Industrial Arts

industrial-artsIndustrial arts is an area of general education that deals with technology and industry. Industrial arts courses provide opportunities for students to study, observe, experiment, and work with industrial tools, machines, materials, and processes. Industrial arts programs are offered in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Students may also study this subject at the college and university level. Industrial arts programs include courses in automobile mechanics, electronics, graphic arts, industrial crafts, industrial drawing, metalworking, photography, plastics, and woodworking.

Education in the industrial arts began in the United States during the late 1800’s. Since then, more and more students have enrolled in industrial arts programs. Today, millions of students are involved in such programs. In addition, many changes have taken place in industrial arts programs through the years to reflect technological developments. Some of the courses once taught under industrial arts are now offered within the field known as technology education.

In the past, most schools required boys to take industrial arts and girls to take family and consumer sciences. Few girls studied industrial arts until the 1970’s. Today, most courses in the field are coeducational.

School programs

Industrial arts courses become more challenging through the school years as the manual skills and mental abilities of students develop. But the six basic goals of industrial arts programs remain the same: (1) to develop an understanding and appreciation of industry; (2) to teach students the use of industrial tools and machines; (3) to help students learn to work alone and in groups; (4) to encourage creativity; (5) to teach the use of industrial materials and their characteristics; and (6) to help students apply their knowledge and skills in industrial arts to other activities.

In elementary school, teachers combine industrial arts instruction with various classroom activities. Students work on projects based on units in science, social studies, and other subjects. They learn to plan projects, to use simple tools, and to work in groups. Students work with such materials as beads, clay, plastics, soft metals, textiles, and wood.

In middle school, students in industrial arts programs work with many types of equipment and materials. They study drafting, electronics, metalworking, plastics, printing methods, woodworking, and other technical processes. Each industrial arts class lasts only part of a school year in most middle schools. A student might take metalworking for the first three months, woodworking the next three months, and drafting for the rest of the school year. Students work on both individual and group projects.

In high school, students who have had industrial arts courses in junior high may specialize in one or more areas. Those with no background in industrial arts take general courses. Students in advanced classes work with complex equipment, such as high-speed printing presses; machine lathes, which are machines that hold pieces of wood, metal, or plastic, turning them against a cutting tool to shape them; and sensitive testing tools. They conduct research and experiments individually and in groups. Course work may include field trips. Instructors provide job information and may help students find employment in industry.

In colleges and universities. Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts. Some of these schools also have master’s and doctoral degree programs in the field. Men and women who plan to teach industrial arts must take certain education courses as well as technical courses. Classes include advanced instruction in industrial processes and practices. Students also learn to operate and maintain industrial equipment. Most courses require much research and experimentation.

Industrial arts courses

Industrial arts courses may concentrate on one kind of work, or they may teach several skills in less depth. The most specialized kind of course is the unit shop course, which deals with one way of processing one kind of material. In a machine shop course, for example, students learn to process metals with industrial machines, such as lathes and drills. In a single field laboratory course, students deal with only one kind of material, but they study several ways of working with it. For example, in a general metals course, students may learn to process metals by machining, gas and arc welding, casting (shaping melted metal), and forging (working metal by hammering and machine stamping). They also learn sheet-metal work. In a multifield laboratory or comprehensive course, students learn to process more than one kind of material. Such a course might include work with metals, plastics, and woods. In all industrial arts classes, instructors stress the proper use and maintenance of equipment.

Automobile mechanics courses emphasize the study of engines, especially those of cars. Students work on their own cars, on school laboratory models, or on motors of lawn mowers, tractors, or other machinery. They study various parts of automobiles, including the cooling system, drive train, fuel system, suspension components, and wheels and tires. Many courses teach students to make repairs.

Electronics courses teach the laws of electricity and how to apply this knowledge to actual situations. Students learn about circuits, electric parts, and wiring diagrams for radios, television sets, and other electronic equipment. They also study the use of electronics in manufacturing and the numerical control of processing equipment. Class projects include construction of various communications devices, such as radios and telephones. Students work with hand tools, meters, and other electronics equipment.

Graphic arts include bookbinding, etching, linoleum-block cutting, photography, and printing. Students learn to set type and to use binding machines, cameras, paper drills, line gauges, plates and presses, and other printing equipment. They also learn to select colors, designs, and paper for printed materials. In addition, they study various printing processes.

Industrial crafts courses offer an opportunity for creativity and self-expression. Students design and make many items, using various materials and techniques. The materials include clay, leather, metals, and precious stones. Students also study the chemical and physical characteristics of many materials and how these materials are used in industry.

