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Under mechanization means the support of manpower out through the use of machines and technical equipment beyond the simple use of tools. The associated work or production process is still carried out holistically by people. In the case of automation , on the other hand, the process is completely taken over by technology (including process control ), and humans only have monitoring tasks.

Mechanization is viewed as an intermediate stage to machinization , in which, in addition to the work movement, the tool is also guided by the machine.

In a figurative sense, the term is used to describe the introduction of technical aids and machines in entire production areas and industries.

Use of terms in modern engineering

In contrast to automation , humans are still responsible for regulating , controlling and monitoring the processes, even with mechanized processes. In addition to control technology and regulation technology, automation technology also consists of measurement technology .

A machine-driven potter's wheel , for example , is viewed as mechanization, but not as machinization. In pottery, the tools are still operated by humans. Partial automation is also mentioned in the literature, in which the workpiece and tool change and the further transport of the workpieces through the machines takes place. The activities of control and monitoring (in the language of business administration ) or regulation and control (technical language), however, remain with humans. These activities are only transferred to the machines in full automation. Mechanization also has an impact on the manufacturing processes used , as some processes cannot be mechanized, or are difficult to mechanize, or only partially. With other processes, in particular those that require very high machining forces or speeds such as friction welding , mechanization is a prerequisite for being able to use them.

Example potter's wheel

Fast turning potter's wheel

The potter's wheels, known since ancient times, initially allow a separation of drive (by foot) and shaping (by hand). The mechanical work to be done is distributed and facilitated. A potter's wheel with pedal drive also reduces the coordination effort compared to a step bike. The construction of a potter's wheel also requires a number of machine elements ( flywheel , shaft , hub , rocker) and their appropriate structural use in connection with different materials. Only at a further stage of mechanization does another form of external drive appear, as is done today with (controllable) electric drives. The delivery of the raw material, the production of semi-finished products such as the further processing of the green compacts ( glaze , kiln ) and the associated transport can now also be mechanized.

Example welding process

Torch / workpiece movement Additional feed Workpiece handling
Hand welding /
manual welding
manually manually manually
Partly mechanical manually mechanically manually
Fully mechanical mechanically mechanically manually
Automatically mechanically mechanically mechanically

Role in the history of technology

The first beginnings of mechanization in today's sense can be found with the late antique bucket wheels , which were used for irrigation in Egypt and the Roman Empire. Building on this, water wheels were used to do work. For various, sometimes controversial reasons, the existing approaches to mechanization were only slowly pursued. The widespread use of slave labor in ancient times is often blamed for this. Pottery such as terra sigillata has already been partially produced in large workshops for supraregional needs, and agriculture on large estates has been considerably improved. But many prerequisites, including spiritual ones, were missing. The Roman engineers, for example, had profound skills in hydraulic engineering, but did not use the principle of communicating pipes across regions.

The history of the automats cannot be traced back to ancient beginnings. As mentioned, automatons had been known there for a long time, for example with the Antikythera mechanism . It was not until the 18th century that the automatic machines really boomed, which occasionally, like the chess Turk , already had complex mechanics, but only pretended to be fully automated. The joint application of control such as mechanization, for example in mechanical toys , musical instruments , weapon manufacture and in looms and spinning machines , required a combination of the various approaches and the associated knowledge and skills, a systemic approach.

Log giant in North Tyrol

The history of technology now shows a whole series of breaks and causes for further developments such as a standstill in mechanization. Among other things, the Dresden Institute for the History of Technology deals with the subject, Ulrich Troitzsch was a Hamburg pioneer . An important new approach is to grasp and interpret technical and organizational innovations not as a starting point, but as a product of social activity.

In the 18th century, Vaucanson made the transition from the “wonderful” to the “useful”. The fine mechanical craftsmanship of Vaucanson's sometimes bizarre constructions was very effective. They and their successors were created as luxury articles for the entertainment of a (paying) audience in the 19th century and also made popular in literature by Jean Pauls machine king. The technical elements such as pins, chain links, toothed gears and transmissions, the first flexible rubber hose and the kinematics of the overall construction itself created important foundations. They anticipated later approaches and central problems relating to mechanization such as the automation of manufacturing processes.

Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Cable crane in the vicinity of the historic Lasa marble railway

In the early Middle Ages, numerous water mills were built across Europe . These were used for grinding grain as well as pumping water. Göpel , which were powered by animals or humans or with water power, operated and supported other production processes and solved lifting and transport problems. From the 11th century windmills were added. From the High Middle Ages, the various mills were also used to drive forge hammers , water arts were developed for draining mines and related drives for milling and tamping in textile manufacture or to drive bellows in forges.

