[Ads-l] Anecdote: Knowing where to tap

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 6 14:32:35 EST 2017

Thanks, Jim. Below is a version of the Steinmetz anecdote from a
letter in LIFE magazine in 1965.

[ref] 1965 March 14, LIFE, Letters to the Editors (Letter from Jack B.
Scott, O'Fallon, Illinois), Quote Page 27, Column 3 and 4, Time Inc.,
New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]

In your article on Steinmetz (April 23) you mentioned a consultation
with Henry Ford. My father, Burt Scott, who was an employe of Henry
Ford for many years, related to me the story behind that meeting.
Technical troubles developed with a huge new generator at Ford's River
Rouge plant. His electrical engineers were unable to locate the
difficulty so Henry Ford solicited the aid of Steinmetz.

When "the little giant" arrived at the plant, he rejected all
assistance, asking only for a notebook, pencil and cot. For two
straight days and nights he listened to the generator and made
countless computations. Then he asked for a ladder, a measuring tape
and a piece of chalk. He laboriously ascended the ladder, made careful
measurements and put a chalk mark on the side of the generator.

He descended and told his skeptical audience to remove a plate from
the side of the generator and take out 16 windings from the field coil
at that location. The corrections were made and the generator then
functioned perfectly. Subsequently Ford received a bill for $10,000
signed by Steinmetz for G.E. Ford returned the bill acknowledging the
good job done by Steinmetz but respectfully requesting an itemized

Steinmetz replied as follows:
  Making chalk mark on generator $1.
  Knowing where to make mark $9,999.
  Total due $10,000.

Jack B. Scott
[End excerpt]

On Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 11:55 AM, James A. Landau
<JJJRLandau at netscape.com> wrote:
> I have heard this story told about Charles Proteus Steinmetz (April 9, 1865 – October 26, 1923).  Unfortunately I do not remember the source.
> When reading the story below, I immediately asked myself "Did that machinist sabotage the machine so that he would be rehired?"
> - Jim Landau
> On Fri, 3 Mar 2017 12:13:16 Zone - 0500 ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM> wrote
> A popular tale extols the value of expert knowledge, and I was asked
> to explore its provenance.
> Summary: An expert is able to perform a simple action to solve a
> recalcitrant problem. The large bill sent by the expert is challenged.
> A subsequent itemized bill displays a small fee for the simple action
> and a large fee for knowing which simple action to perform.
> Below is an instance of the anecdote in 1908. An earlier citation or
> other pertinent information would be welcome.
> Date: February 1, 1908
> Periodical: The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works
> Volume 21
> Article: A Moral with an Ending
> Quote Page 30
> Publisher: Printed and Published for the Society of Estate Clerks of
> Works at the "Hampshire Observer" Printing Works, Winchester, England
> Database: Google Books Full View
> https://books.google.com/books?id=w-nVAAAAIAAJ&q=%22tap-tap%22#v=snippet&
> [Begin excerpt]
> He was the best machinist in the district, and it was for that reason
> that the manager had overlooked his private delinquencies. But at last
> even his patience was exhausted, and he was told to go, and another
> man reigned in his stead at the end of the room.
> And then the machine, as though in protest, refused to budge an inch,
> and all the factory hands were idle. Everyone who knew the difference
> between a machine and a turnip tried his hand at the inert mass of
> iron. But the machine, metaphorically speaking, laughed at them, and
> the manager sent for the discharged employee. And he left the comfort
> of the "Bull" parlour and came.
> He looked at the machine for some moments, and talked to it as a man
> talks to a horse, and then climbed into its vitals and called for a
> hammer. There was the sound of a "tap-tap-tap," and in a moment the
> wheels were spinning, and the man was returning to the "Bull" parlour.
> And in the course of time the mill-owner had a bill:--"To mending
> machine, £10. 10s." And the owner of the works, being as owners go, a
> poor man, sent a polite note to the man, in which he asked him if he
> thought tapping a machine with a hammer worth ten guineas. And then he
> had another bill:--"To tapping machine with hammer, 10s.; to knowing
> where to tap it, £10; total, £10. 10s."
> And the man was reinstated in his position, and was so grateful that
> he turned teetotaller and lived a great and virtuous old age. And the
> moral is that a little knowledge is worth a deal of labour.
> [End excerpt]
> Below is a version from 1922:
> Date: March 24, 1922
> Newspaper: Minnesota Daily Star (The Minneapolis Star)
> Newspaper Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Short Article: Knowledge Is Power
> Quote Page 17, Column 7
> Database: Newspapers.com
> [Begin excerpt]
> Knowledge Is Power
> In a factory one of the huge machines stopped suddenly. In spite of
> exhortation, language, oil and general tinkering it refused to budge.
> Production slowed down and the management tore its hair.
> At last an expert was called in. He examined the machine for a few
> minutes and then asked for a hammer. After tapping here and there for
> about 10 minutes, he announced that the machine was ready to move. It
> did.
> Two days later the management received a bill for $250—the expert's
> fee. The management demanded a detailed statement of the account.
> He received this:
> To tapping machine with hammer. $25
> Knowing where to tap .......... 225
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
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