Industrial drawing courses teach students how to prepare blueprints and sketches used in designing and building equipment and other items. Students make drawings that show an object from several angles to indicate its exact shape and size. They learn such skills as correct dimensioning, proper view arrangement, and scale drawing. Equipment used in industrial drawing courses includes compasses, drafting instruments, pencils and pens, scales, triangles, and T squares.

Industrial drawing courses also introduce students to advanced drafting techniques, copy making, and tracing procedures. Architectural drawing is also taught as a part of the drawing program in many schools.

Metalworking. In this course, students work with a variety of metals and learn many methods of metal processing. They study art metalwork, heat-treating methods, hot metal casting, sheet-metal work, simple forging operations, and welding. Some of the classes also study the chemical and physical characteristics of metals. Students learn to use drill presses, lathes, precision gauges, scales, and other equipment. Metalworking classes may include field trips to steel mills and other industrial plants.

Photography courses teach students various techniques of taking and developing pictures. Students learn to use light meters, photo enlargers, processing equipment, and several types of cameras, including digital cameras. They investigate lighting and exposure procedures for specialty shots. Classes also include technical instruction about filters, lenses, and photographic films. Some schools include photography in their graphic arts courses.

Plastics courses teach students how plastics materials are processed into commercial and industrial products. Many plastics are made from resins. Students studying plastics learn such industrial processes as injection molding (squeezing resins into a mold), blow molding (inflating melted resins inside a mold), casting (pouring resin material into a mold), and extrusion (squeezing resins through a heating chamber).

In addition, they study polymer chemistry (the molecular structure of plastics) and plastics identification. They also study and test various plastics for such properties as strength, flowability, flexibility, and toughness. Other skills taught include cementing and welding, designing, making molds, and decorating. Classes often visit industrial plastics plants to study processes not available in school.

Woodworking courses teach students how to make many useful items out of wood. Projects vary in size and difficulty from bookshelves to cabinets. Students use hand tools, such as chisels and hammers, and power tools, including jigsaws and wood-turning lathes. Some classes work in groups to learn mass-production techniques used by the woodworking industry. Other woodworking skills taught include finishing techniques, upholstery work, wood patternmaking for metal castings, and wood turning. Some woodworking courses teach carpentry skills.


Beginnings. Industrial arts education was called manual training when it was introduced in the United States in the late 1800’s. In 1876, Calvin M. Woodward, an educator at Washington University in St. Louis, attended the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. An exhibit of woodworking projects from a Russian technical school impressed Woodward, and in 1880, he opened the Manual Training School in St. Louis. This school was the first of its kind in the country.

In 1884, Baltimore became the first U.S. city to include manual training in its public school program. By 1893, about 50 public school systems offered manual training courses. The earliest programs consisted mainly of mechanical drawing and woodworking courses and aimed at teaching students how to use a variety of hand tools. During the 1890’s, the design and production of artistic objects became the major goal of the programs. Educators began to substitute the term manual arts for manual training.

The early 1900’s brought further changes to manual arts programs. Instructors began placing less emphasis on arts and crafts and more importance on the study of industrial problems and techniques. As a result, many educators started using the term industrial arts instead of manual arts.

Great technological developments following the end of World War II in 1945 led to further changes in industrial arts education. Schools added courses in communication and transportation, and students of industrial arts began to use many more power tools in class.

Recent trends. Educators have developed courses to help students understand industry and its effect on society. The courses cover all phases of industrial operation, including communications, energy sources, finance, marketing, materials, processing, research, and transportation. As part of their work, students may set up a model business and manufacturing operation, talk with people employed in industry, and apply industrial techniques to school situations. Problem solving and resourcefulness are emphasized.

Many industrial arts programs are adding the study of high technology. Students learn about such developments as computer-aided design and manufacturing, lasers, numerically controlled manufacturing machinery, and robotics.

Industrial arts played an important role in the career education movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Career education helps students choose and prepare for a career. Industrial arts courses enable them to work with many tools and materials and to study various industries and occupations. Students learn about their own abilities and about possible types of work. As a result, they can make wiser career decisions.

Industrial arts has also contributed to the consumer education movement, which works to make the buying public better informed. Industrial arts teachers use learning experiences to help students select, use, and care for industrial products.

Another trend involves greater opportunities for girls, women, and individuals with disabilities. During the 1970’s, many automotive, metalworking, and other industrial arts courses became coeducational for the first time. Educators also developed special equipment and teaching methods for students with physical or mental disabilities.

In the 2000’s, the field of technology education emerged from the field of industrial arts. In technology education, students learn about the concepts and processes involving technology. Technology education is less concerned about making products and more concerned with students being able to think critically about and evaluate ideas involving technology. Technology’s effects on society are closely considered.

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