next week :)