A panel of Historical Society members judges the best history essays each year, and here is the winning essay.
Students had their choice of four themes: an individual, ethnic group, landmark or historical event in Watertown and its significance to the town and region.
The first place winner received $300; the second and third place winners received $100 each. The winners of the Historical Society Awards were chosen by a panel of Historical Society Council members. The awards were presented in June in the high school lecture hall.
Here is the first place essay:
Arshdeep Singh Grade 10
The centerpiece of the American Revolution is the struggle for personal independence. As persecution in the New World colonies continued, colonists began to view themselves as different people than the British, and began their struggle for a new identity. Individuality, highly regarded as a prime American principle, is clearly evident in the history of the Watertown Arsenal. Whether directly in times of war or indirectly in times of social upheaval, the Watertown Arsenal has been a symbol of individuality and American fundamentals.
The Watertown Arsenal was built between 1816 and 1829, and served as one of the nation’s first military arsenals. Designed by Alexander Parris, who also designed Faneuil Hall (Editor’s Note: More specifically, Parris designed the Quincy Market Buildings in Faneuil Hall Marketplace) in Boston, the Watertown Arsenal was chosen to replace the arsenal at Charlestown, MA, which was handed over to the US Navy during the War of 1812. Watertown was selected because of its close distance to the city, was near water, had accessible materials, and had protective elevation. Some buildings stored ammunition and arms, while others served as houses for small repairmen. Later, during the Civil War, the Arsenal was expanded to meet the demand for gun carriages and large industrial buildings were added. Railroad tracks supplied steel, coal, and oil, and by the end of the Second World War, the Arsenal employed more than 10,000 people.
Although war is very violent and destructive, it can also be extremely profiting and beneficial. The Civil War responded to social and political issues and stimulated Radical Reconstruction, which brought changes such as the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, defined citizenship and naturalization, and outlawed the denial of the right to vote based on race or color. After the Great War, the United States emerged as the world’s lone economic superpower, which was possible only because manufacturers mobilized their industries to meet war demands. In addition, post-war purchasing power increased only because industries had reevaluated their priorities during the war, causing an increase in consumer demand. During this wartime industrial revival, the Watertown Arsenal contributed to the development of revolutionizing technology, including the atomic cannon, which was used overseas in Europe and Eastern Asia during the Great War and the Cold War. Building 311, which held large gun carriages and equipment, was reported to be one of the largest steel-frame structures in the nation. While most wartime mobilization came from private companies’ desires to profit, the Watertown Arsenal is one of the few examples of a patriotic complex mobilizing to supply the new demand for communal reasons rather than economic reasons.
The Watertown Arsenal not only helped feed war causes, but also contributed to economic prosperity by helping refine industrial life. The time span between post-Reconstruction and 1929 is referred to as the “Gilded Age” because of lustful pursuits by manufacturers to maximize profits. During this time, the global American economy was on a mercantilist crash course to increase profits by increasing labor efficiency and production and decreasing margins. Frederick Winslow Taylor attempted to respond to this desire by introducing Scientific Management, or Taylorism. Taylor, convinced that he could maximize labor productivity, used stopwatches and incentives to motivate workers to work harder. In addition, Taylor broke down every factory job into individual motions and assigned each motion to specific groups, creating “machine-like” workers without the cost of excess machines. With many working-class citizens seeking higher incentives, Taylorism created incredible competition among workers to keep their jobs, due to the increase in the standard of speed. The overall goal of Taylorism was to increase profits without increasing prices for goods or to be able to decrease prices without decreasing the amount of profit, which Taylor believed workers themselves would make possible through Taylorism. Although Taylor’s ideas are not implemented in modern factories, his attempts paved the way for the application of science into the industrial complex.
In the Watertown Arsenal, workers were taking fifty-three minutes to manufacture one gun while Taylor was convinced it could be done in twenty-four minutes. Taylor came to the Watertown Arsenal to observe the workers, then hired managers to execute his plans on how the job could be done in twenty-four minutes. In 1911, the workers at Watertown Arsenal went on strike, exposing the methods implemented by Taylorism to the nation. The strike led to a Congressional hearing, where the the committee forbade the use of scientific management in government establishments. Later, the House of Representatives successfully passed a bill that banned the use of stopwatches in factories. In the end, manufacturers found alternative methods to implement the basics of Taylorism and to fight labor unions, but the 1911 Watertown Arsenal Strike was one of the first to reaffirm basic labor rights during a time of economic lust and greed. Exposing the recent trends of the American economy, the workers at the Watertown Arsenal established a firm standing on individual rights that seemed to be drifting.
The economic contributions by the Watertown Arsenal throughout history appeal to the foundations of America. The fundamental struggle in American history is that of strong and weak central governments; Federalists use the failures of the Articles of Confederation as justification of their stance and the Elastic Clause as their support, while Anti-Federalists use the subjugation by the British as justification and the Tenth Amendment as their support. This ideological struggle keeps the nation in check between excess expansion and freedom, sustaining a prosperous government while promising individual liberties. The Watertown Arsenal symbolizes this exact struggle; the arsenal contributed to rapid American expansion during key wars but also set limits to economic expansion such as those achieved in the 1911 strike. The history of the Watertown Arsenal embodies the key American principle of checks and balances and fulfills the complex fundamentals of America. The Watertown Arsenal is a landmark that forever stands as proof that a group of common people from a common land can contribute to the common good of a larger group of people in all aspects of life.