Critical Analysis; Mousetrap-making Machine


Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital examines the place and impact of manufacturing technologies within the industry, time and space. These technologies suggest a new future that promises innovations in design, new industries & business models in time, and a renewed local manufacturing base. They indicate an analysis of the ways in which we as humans understand the boundaries and binaries between analogue/digital technologies and the material world; whereby these representations signify a cultural shift.

The ‘Mouse Trap making machine’ (1942-43) engineered by Arnold Wesley Standfield and his family organisation ‘A W Standfield and Co’ was one of the more largely scaled works.  The  gallery space was filled with easily identifiable digitalised innovations coinciding with the present time, to which have evolved from the material industry. Standfield’s contraption produces dramatic industrial aesthetic innovations through diverse industrial processes. The Mouse Trap Maker deals with physical process utilising technologies and materials during it’s time of origin and refining the development so it provided maximum material manifestation. It allowed for the experience of an industrial and primitive machine innovating a task and was ultimately physical extension of the human body more than 70 years ago – placed with works of such digital scale.


Arnold Wesley Standfield generated a group of four machines during World War 2, when materials and parts were in short supply –  scouring scrap yards to find what he needed, and building his machines from scratch where each and every component had its own prior journey. This meant his engineering process was limited by the fabrics used but enabled more insight toward their application for desired outcomes.  Prototyping was not a concept deemed important in Standfield’s practice, meaning he built the machines from the ground up manipulating concepts, ideas and provisions accordingly.

The front section of the machine features the assembly line from right to left. This section contains an intricate series of levers, pulleys and gears which feed the wooden mouse trap platforms through the production line. On the right is the platform feeder, filled with wooden platforms. From here the bases are pressed and branded, leaving the imprint, ‘Supreme / MOUSE TRAP / MADE IN AUSTRALIA‘ on the top. The next phase involves the catch or baiter and the holding bar both being stapled on to the platform. It is then engineered to attach the spring and hammer device to the mousetrap and then placed back in the conveyor channel. The traps then pass through a plane or sander to remove any points on the base, and the process is complete. The power switch for this portion of the machine is positioned just below the sander, with a speed switch also present in the machines centre. On each side of the production line segment are different coils of metal, for each of the components used in constructing the mouse traps. Each of the coils is labelled with different specifications, based on their thickness, with some spare coils placed underneath. Each facet had a purpose that aided the production phase in any circumstance, the technological conversion taken was what made the machine one of a kind in its element.

The back section is planned with the particular motivation behind building the spring and hammer component for the traps. This area likewise works like a generation line with two arrangements of metal loops, suspended on metal shafts, on the right and left sides of the machine. The wires are sustained through an arrangement of apparatuses, pulleys and levers, which twist, curl and shape the wire to make the spring and hammer. The finished product reaches the end of the production line and is released down a slide or ramp, into a white tray at the front of the main production line for the worker to retrieve. (MASS, 2017) The machine took just 1.5 seconds to make each trap, and it made 1000 traps each hour. A counter records that it made over 96 million traps between 1943 and 2000. The machines were never replaced or redesigned; Wes and his sons, Ronald and David, kept them going, repairing worn or broken parts as necessary.

Machine Design can be defined as the process by which resources or energy is converted into useful mechanical forms, or the mechanisms so as to obtain useful output from the machines in the desired form as per the needs of the human beings and is an important part of engineering applications (Khemani, 2008). But, what is a machine? A machine is an apparatus that comprises several stationary and moving parts, together using mechanical power to generate and transform into a particular task. A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force and can be seen as the fraction units and components that make up the bigger picture. In general, a simple machine can be defined as one of the simplest mechanisms that provide mechanical advantage and the “building blocks” of more complex machines (Bureau of Naval Personal, 1971). Standfield explores this role through a craftsmanship and architectural filter. Whereby each and every component of the machine was sourced individually through recycled matter, and the work challenged the functionality of numerous machines and the improved quality of productivity through independent mechanics.

The intentions behind ‘Mouse Trap Making Machine’ can be defined in its name – it makes mouse traps. As a business model, this machine reached out to a growing and unsurprisingly large market with high velocity and demand. Being the one and only full function mousetrap developing machine, it’s intentions were undoubtedly fulfilled in terms of reinventing additive manufacturing and precision machining; adapting to material scarcity and minimising labour. But I believe the industrial phenomena does not only lie within the result of this work, but also in its doing. Philosopher, artist and writer Manual De Land, talks about how artist/designers/architects can work in partnership with materials. That is to understand the physicality of the materials you are working with (size, mass, characteristics etc) (Curti, 2010). Shaping materials in accordance with their concept or, acknowledging their distinct qualities and harness these in creating work. This indeterminately relates to technologies and resources at the time of Standfield’s constructions and how he dealt with the functions of each module. His disruption between material, technology and man allowed articulated physical computing to a tee, affecting the output with lessened human communication. The primary thing that artifacts are an extension of, according to Rothenberg, is human intention. Our intentions, or desires, are normally contained within our own organism. However, as we create technologies, these technologies become carriers of our intentions, and hence extensions of them (McLuhan, 1964). McLuhan envisioned an era in which human intelligence and creativity would be automated and translated into information functions performed by machines, whereby the mouse trap maker reinforces this ideology

