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America's Best Employers


This article appeared in Forbes Magazine on March 16, 1918





How the National Cash Register Company’s Founder

Makes Workers Happy and Efficient


This is the article awarded First Prize, $500, in the contest on “Who is the Best Employer in

    America?”  It describes very clearly the wonderful work Mr. Patterson has carried out for the

        happiness and health of his thousands of employees.  By thus bringing his example to the notice

   of  other employers,  something will be done to stimulate similar worthy activities elsewhere.




     John H. Patterson, master mind and president of the National Cash Register Company, of Dayton, Ohio, is the best employer in America.  He practices the golden rule in business.  He has instilled practical ideas to improve working conditions, not only in his own large organization, but in big business in general.

     Labor, capital, and management working together for the interest of all, or “welfare work,” as it is now called throughout the world, had its inception as an applied business proposition at Dayton.   It was inaugurated at the N. C. R. Company in the early days of its career—why, forms an interesting story.

     Like most great industries, the National Cash Register Company had a humble beginning.  In 1879 James Ritty, a merchant of Dayton, conceived the idea of a cash register and built the first one.  It was not practical and he sold out to the National Manufacturing Company, who, in 1888, sold it to the present owner.

Early Difficulties.

     Until 1892 business prospered.  Then many registers were returned as defective, causing heavy loss in dollars and reputation.

     Mr. Patterson moved his desk into the factory and started an investigation.  He found conditions bad.  He discovered that his trained workmen were leaving because working conditions in his factory were no better than those in any other.  There was serious lack of knowledge of the business among the workmen.  Also, neighborhood conditions were affecting the quantity and quality of the product; skilled mechanics simply would not live or work in “Slidertown,” the disreputable section of Dayton in which the factory was located.  The district was full of thieves, gamblers, and even worse.

     But the greatest trouble of all, he soon became convinced, was that he lacked the co-operation and sympathy of his employees.  He, representing capital, and his employees, representing labor, had both been trying to get the most for the least from each other, with the result that neither derived much satisfaction from the arrangement.

     Would he continue to drive his people as all manufacturers then were doing, regarding their workmen as parts of the machinery of production?

     Or would he smash precedent by admitting that he had been partly at fault and begin to treat the working man as a human being, entitled to humane treatment?


Initial Improvements.

     It was at that crisis that John H. Patterson became the best employer in America when he decided to make the interests of those who made and distributed his product identical with his own as the manufacturing head.  He was not copying.  He had not heard of Lever Brothers.  He was working in a new field.  But he was wise enough to recognize conditions and courageous enough to brave the scorn of his associates and the distrust of his employees that his effort to effect a cure would arouse.

     We can now follow the workings of Mr. Patterson’s mind when, in going through the factory shortly after this, he noticed one of the women heating coffee on a radiator and later saw a group of women eating cold lunches on the work benches.  How could they do their best work if they were not properly nourished?

     A kitchen was installed and the women workers were served hot soup and coffee daily.

     Of course he encountered opposition.  When he announced his intention of providing this lunch equipment, the manager said, “Why, Mr. Patterson, you can’t do that.  If you give those 100 females soup and coffee you’ll have to buy a hundred coffee spoons and a hundred soup spoons—think of the expense.”

     “Well,” he answered, “I’ve been thinking of buying a riding horse, but I’ll do without that.  You can charge the kitchen equipment to my account, for the time being.”

     Ever since then the women have been given a warm luncheon at a cost of from 5c to 10c.

     After studying the “Slidertown” problem, Mr. Patterson decided that perhaps the best thing to do would be to set a good example for the neighborhood.  So he cleaned up about the factory premises, painted the buildings, planted flowers, shrubs and grass.  A free landscape gardening school was started, prizes were offered for the best kept yards, window and porch boxes.  Thousands of shrubs, plants and packages of seeds were distributed.


Effect of Beautiful Surroundings.

     All this was done on the theory that beautiful surroundings are conducive to good work and that the man who takes an interest in his home and its surroundings will prove a more valuable worker than a man who lives in a slovenly shack.

