KMP Enrichment Blog      October 2021      By David Applegate

Knowing Where to Make your Mark

I have a story to tell.  It is not my own story; it is one that I came across.  Upon reading the story I found it to be incredibly insightful as it applies to both our trade and our vision which values craftsmanship.  The story goes like this:

Henry Ford, the father of our modern-day automobile, once had an assembly plant located in Dearborn, Michigan.  As work was being done and cars were being assembled a problem arose that caused the manufacturing process to stop.  As a result, Henry Ford, whose electrical engineers could not solve the problem they were having with a massive generator, called Charles Steinmetz to the plant.

Now Charles Steinmetz was known as the “Wizard of Schenectady, New York”.  He stood just four feet tall and had several physical disabilities.  Despite his physical complications, he became a giant among scientific thinkers like Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.  His contributions to mathematics and electrical engineering made him famous in his day.  He was born in Breslau, Germany and became a brilliant student of mathematics and chemistry at the University of Breslau.  In 1888 he left Germany and arrived at Ellis Island, New York.  We are told that at first, he was denied entry into America because of his height.  An American friend whom Steinmetz was traveling with, however, convinced the Immigration Officials that the young German PhD was a genius whose presence would someday benefit all of America.

Upon arriving at the automobile plant in Michigan Steinmetz rejected all assistance offered to him by the engineers and asked only for a notebook, pencil and a bed.  Those who were there at the time gave this description of what happened and the actions that Steinmetz took.  Once he was settled, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights.  On the second night, he stopped writing, put his notebook and pencil away and then asked for a ladder (because he was not able to reach the spot).  He then announced that everyone involved needed to gather at the side of the generator.  Once everyone was assembled, he climbed up the ladder and made a chalk mark on the side of the generator.  He then climbed down and told Ford’s engineers, who were skeptical, to remove a plate at the mark he had made and replace sixteen winding from the field coil.  The engineers did as Steinmetz told them and the generator performed to perfection.

Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from Charles Steinmetz for the amount of $10,000.  Which, at the time, was an enormous sum of money.  Ford did acknowledge Steinmetz’s success, but he balked at the figure.  In turn, Ford asked for an itemized bill.

Charles Steinmetz responded to Ford’s request with the following:

  • Making a chalk mark on a generator: $1.00
  • Knowing where to make the mark: $9,999

Ford in turn paid the bill.

I tell you this story so I can say:  the day will come when you discover that for some who work in the trade’s “effort” is all important, it is their goal.  But for others what is more important is having the “experience” (or knowledge) to know where to put that effort – and that is what makes all the difference.  I trust that as you come to work every day your goal is to learn a trade and become a Craftsman not just to be a worker and do a task!