Chapter 1a

The Division of Labour

by Adam Smith Icon

1 Division of labour causes improvements in:

  • productivity, and
    • The greatest improvement is in this.
  • the skill, dexterity, and judgment in work.

2 The effects of division of labour is carried furthest in very trifling manufactures. These manufactures:

  • supply the small wants of a few people
  • have a few workers who can often be=
    • collected into the same workhouse, and
    • placed under the spectator’s view.

Great manufactures supply the great wants of the people. These have so many workers that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse.

Thus in great manufactures, the work may be divided into more parts than in trifling manufactures.

But the division is:

  • not as obvious, and
  • has been much less observed.

3 An example of a very trifling manufacture is pin-making. The division of labour in it=

  • has been noticed very often, and
  • has made pin-making a distinct trade.

A worker probably might not be able to make one pin in a day if he is not educated in=

  • the pin-making business, and
  • the use of pin-making machinery.

These were probably invented by the same division of labour.


The whole work of pin-making is now a peculiar trade, divided into branches. Most of these branches are likewise peculiar trades:

  1. One man draws out the wire.
  2. Another straights it.
  3. A third cuts it.
  4. A fourth points it.
  5. A fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head.

6-8. Making the head needs two or three distinct operations.

  1. Putting it on is a peculiar business.
  2. Whitening the pins is another.
  3. Put them into the paper is even a trade by itself.

In this way, the important business of making a pin is divided into around 18 distinct operations. In some factories, all are performed by distinct hands. In others, the same man might perform two or three of them.

I have seen a small factory of this kind where only 10 men were employed. Some of them performed two or three distinct operations. They were very poor and indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery. But they could make around 12 pounds of pins in a day.

A pound has over 4,000 middle-sized pins.

  • Therefore, those persons could make over 48,000 pins in a day.
  • Each person makes 10% of 48,000 pins or 4,800 pins per day.
  • But if they worked separately and independently without being educated in pin-making, they certainly could have made 20 (0.4% of what they we capable of together) or one pin (0.02%) in a day individually.

4 The effects of the division of labour in other arts and manufactures are similar to those in this very trifling one, even if the labour in many of them might not be capable of:

  • being so much subdivided, nor
  • being so much reduced to such simple operations.

Nevertheless, the division of labour creates a proportional increase in the productivity of labour in every art as it is introduced.

This increase in productivity then creates the separation of different trades and employments. This separation too is generally carried furthest in the most advanced countries.

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