In the transcendent picture form comes from the outside (god’s mind) and is imposed on an inert material; in the immanent one, a human designer does not impose a form but teases it out of a morphogenetically pregnant material: humans and materials form a partnership in the production of form.” – (Curti, 2010)

When it comes to Standfield and the ‘Mouse Trap making Machine’, the notion of autonomy plays a huge role in the way the contraption blurred the line between technology at the time and material practice. Automation essentially is a term used to describe a process or a set of processes that are executed without human intervention. Automation can be found in nearly every industry, ranging from transportation and utilities to defence and facility operations. The most prevalent area, however, is undoubtedly manufacturing. With many required tasks being labour intensive or highly repetitive, the creation of automated machinery has improved efficiency and also created greater quality control. Today, computational autonomy is flourishing where this type of autonomous behaviour is linked with the digital world which forms a binary with artificial intelligence, all because of the advancements in technology. In the 1940s Arnold Wesley had none of today’s resources in terms of digitalising the analogue, but invented a machine so efficient on its own it’s hard to believe. Gopnik’s article highlights different perspectives addressing the technological age, introducing them as Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers (Gopnik, 2011).  He notes that the reality of machines can outpace the imagination of magic, leading to a society less in morals that remains mostly in static. Standfield’s invention challenges the function of technology within his own space and time. The machine was a thing to behold. However, A W Standfield’s creation filled a room and went quietly about all the operations involved in making a mouse trap with more or less automation – of the old fashioned, gears-and-levers kind, the contraption looked like it had evolved over a century and supported the objectives of lean manufacturing. Just like computers have transformed the way we as a society think cognitively and the way we understand ourselves, A.W Standfield’s machine arouses how the imperceivable physical world affects the recognisable flaccid relationship we have with materials that surround us. The Mouse Trap making machine has affected the decision making model in a sense that without it interaction and technological support would be altered – turning to conventional agents and environments.

Adaptation to changes of manufacturing environment is a crucial issue in the development of smart manufacturing systems. It is the ability of a manufacturing system to respond rapidly to disturbances to keep the manufacturing system running and avoid the manufacturing processes stopping completely. Through the progression of Standfield’s work not only did the machine become advanced but too the knowledge and skills in an artistry and engineering to adapt the changes. Those crucial in responding to the dynamic of environment and the ability to improve the system ability to act in the future by taking a better decision and performing better the required actions (Brezocnik et al., 2003). Though not classified as an artificially intelligent machine nor holds any digitalised characteristics, during its era the mouse trap  making machine agent itself had its own form of knowledge. Knowledge about its physical, process capabilities, probable tooling and schedule making the experience of it it magic and its concept of progression ineffable to many. I believe it is convergence in a sense, the flow of power and content across platforms, that allows this machine to hold as much didactic power that it does by how the merging of two worlds is represented. Like the way virtual reality revolutionised the sensory market of technology, it immerses the responder in a way that disables their conscience from the physical world. Similarly, A W Standfield disables the constricts of conventional and outdated forms of crafting across platforms, highlighting mechanical interaction between modes. For example characteristics such as the machine’s industrious presentation, presenting a large congestion of materials and mechanical parts not at all aesthetically refined or shaped, allows the emphasis of the technological compatibility between man and mechanics.

The cultural and industrial shift that Arnold Wesley Standfield and his corporation heavily contributed to with the invention of the Mouse Trap Maker was one that saw technological advancements evolve manufacturing and product innovation; not in a digital sense but a physical and more material scope. The resources available at the time did not shy away from the impact that the machine had on a business market and that of a high calibre agent in mechanisms. His work acts as a stepping stone to understanding techniques of securing efficient operations, the dynamics of observed systems and on the dynamics of the observers and ultimately the art of growing; both technologically and as humans.


Brezocnik M., Balic J., Brezocnik Z. 2008,  ‘Emergence of intelligence in next generation manufacturing systems, Robotics and Computer Integrated Manufacturing’, 19: 55-63 date accessed: 27 April 2017

Bureau of Naval Personal, 1971, ‘Basic Machines and How They Work, 1st ed, New York: Dover Publications, Inc, pp.1-37, date accessed: 27 April 2017  < >

Curti, C 2010, ‘Material(ism) for Architects: a Conversation with Manuel DeLanda’,, date accessed: 27 April 2017, < >

Gopnik, A 2011, ‘How the Internet Gets Inside Us’, The New Yorker, date accessed: 22 Sept 2016

Jenkins, H. 2006, “Worship at the altar of convergence”: A new paradigm for understanding media change”. In H. Jenkins, Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide (pp 1-24). New York: New York

Khemani, H 2008,  ‘What is Machine Design? What is Mechanical Design?.’,  Brighthub Engineering, date accessed: 27 April 2017, < >

MASS 2017,  ‘Mouse-trap making machine.’,, date accessed: 27 April 2017, <>

McLuhan, M 1964,  ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ New York: McGraw Hill.

Rothenberg, D 1993, ‘ Hand’s End: Technology and the Limits of Nature.‘,  Berkeley: University of California Press.



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