Early forestry, such as rafting across Europe via waterways , used complex infrastructures, water flooding systems and the so-called giants . Hydropower was used, such as the dead weight of the logs to back the wood , the transport of large amounts of wood from difficult to access terrain. In the quarry area, the lizzatura , the transport of stones on slides and slides, was widespread.

These early approaches were later further mechanized and replaced with cable systems or forwarding vehicles to the present day.

Planning of mechanization

The Lateran Obelisk

Book printing was an essential prerequisite for the dissemination of technical knowledge . In the 15th century, he himself had resorted to simple mechanized processes such as the wine press .

Despite the mill builders' interest in uniform power transmission, the construction of gears remained comparatively primitive until the 16th century. It took the development of suitable manufacturing processes and materials that would enable the planned rolling curves to be put into practice. The use of optical aids enabled improved technical drawings , planning and modeling. The camera obscura and the perspective associated with it had already appeared in the High Middle Ages, among other things through Arab models such as Alhazen . The European use for works of art preceded scientific thinking and technical applications.

The development of a technical style of thinking, of rational design and planning was closely connected with the European Renaissance . The relocation of the Lateran Obelisk in 1586 was a major technical event at the time. Domenico Fontana planned the relocation of the 25-meter-high and 320-tonne monolith in great detail. The project was preceded by a real competition with a wide variety of plans, drafts and models. Fontana was awarded the contract and determined in advance the weight to be moved, such as the cost of personnel and aids, draft animals, scaffolding and the number and dimensions of the reels and lifting equipment required . The description of the project, a richly illustrated book published in 1590, itself promoted the spread of the associated technical knowledge.


Spinning Jenny

The spinning jenny was introduced to England around 1764 by the English weaver James Hargreaves . Compared to the previous spinning wheels , it enabled considerable increases in production. The spinning jenny could be operated both by human muscle power and fully mechanized, which facilitated its rapid spread. It placed higher demands on the skills of the operators. The introduction of the Spinning Jenny cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, but met comparatively little resistance. On the one hand, this was due to the role of the spinning mill as a technological bottleneck. Productivity was already higher for both the raw material cotton and the downstream weaving. On the other hand, machine attackers , both militant and political and legal protests, were directed less against machines, which - like Jenny - mainly replaced female workers. So mechanical threshing machines were massively fought. The mechanized waterframes , invented in 1769, also provoked resistance from organized craftsmen. They were suitable for mass production with the help of unskilled workers. The combination of the Jenny with the Waterframe in the form of the fully mechanized spinning mule was again dependent on highly qualified staff. At the beginning of the 19th century, the self-actuator Richard Roberts introduced an automatically controlled spinning machine that required skilled workers for maintenance and set-up.

As a pioneer of industrialization, Great Britain had taken a pioneering role in the fight against slavery from 1808 for economic and religious reasons . Advances in agriculture, such as the British colonial empire, made it possible for an upper class to emerge that was well and extensively networked even before the invention of the railroad, for example via horse-drawn carriage lines. The English bourgeoisie as a whole increasingly turned against the exaggerated or torturous use of animals. Another approach to mechanization was initially dealt with as a hobby horse . The corresponding ventures such as the Model Farms , early private agricultural experimental farms, made further progress possible in the mechanization of agriculture and agricultural productivity as a whole. With the replacement of the horses by mechanical drives, the corresponding infrastructures themselves became accessible to a broader population. In the urban environment, the original horse-drawn trams provided a rail-guided transport infrastructure, which was further developed with the electric motor and the transition to the tram .

Biedermeier sleigh bed with large smooth veneered surfaces

Delegated Use

Ludwig Frank works on the work of art 'Große Welle ' with a mobile chainsaw. Munich 2011

Mechanization is used in a figurative sense when work areas originally defined by manual labor are increasingly dominated by technical aids.

Mechanization in handicrafts and in the manufacture of luxury and consumer goods, textiles and jewelry initially preceded larger industrial applications. In the Biedermeier period , the preference for smooth surfaces led to the mechanization of furniture production . In the industrial revolution , the steam engine was used as a further drive. This not only mechanized existing work processes. Entire areas of technology, such as industrial steel production (see puddling process ) in the coal and steel industry , were only possible on a larger scale. The associated material processing has been significantly simplified with machine tools . In the early 19th century in Prussia and Saxony, the total drive power of the corresponding machines comprised only a few thousand HP in a few places.

Later, the steam engines were supplemented and replaced by diesel and gasoline engines or electric motors, and the machine park as a whole was expanded. The mechanization of other work areas originally determined by manual labor, for example in mobile applications, required smaller and compact and self (then imperceptibly) controlled energy sources and motors. One example are the sewing machines , which appeared in the early 19th century . In addition to the production of a single seam through a mechanical process, textile production and tailoring have been continuously changed and mechanized. With the more complex fur sewing machine after 1872, this also affected fur processing and skinning . The industrially made dissemination of these aids made small craft businesses, such as homework, competitive again. The membrane carburetors originally used for aerobatic aircraft were also widely used in agricultural machinery and in the more flexible chain saws after the 1950s. They then enabled the mechanization of forestry.

