(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published June 12, 1990.)
The other night, I was sitting looking at a brick wall in the living room of some friends. It's become popular to tear the plaster off old brick walls in city homes and leave the mellow, irregular shape of old red brick exposed. It adds warmth and charm to a room.
The house was something like 125 years old. Many of the bricks weren't perfectly oblong, being handmade, and you could see that the bricklayer had a problem getting the whole thing plumb and square.
Who built the wall, I wondered? Who spent months of his life putting it up, trying to make a perfect wall out of bricks that were not perfect? Who did this laborer's work of art? I asked my friends if they knew.
They beckoned me to a remote corner over by the door and down near the baseboard. There, scratched in the ancient mortar that still held the bricks together, was the name "T. Morin."
Maybe signed work is the answer to getting better workmanship again. Everything that anyone makes should have his or her name on it for praise or blame and for reference.
Work is frequently so anonymously done that the workman has no reason to identify with it and be proud of it. If everyone will know who made something, the person making it will be more careful.
I can understand why people don't always put their names on their work. The workman is seldom completely satisfied with what he's done. The man who built the brick wall was proud enough to want his name there for the life of his wall but modest enough not to want it in a prominent place.
During World War II, I stayed in the home of a British aircraft worker in Bristol, England. The British aircraft engines had a reputation for being the best. When the man came home from work one night, we talked about what he was doing. "Me and my buddies are making an engine," he said.
And that's what he meant. He and two other men were actually assembling, from scratch, an engine for a Spitfire fighter plane. They were intensely proud of their work. You can bet the RAF fighter pilot who sat in the cockpit with a Luftwaffe FW 109 in the sights of his guns had confidence his airplane wasn't going to let him down.
Everything should be signed by the people who make it. We live in a house that was built about 100 years ago. We've raised four children in it. I know every nook and cranny, every strength and defect it has. I know the beams in the basement, the rafters in the attic. I know the crack between the foundation and where the cellar steps lead down to my workshop. But I don't know who built the house.
Every builder of every house should be compelled to attach his name, in some permanent but inconspicuous way, to each house - for better or for worse.
What we need in this country is fewer mile-long assembly lines turning out instant junk and fewer "project" builders turning out ticky-tacky houses by the hundreds. We need more builders of solid brick walls willing to put "T. Morin" on their work.