Solving the Model Factory Problem


The following appeared in American Magazine, April 1899

Solving the Model Factory Problem

By Spenser Forbes.

     It is one of the idiosyncrasies of human nature to view factory life and factory people as a condition in life that calls forth heartfelt sympathy from the brother or sister other-wise employed. It seems to be the idea of the great majority of people to represent this element in the vast multitude of bread winners as an abused, oppressed and down-trodden class of people, and to a great extent the operatives themselves have become inoculated with the belief that they are a very ill-used set.
     Much has been done by the employers of vast armies of workers to better the condition and the environments of their employees. Philanthropic endeavor has entered largely in these great manufacturing establishments and many innovations have been introduced with the idea of alleviating the sordid round of treadmill existence into which these men and women degenerate. In the mind of every man and woman employed by large corporations and moneyed industries there is a sub-stratum of socialism that very little provocation arouses into the monster that crushes out hope, peace and love and leaves nothing to take the place of the only sentiments that clothe life with sufficient joyousness to make it worth living. A large industry employing many hands has this human trait to contend with in the hearts of thousands of men and women. It may recognize the fact that the best industrial institutions are possible only with the best men, and in consequence exert every influence, and incorporate every means to further the material, physical and intellectual condition of its employees, with a view to procuring the best help by these means. The idea, in a majority of cases, whatever it may be, that is launched for this purpose falls on barren ground. The mind of the people for whose benefit it was purposed is warped and narrowed by a long brooding over existent evils that they are incompetent to abolish, and wincing under a self constituted lash they are unable to avoid. How can people harboring such principles recognize good from the very source from which they learned to believe comes their oppression?
     Model factories have started up all over the country with a view of educating the employees that the employer was not their worst friend. A comparison of these so-called methods of production with those of a few leading industries of the world which are acting upon a radically different principle will show that these establishments, where the employer and employee are in harmony and no seditious sentiments are allowed to take root and thrive, accomplish the best results. Such a Utopian condition existing between capital and labor is one that is even now in its infancy, and there are few cases where it has become firmly enough established to give evidence of its possibilities. Any new idea or innovation introduced among a lot of people of different nationalities, temperaments and ideas must necessarily suffer much discouraging opposition and lukewarm tolerance before it becomes universally acknowledged as a plan that will work together for the good of all concerned, and it is frequently during this transient stage that it is allowed to wither and die. It is in view of this fact that many employers insist that it is impossible to do anything to change the condition of their people, on account of the industrial system under which we labor. It does seem a hopeless task very often, and the employer with every wish in the world to better condition of his employees - often though actuated by the sole idea that he will reap untold interest on his investment by the better work his hands will turn out - gives up the sorry job and lets things take their course.
     Among the instances where this earnest endeavor on the part of a large company to improve the daily life of their employees has met with unqualified success may be cited the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio. Their plant at South Park, in the suburbs of this delightful western city, is certainly par excellence in the matter of a modern factory organization. The development of their unique system has taken years to accomplish, but in its present state of perfection it revolutionizes all preconceived ideas of factory life and factory methods.
     Some fifteen years ago, when this industry was launched among the needed inventions of the century, its beginning was humble and its capital small its owners were not specially experienced in manufacturing, but, imbued with a determination to succeed - that potent element that seldom fails - it has grown to its present dimensions. As the business grew a new building was erected in the usual style, with plain brick walls, and with no effort at adornment. The organization of the factory was the usual one - to get the most out of the people with the least expenditure. This system worked in the usual way no improvement in the manufacture there being no cordial relations existing between employer and employee.
     During my visit to the factory - an event well worth the time and one never to be forgotten - I had a long talk with Mr. John H. Patterson, the president of the company and the gentleman through whose instrumentality, by the personal interest he took in the work, has been brought about the delightful existent conditions in the factory and its surroundings. Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh, and Mr. Patterson was eloquent as he talked about this model plant. Speaking of its inauguration one day as we sat by the open window in his office, where the June breezes were wafted in laden with the perfume of the early flowers that had been cultivated to beauteous perfection by the many who had competed for prizes in this line, he said: 'We soon saw the weakness of our system, and the need of vital changes, when we had a consignment of goods returned from England, all of them defective in workmanship. It was this experience that led us, at the end of ten years of business life, to begin a very careful examination of the causes of the difficulty, with the result that a complete change was decided upon, and the result you see. We realized that the highest efficiency in any product that a company manufactures can only be had when it has the enthusiastic assistance of everyone, from the president to the errand boy, and each and every employee renders it their moat thoughtful service. The first step in this direction was to abolish the office of superintendent, and in his place was chosen a committee of five. Members of this committee are scientifically educated and experienced mechanics who have complete charge of the manufacturing departments. To accomplish a second purpose, that of securing intelligent operatives, it was determined to give the fullest information to everyone regarding the company's business." This and much more Mr. Patterson told me of the unique methods that were employed in their factory, and to one uninitiated in such a remarkable organization for bringing out the best there is in its operatives, it was exceedingly interesting, and not at all in keeping with my established views on the handling of great numbers of people.