A tank of a former cavalry brigade (9th Royal Deccan Horse) meets a working elephant and its crew in Burma in 1945.

Mechanization of the military

The transferred use also plays a role in equipping soldiers and units with motor vehicles and mechanical aids.

Expressions such as mechanized infantry or motschützen express equipment with vehicles. One speaks of motorized or mechanized, depending on whether the actual fight is also being served or being carried out by vehicle. The distinction was already common with the earlier cavalry, where cuirassiers , lancers and hussars were used to designate different forms of use of weapons and horses. The term dragoons now denoted riders who fought mostly dismounted, jokingly half human, half cattle, infantry on horseback .


  • Peter Benje: Woodworking by machine. Its introduction and the effects on forms of business, products and production in the carpentry trade during the 19th century in Germany. Darmstadt 2002. Online:
  • Peter Benje: Early sawing machines, furniture factories and steam joineries in Bremen - the introduction of woodworking machines into the carpentry trade in Bremen in the 19th century. Darmstadt 2004. Online:
  • Jean Gimpel : The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages. Zurich / Munich 1980.
  • Gisela Buchheim, Rolf Sonnemann, (Hrsg.): History of the technical sciences. Basel, Boston, Berlin 1990.
  • Wolfgang König (Hrsg.): Propylaea history of technology. Vol. 3–5, Berlin 1997.
  • Journal: Dresden contributions to the history of technical science.
  • Paulinyi, Akos, Ulrich Troitzsch: Mechanization and Machinization. 1600 to 1840. Berlin 1991. (Propylaea history of technology; 3).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Definition of »mechanization« | Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, entry by Kai-Ingo Voigt. In : Retrieved February 4, 2016 .
  2. Gäpfel: Tactical Production Management 1989, p. 107 f.
  3. ^ Corsten: Production Management , 10th Edition, p. 286.
  4. a b Nebl: Production economy . 6th edition, p. 58.
  5. Handbook of Production Management . 2nd edition, keyword "automation".
  6. ^ Alfred Herbert Fritz: Manufacturing technology . 11th edition, p. 129.
  7. See for example the review by Oliver Hochadel of Ulrich Troitzsch (ed.): Nuetzliche Kuenste, Hsozkult 2001.
  8. Sigfrid Giedion: The rule of mechanization. Athenäum Verlag Frankf./Main 1987, p. 65.
  9. ^ Heide Eilert: The mechanization of the lifeworld in the 18th century and its critical reflection in literary texts of the Goethe era. In: Ulrich Troitzsch (Ed.): Useful arts. Waxmann Verlag 2001, p. 189.
  10. Buchheim et al. (1990), p. 134.
  11. Buchheim et al. (1990), p. 131.
  12. Don Ihde Art Precedes Science: or Did the Camera Obscura Invent Modern Science? In Helmar Schramm, Ludger Schwarte, Jan Lazardzig: Instruments in Art and Science: On the Architectonics of Cultural Boundaries in the 17th Century, Walter de Gruyter, 2008, p. 384 ff.
  13. ^ A b c GTG / TS: Society for the history of technology - Klaus Mauersberger: The transport of the Vatican obelisk - a major technical achievement of the 16th century. In: Retrieved February 2, 2016 .
  14. a b c Klaus Schlottau: Machine striker against female gainful employment: Dea ex machina. In: Torsten Meyer, Marcus Popplow, Günter Bayerl: Technology, work and the environment in history. Günter Bayerl on his 60th birthday. Waxmann, Münster 2006, p. 112 ff.
  15. a b c Kurt Möser: Gray areas in the history of technology . KIT Scientific Publishing, 2011, ISBN 978-3-86644-757-8 , pp. 36 ( [accessed February 2, 2016]).
  16. ^ Susanna Wade Martins: The English Model Farm - Building the Agricultural Ideal, 1700-1914. English Heritage / Windgather Press 2002.
  17. ^ A b Wilhelm Treue: Economic and technical history of Prussia . Walter de Gruyter, 1984, ISBN 978-3-11-009598-2 , p. 388 ( [accessed February 2, 2016]).
  18. Paul Larisch , Josef Schmid: The furrier craft . Self-published, Paris without year (first edition, part I 1903), p. 32.
  19. Manfred Fleischer: The history of the chainsaw. From hand ax to one-man saw. a technical and economic history. Forstfachverlag, 2004.