Taylor at Midvale Steel Company Machine Shop
The writer came into the machine-shop of the Midvale Steel Company in 1878, after having served an apprenticeship as a pattern-maker and as a machinist. This was close to the end of the long period of depression following the panic of 1873, and business was so poor that it was impossible for many mechanics to get work at their trades. For this reason he was obliged to start as a day laborer instead of working as a mechanic. Fortunately for him, soon after he came into the shop the clerk of the shop was found stealing. There was no one else available, and so, having more education than the other laborers (since he had been prepared for college) he was given the position of clerk. Shortly after
this he was given work as a machinist in running one of the lathes, and, as he turned out rather more work than other machinists were doing on similar lathes, after several months was made gang boss over the lathes.
Almost all of the work of this shop had been done on piece work for several years. As was usual then, and in fact as is still usual in most of the shops in this country, the shop was really run by the workmen, and not by the bosses. The workmen together had carefully planned just how fast each job should be done, and they had set a pace for each machine throughout the shop, which was limited to about one-third of a good day's work. Every new workman who came into the shop was told at once by the other men exactly how much of each kind of work he was to do, and unless he obeyed these instructions he was sure before long to be driven out of the place by the men.
As soon as the writer was made gang-boss, one after another of the men came to him and talked somewhat as follows:
"Now, Fred we're very glad to see that you've been made gang-boss. You know the game all right, and we're sure that you're not likely to be a piece-work hog. You come along with us, and every-thing will be all right, but if you try breaking any of these rates you can be mighty sure that we'll throw you over the fence."
The writer told them plainly that he was now working on the side of the management, and that he proposed to do whatever he could to get a fair day's work out of the lathes. This immediately started a war; in most cases a friendly war, because the men who were under him were his personal friends, but none the less a war, which as time went on grew more and more bitter. The writer used every expedient to make them do a fair day's work, such as discharging or lowering the wages of the more
stubborn men who refused to make any improvement, and such as lowering the piece-work price, hiring green men, and personally teaching them how to do the work, with the promise from them that when they had learned how, they would then do a fair day's work. While the men constantly brought such pressure to bear (both inside and outside the works) upon all those who started to increase their output that they were finally compelled to do about as the rest did, or else quit. No one who has not had this experience can have an idea of the bitterness which is gradually developed in such a struggle. In a war of this kind the workmen have one expedient which is usually effective. They use their ingenuity to contrive various ways in which the machines which they are running are broken or damaged--apparently by accident, or in the regular course of work--and this they always lay at the door of the foreman, who has forced them to drive the machine so hard that it is overstrained and is being ruined. And there are few foremen indeed who are able to stand up against the combined pressure of all of the men in the shop. In this case the problem was complicated by the fact that the shop ran both day and night.
The writer had two advantages, however, which are not possessed by the ordinary foreman, and these came, curiously enough, from the fact that he was not the son of a working man.
First, owing to the fact that he happened not to be of working parents, the owners of the company believed that he had the interest of the works more at heart than the other workmen, and they therefore had more confidence in his word than they did in that of the machinists who were under him. So that, when the machinists reported to the Superintendent that the machines were being smashed up because an incompetent foreman was overstraining them, the Superintendent accepted the word of the writer when he said that these men were deliberately breaking their machines as a part of the piece-work war which was going on, and he also allowed the writer to make the only effective answer to this Vandalism on the part of the men, namely: "There will be no more accidents to the machines in this shop. If any part of a machine is broken the man in charge of it must pay at least a part of the cost of its repair, and the fines collected in this way will all be handed over to the mutual beneficial association to help care for sick workmen." This soon stopped the willful breaking of machines.
Second. If the writer had been one of the workmen, and had lived where they lived, they would have brought such social pressure to bear upon him that it would have been impossible to have stood out against them. He would have been called "scab" and other foul names every time he appeared on the street, his wife would have been abused, and his children would have been stoned. Once or twice he was begged by some of his friends among the workmen not to walk home, about two and a half miles along the lonely path by the side of the railway. He was told that if he continued to do this it would be at the risk of his life. In all such cases, however, a display of timidity is apt to increase rather than diminish the risk, so the writer told these men to say to the other men in the shop that he proposed to walk home every night right up that railway track; that he never had carried and never would carry any weapon of any kind, and that they could shoot and be d------.
After about three years of this kind of struggling, the output of the machines had been materially increased, in many cases doubled, and as a result the writer had been promoted from one gang-boss-ship to another until he became foreman of the shop. For any right-minded man, however, this success is in no sense a recompense for the bitter relations which he is forced to maintain with all of those around him. Life which is one continuous struggle with other men is hardly worth living. His workman friends came to him continually and asked him, in a personal, friendly way, whether he would advise them, for their own best interest, to turn out more work. And, as a truthful man, he had to tell them that if he were in their place he would fight against turning out any more work, just as they were doing, because under the piece-work system they would be allowed to earn no more wages than they had been earning, and yet they would be made to work harder.
