“Welfare Work, according to John H. Patterson, President of the N.C.R. Company, is co-operation, ‘labor and capital working together for the benefit of both.’At the N.C.R. factory his ideal has come very near to realization.N.C.R. Welfare Work has three things for basis- healthful working conditions, pleasant surroundings and educational opportunities.
“The growth of Welfare Work at Dayton has been gradual.It began in the conviction of President Patterson that attention to the health and comfort of his employes(sic) was not only his duty as a man, but also his best investment as a manufacturer.Again and again he has given this terse reason for extending the work, ‘It pays.’ ”
The above statement is from a booklet printed for all NCR employees to read, in 1906.It was not a new idea at the time; it had, in fact, been a policy of NCR since 1894, if not earlier.This was at a time when the word “welfare” had a different connotation than now; it meant taking steps to help the well-being of employees by providing good food, fresh air and better working conditions.
In an interview that ran in the St. Louis Daily Globe newspaper on April 7, 1907, John H. Patterson was asked how the welfare work in his factory began, and whether it benefited the company.
“Right at the threshold of our prosperity my wife died.” answered Patterson.“She was a young woman, and reflecting on the matter, I concluded that her death was either an accident or a purpose of the Almighty.But if there were accidents the moon might run into the earth or the sun might lose its attraction, which, if possible, would be worse.So I eliminated all chance from nature.One day the thought came suddenly that the death of my wife was designed to bring about easier conditions for the women who were employed in the factory.
“The next morning I joined the shivering throng that was hurrying through the darkness to work.In my office I saw a half-frozen woman warming herself at the radiator and trying to heat some miserable coffee.
“I was to look at a $400 horse that day.When the horsecame I had decided to spend the money for coffee.My brother thought I was joking.The purchasing agent heard my order and then purposely forgot it.We were not running a restaurant, he said.Furthermore, a woman would have to be hired to make the coffee, and it would take 300 spoons and as many cups and saucers.I threatened to discharge him, whereupon the coffee appeared, and with it milk and sugar.”
Thus, in 1894, women were given the permission to warm their coffee on hot plates provided to each department by the company.At , an employee, selected by the forewoman, would place the coffee cans on the stove, so that the coffee would be hot by lunchtime.Cold lunches were brought from home, and the work benches served as tables.
Then, in 1895, five highly productive women quit and went elsewhere.Investigation showed Patterson the reason.Light and ventilation were poor; the plant was dingy and unsanitary; and a lack of safety features caused many injuries. Patterson realized that “you can buy head power and hand power, but not heart power... that must be earned.”And he set about earning it.
“I was nowdetermined to make a place with us worth having and keeping,” said Patterson.“So I added soup to the coffee.”
Soon the coffee and soup developed into a regular hot luncheon, with the first women’s dining room opening in September 1896, on the fourth floor of Building No. 1.The first dining room for men followed in October 1903 and was located on the first floor of Building No. 1.
When the dining rooms were opened, mottos were hung from the ceilings that had to do with good advice on food, housekeeping and life in general.
“I got an idea in China, where the constant repetition of moral truths makes an impression on old and young alike,” said Patterson.“There are mottos all through the factory.‘Good enough’ one of them reads, ‘is the enemy of the best.’”
Patterson believed that the improved conditions which he had given the employees greatly increased the effectiveness of their labor.
“Every dollar we have spent in making our employees comfortable and contented, and I put an emphasis on that statement, has been multiplied tenfold in direct benefit to the company.”
In a report made by the Honorable William Rueherwin to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1895, he noted that the women at NCR were well treated.
“They come to work at , one hour later then the men.They are given 15 minutes recess at for exercise.At , (they) are furnished with a tastefully-cooked lunch - on the company.After (they have) 15 minutes of calisthenics and are allowed to leave 15 minutes earlier than the men.”
The plan was quite successful.Even though the company had decreased the women’s time considerably, “they do the same amount of work as they did when they were working the full ten hours,” claimed Patterson.“They give us better and quicker work for our kindness and it has been a source of great profit to us.”
The company’s benefit programs didn’t stop there.Malted milk was offered free to underweight employees.Overshoes and umbrellas were handed out for use in bad weather.The NCR Relief Association offered sick and death benefits to workers beginning in 1896.
The welfare programs reached out into the neighboring community as well.Children’s garden clubs were established, in which children were given tools, seeds and a garden plot for the purpose ofraisingvegetables, the profits from the sale of the produce being given to the young farmers.The Boy’s Box Furniture Company was started, with local boys making bird houses and furniture from scrap lumber.This allowed them to learnskills while making a profit for themselves.
The Young Women’s League established a boarding home for young women in Patterson’s old home on West First Street, while the Woman’s Century Club began a social and literary clubfor the purpose of broadening the interest and knowledge of women. The Century Club also worked to establish coffee houses throughout the city for women workers.
Patterson even went so far as to donate the Hills and Dales Park, where Daytonians could enjoy strolling the gently rolling hills or play a game of baseball.
Patterson’s welfare plans received a lot of opposition from other factory owners and even from people within NCR itself.Patterson’s own brother declared that John would bankrupt the company.
“I have been called a crank.” exclaimed Patterson, “but I laugh at such nonsense and keep right on.I have proved my case by the cash drawer, and if I am a crank there are plenty of fizzles who might well wish there was something wrong with them.
“Welfare work is nothing more or less than the golden rule applied to business.”
Soon other companies saw that NCR’s welfare program was working.The company’s workers were becoming healthier and more content, which in turn led to better made machines, an increase of output and a reduction in cost.By 1905 it was estimated that over 200 companies had begun their own welfare programs, many based on the same programs Patterson had started years before.John H. Patterson was right... “It works.”