     To one outside the pale of factory life and only in touch with this great throbbing pulsing mass of human beings through the medium of a cursory glance while they are busily plying their particular trade, or as they are rushing pell-mell through the factory gates when the day's work is done, we seldom credit them with an appreciation of the beautiful or harboring any longings for a glimpse of something better than their dreary round of labor; but walking about the beautiful streets of South Park, so exquisitely laid out that the main street is pronounced to be the most beautiful in the world - size of lots and cost of houses considered - it is easily seen that the same love for the beautiful is in each heart, even though crushed and hidden under the weight of a weary load of bitter protest against their fate and a lack of ability to alter it. Speaking of the beautiful streets and gardens, I learned that the sons of the employees have grown to be hard-working little farmers, vying with each other in the products of their gardens and proudly carrying off the prizes that the company offers. The company owns no property except that on which the factory is situated. The grounds of the factory were laid out under the direction of a well-known Boston firm of landscape gardeners, and the result was so gratifying, and the interest of the hands so decided that the officers of the company determined to encourage the beautifying of all the homes in the neighborhood. With this in view a series of prizes amounting to $250 per year was offered for the best landscape gardening. The residences surrounding the factory are largely owned by the people who live in them and are evidences of the careful savings of the employees.
     The factory's interior is a delight to the visitor. Among the fourteen hundred employees there are over two hundred young women in its various departments, who go to work an hour later than the men and leave fifteen minutes earlier, thus avoiding the usual crowding of the streets and cars. Twice a day a recess of ten minutes is given for recreation and exercise. A very delightful resting room is furnished for these girls, where they can relax entirely from the strain that earnest application to their work entails. A lunch room is fitted up for them on the fourth floor of the building - a room that previously had been an attic - with small tables and furnished with pretty napery and china. Rugs are strewn over the floor, and groups of palms and vines make it a delightful place. The girls themselves purchased a piano, and the room is one that is a pleasant retreat during the luncheon time. Tea or coffee soup and some hot meat or vegetable are furnished at the expense of the company. The girls pay a penny a day toward the cost of special items and add what their fancy may dictate. Adjoining this room is the kitchen, a scene of busy, pleasant activity during luncheon, the bright-faced girls, with their spotless caps and aprons, moving about with healthy, springing step as they cater to the needs of the diners. On this floor is a large, well-kept bath room; this is at the disposal of the operatives at any time after hours, but both the men and women are allowed twenty minutes during the company's time once a week to use this sanitary blessing. The young women have also the advantages of training in the cooking and sewing school which has been fitted up in one of the buildings of the company and is presided over by a graduate of Pratt Institute. The loyalty of this body of women is unsurpassed, and the attractiveness of the work makes the rule, "only graduates of a high school employed," a comparatively easy one.
     This busy thoroughfare is a whole little city in itself, with its various organizations all working toward a common end - the betterment of their condition - and all willing to give their individual aid to the proffered assistance of their employers. The clubs are many and I entered with great interest into the inspection of the boys' club with its 150 members; the boys' brigade, with its two companies; the Penny Provident bank for the children's savings; the girls' library and social club; the mothers' guild; the dancing class and every other known social means conducive to mental and physical benefits. It is a vast family living in concord, and each animated with a unity of endeavor to make each other happy. They have their three news-papers, printed by the operatives, and the half-tones illustrating this article were made from photographs taken, developed and printed by this company of people, so conservative that they are independent of extraneous aid.
     Still further continuing the idea of helpfulness, a cottage adjoining the factory is fitted up as a "House of Usefulness." A deaconess is employed who gives her time to the moral and social assistance of the community. By making her apartments in this house comfortable, an example is shown of what can be done in homes with a small expenditure. The benefits of this institution can hardly be over-estimated, as frequently the squalor and disorder that is apparent in the homes of factory employees is the result of a belief that they have so little to do with, there is no use in attempting anything.
     A library was early established, containing many valuable books on science and mechanics as well as general literature; this has been augmented by an arrangement made with the free public library in Dayton, giving the employees the immediate advantage of the fine collection of the city. So much engages your attention here that it is with regret you leave the place when your visit is over. From the beautiful lawns surrounding the kindergarten, where the tiny tots just beginning the long and hard road of life play and shout with joy, to the oldest employee putting the best of his ability into some intricate part of the machine, there is peace, happiness and contentment abounding, reflecting untold credit upon Mr. Patterson and his philanthropic associates in this Christian endeavor to help their fellow man. It is an ultimate condition only accomplished after much exertion, and patient effort to make these men and women realize that it was to their interest to act in harmony with the movement, and by their co-operation to effect this wonderful change in factory methods.