Soon after being made foreman, therefore, he decided to make a determined effort to in some way change the system of management, so that the interests of the workmen and the management should become the same, instead of antagonistic. This resulted, some three years later, in the starting of the type of management which is described in papers presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers entitled "A Piece-Rate System" and "Shop Management."
In preparation for this system the writer realized that the greatest obstacle to harmonious cooperation between the workmen and the management lay in the ignorance of the management as to what really
constitutes a proper day's work for a workman. He fully realized that although he was foreman of the shop, the combined knowledge and skill of the workmen who were under him was certainly ten times as great as his own. He therefore obtained the permission of Mr. William Sellers, who was at that time the President of the Midvale Steel Company, to spend some money in a careful, scientific study of the time required to do various kinds of work.
Mr. Sellers allowed this more as a reward for having, to a certain extent, "made good" as foreman of the shop in getting more work out of the men, than for any other reason. He stated, however, that he did not believe that any scientific study of this sort would give results of much value.
Among several investigations which were undertaken at this time, one was an attempt to find some rule, or law, which would enable a foreman to know in advance how much of any kind of heavy laboring work a man who was well suited to his job ought to do in a day; that is, to study the tiring effect of heavy labor upon a first-class man. Our first step was to employ a young college graduate to look up all that had been written on the subject in English, German, and French. Two classes of experiments had been made: one by physiologists who were studying the endurance of the human animal, and the other by engineers who wished to determine what fraction of a horse-power a man-power was. These experiments had been made largely upon men who were lifting loads by means of turning the crank of a winch from which weights were suspended, and others who were engaged in walking, running, and lifting weights in various ways. However, the records of these investigations were so meager that no law of any value could be deduced from them. We therefore
started a series of experiments of our own.
Two first-class laborers were selected, men who had proved themselves to be physically powerful and who were also good steady workers. These men were paid double wages during the experiments, and were told that they must work to the best of their ability at all times, and that we should make certain tests with them from time to time to find whether they were "soldiering" or not, and that the moment either one of them started to try to deceive us he would be discharged. They worked to the best of
their ability throughout the time that they were being observed.
Now it must be clearly understood that in these experiments we were not trying to find the maximum work that a man could do on a short spurt or for a few days, but that our endeavor was to learn what really constituted a full day's work for a first-class man; the best day's work that a man could properly do, year in and year out, and still thrive under. These men were given all kinds of tasks, which were carried out each day under the close observation of the young college man who was conducting the experiments, and who at the same time noted with a stop-watch the proper time for all of the motions that were made by the men. Every element in any way connected with the work which we believed
could have a bearing on the result was carefully studied and recorded. What we hoped ultimately to determine was what fraction of a horse-power a man was able to exert, that is, how many foot-pounds of work a man could do in a day.
After completing this series of experiments, therefore, each man's work for each day was translated into foot-pounds of energy, and to our surprise we found that there was no constant or uniform relation between the foot-pounds of energy which the man exerted during a day and the tiring effect of his work. On some kinds of work the man would be tired out when doing perhaps not more than one-eighth of a horse-power, while in others he would be tired to no greater extent by doing half a horse-power of work.
A large amount of very valuable data had been obtained, which enabled us to know, for many kinds of labor, what was a proper day's work. It did not seem wise, however, at this time to spend any more money in trying to find the exact law which we were after. Some years later, when more money was available for this purpose, a second series of experiments was made, similar to the first, but some what more thorough.
This, however, resulted as the first experiments, in obtaining valuable information but not in the development of a law. Again, some years later, a third series of experiments was made, and this time no trouble was spared in our endeavor to make the work thorough. Every minute element which could in anyway affect the problem was carefully noted and studied, and two college men devoted about three months to the experiments. After this data was again translated into foot-pounds of energy exerted for each man each day, it became perfectly clear that there is no direct relation between the horse-power which a man exerts (that is, his foot-pounds of energy per day) and the tiring effect of the work on the man. The writer, however, was quite as firmly convinced as ever that some definite, clear-cut law existed as to what constitutes a full day's work for a first-class laborer, and our data had been so carefully collected and recorded that he felt sure that the necessary information was included somewhere in the records. The problem of developing this law from the accumulated facts was therefore handed over to Mr. Carl G. Barth, who is a better mathematician than any of the rest of us, and we decided to investigate the problem in a new way, by graphically representing each element of the work through plotting curves, which should give us, as it were, a bird's-eye view of every element. In a comparatively short time Mr. Barth had discovered the law governing the tiring effect of heavy labor on a first-class man. And it is so simple in its nature that it is truly remarkable that it should not have been discovered and clearly understood years before. The law which was developed is as follows:
F.W. Taylor, Scientific Management
F.W. Taylor Scientific Management - With Appropriate Sections
5 July 2016, 4 August 2013