One Man’s Insider View Of Machine Tool History

A book review by Mark Albert, Editor-in-Chief of "Modern Machine Shop" Magazine.

"The American Machine Tool Industry—Its History, Growth & Decline" is Albert B. Albrecht's personal interpretation of how machine tool building has faired as an industry in the last half of the 20th century and early years of the 21st.

News Item From: 2/22/2010 Modern Machine Shop

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The American Machine Tool Industry

Albert Albrecht's book looks at this critical industry from an experienced insider's point of view.

"The American Machine Tool Industry—Its History, Growth & Decline" is Albert B. Albrecht's personal interpretation of how machine tool building has faired as an industry in the last half of the 20th century and early years of the 21st. Mr. Albrecht's association with the industry as an engineer, business manager and company owner covers almost 60 years. Much of this career was spent in a period that he calls the "Golden Years," which he dates from 1948 to 1998.

During this time, machine tool building in the United States flourished with the rise of numerous American companies, who, as a group, dominated global machine tool production for the 35 years following World War II. According to Mr. Albrecht's account, the U.S. builders eventually lost this dominant position through a combination of internal weaknesses and strong external forces.
 
He identifies the weaknesses as a failure to invest in advanced production techniques, an unwillingness to develop international sales, the inability to provide for orderly succession in family-owned businesses and other shortcomings in business management. The external forces, he says, include lack of support for manufacturing in general and machine tool building in particular by government entities, a lack of a coherent industrial policy in the United States and the aggressive behavior of foreign-based builders.
 
Again and again, the author returns to the theme that a healthy domestic machine tool industry is vital to national security and prosperity. For this reason, he warns, the decline of the industry imperils America's position as the world's leading industrial country.
 
Much of the book is devoted to a history of machine tool building in the United States, from its origins in the early 19th century to its peak in the postwar years of the last. The concluding chapters are devoted to an analysis of its decline and some recommendations for its revival. At the end, Mr. Albrecht contends that machine tool building in this country can only be turned around if the economy recovers from the great recession of 2009 and if America acts to rebuild it manufacturing base, the customers of the machine tool industry.
 
The best parts of the book are Mr. Albrecht's account of his personal experiences in the industry as an insider. He stresses the importance of having "a machine tool person" in top management positions, although he cites numerous instances where this kind of individual proved to be inept at leading a company in changing times. His stories about some of the quirky individuals and peculiar companies that characterized this industry are colorful and richly detailed.
 
Although serious historians may quibble about the author's grasp of certain historical facts and other readers may take issue with his cause-and-effect assessments, the book is a readable if somewhat jumbled account. The book tends to jump from topic to topic, but does not lose interest. Mr. Albrecht has chronicled an important but usually neglected chapter in U.S. history. He has done a fine service to the industry by recording his impressions. The book represents a fitting closing act in his long career.
 
This limited edition, 228-page hardbound book contains more than 100 photographs of machine tools from the past 20 years.
 
To order, please send $42 and $6 shipping per book to:
Albert Albrecht
3190 Toddsbury Lane
Richmond, Indiana 47374
E-mail: albertalbrecht@verizon.net
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