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Did You Know?
August 2009

Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
August 2009

            Yes, I’m sure you do know that John H. Patterson was philanthropic toward many interests.  He was generous to his employees, benevolent to his factory neighborhood, a friend of charity and a humanitarian to his community.  The place he chose to carry out his business was important to him and he wanted nothing but the best for the city of Dayton and its people. As charitable as he was there was always a benefit to the company involved in the desired outcome of his actions.  You might say there were always multiple benefits.      

            Early on he realized that he, representing management and the workers representing labor, had both been trying to get the most for the least from each other with little satisfaction on either side.  His trained workers were leaving because working conditions at NCR were no better than those at other companies.  He decided he would no longer treat his employees as a commodity as one might the iron, wood, machinery, buildings, etc. that he used in his business.  He also felt there was a lack of knowledge among the work force about the cash register business in general.  He came to believe that a happy, healthy, contented, and knowledgeable worker would produce a better product with more pride and satisfaction in the job done. He also believed that a contented worker was one who was comfortable with his job, with his neighborhood and with the city he lived in. Things had to change.

            These changes in the working conditions required him to move into an uncharted area.  There was no ‘best practiced manual” to rely upon.  There was nobody to copy.  He was working in a new field.  He was also courageous enough to brave the reticule from other titans of the manufacturing industry as well as to see beyond the mistrust of his own workers whose conditions he was trying to improve. He made many improvements to the working environment and to the worker benefits (he called them welfare programs which I’ll detail at a later date).  The changes he made were slowly acknowledged by the business world and some years later Forbes Magazine recognized Mr. Patterson as “America’s Best Employer” and NCR as one of the best places in America to work.

            The Patterson property in the south of Dayton, where he built his new factory, just happened to be near one of the worst neighborhoods in the city.  The homes were run down, the streets were ill kept, fences needed mending, and yards were overgrown.   “Slidertown” was not a pleasant place to live and yet many of his employees owned or rented homes there.  His business was growing and each day customers and potential customers were visiting.  Business leaders, politicians, entertainers, and other well known men and women came to see his new factory. The factory itself was everything visitors had heard it was and yet the surroundings were not at all pleasing to the eye.

            Mr. Patterson decided that perhaps the best thing to do was set an example for the neighborhood and the city.   So what did he do?  He hired a professional.  Not just any landscaper but Mr. John Olmsted who had designed the landscaping for the Vanderbilt family home “The Biltmore” in North Carolina and the Roosevelt family home in New York as well as being  the chief landscaping architect for the Chicago Worlds Fair.  Following a landscaping plan, the lawn of the factory was seeded, shrubs were placed near the buildings, trees were planted around the grounds, the buildings were painted and decorated with flowers boxes at the doors and under windows. The factory grounds became a landscape showcase for all to see.

            Now Mr. Patterson set his sights on Slidertown. Using the factory property as an example, he distributed pamphlets in the community offering NCR’s help to the residents to improve their property.  She met skepticism at first, but when he made his groundskeepers available for planting and as instructors, offered Sunday landscaping lectures on company property, offer seed, shrubs, trees and other plants to the resident at cost, slowly Slidertown began to improve.  Over time the area became a show place community.  It had its own community center, library and adult school.  Property values rose to become among the best in Dayton and the neighbor became one of the most desirable places in Dayton to live.  To celebrate the transformation the name was even changed from Slidertown to “South Park.”

            Remember I mentioned multiple benefits? Mr. Patterson had improved the living condition of many of his employees, he had improved the neighborhood around his factory, and his factory was now the showplace he desired in the setting he wanted.  And all because he believed a commitment to the city where he chose to headquarter his business produced results which benefited the city as well as NCR.  It was a win-win situation.