     The N. C. R. plant consists of beautiful buildings, set in shrubbery.  Everywhere are flower boxes and things of beauty, all exercising a silent, stimulating influence upon the worker.  The grounds around the factory buildings have been laid out at great expense and with the minutest care by the foremost landscape gardeners in the country.


Results of Reforms.

          These reforms were not brought about as easily as might be supposed.  Boys continued to throw stones through the factory windows and do all sorts of damage.  So a tract of ground near the factory was set aside as a vegetable garden and each boy was given a plot.  The company plowed the ground, provided the seed and tools, and 100 boys were put to work raising vegetables.   This acted as a miracle.  The boys gave up their evil ways and environment and became useful young citizens.  The work is still continued, and many of the Boys’ Garden graduates are now working for us.

     “Slidertown” has been transformed into “South Park,” one of the most desirable sections of Dayton.  According to the judge of the juvenile court, there has not been a single delinquency case from the South Park neighborhood in nine years, whereas the locality was once the haunt of the lowest young ruffians and hoodlums in the city.

     While these improvements were being carried on outside, working conditions inside the plant were being improved.  In the early days men and women came to work at the same time.  Today the women arrive half-an-hour later that the men and leave an hour and fifteen minutes earlier, thus eliminating crowding and confusion of the street cars.

     Elevator service is provided for all.  The old style uncomfortable stool has been replaced with the high back chair and foot rest.

     The women employees are provided, free, with aprons and sleevelets, which are laundered and kept in repair in the company’s laundry.  In rainy weather overshoes and umbrellas are furnished, a service which costs little but prevents many cases of illness.  A bootblack shines shoes at a nominal cost.

     At ten each morning and three each afternoon the women and office employees are allowed a ten-minute recess.

     An emergency hospital is maintained for employees, a treatment room set apart for the care of special cases recommended by one of the doctors or nurses.  Battle Creek methods are used.  Visiting nurses call daily upon sick employees or members of their families offering advice and giving nursing care.  Adjoining the different women’s departments are rest rooms in charge of trained nurses.  As a protection, each new employee must pass a physical examination.

     Brushes and combs from the wash rooms are sterilized daily.  An experienced oculist examines the women’s eyes and the company pays for glasses.  The unsanitary  roller towel has been replaced by individual hand towels.

     Each employee is allowed two baths a week on the company’s time.

     The public drinking cup has been abandoned in favor of the sanitary drinking fountain and the water is analyzed regularly.


Four-Fifths of Factory is Glass.

     Four-fifths of the entire wall space of the factory is glass.

     To obtain the purest air, the ventilators are placed near the tops of the buildings.  The air in the buildings is completely changed every fifteen minutes.  In the polishing departments an exhaust system carries away the metal dust.  Similar contrivances are used wherever the work is dusty.

     A general service corps of nearly one hundred and fifty men has no other duty than to keep the grounds and buildings clean.  Everything is immaculate.  Life is worth living in a factory like the N. C. R.!  Last year over 62,000 visitors were entertained at the plant.

     The bright, happy looks and the distinct refinement of the workers are above the ordinary.  Snappy eyes and rosy cheeks of the women denote perfect health, due to perfect working conditions.  The result is a factory where the work is both happily and well done, where the thoughtfulness of employer is repaid by the thoughtfulness of employee.

     A dining room is provided for the women, another for the factory men and a third for the officers.  Meals are served to women employees for 10c; the factory men pay 25c.  The waiters and everyone connected with the preparation or serving of food wear caps to cover their hair and the waiters are shaved daily in the company’s big barber shop, and their nails must be manicured before each meal.

     All through the factory the latest approved safety devices are used—a man can do more and better work when not in constant fear of accident.

     Bulletins are posted on the one hundred and twenty-five boards in he factory, calling attention to dangerous practices, coming events of interest, and suggestions as to the right way of doing things.  All new employees attend a health and safety lecture during the first half hour in the company’s service.

     The first seven factors in efficiency are: Health, character, education, ambition, equipment, environment, reward.  The friction between capital and labor will be reduced just to the extent that each discharges his responsibility equably, willingly and effectively.

     Few employers who have made millions have chosen to spend the best part of their fortune on their employees.  Mr. Patterson is a marked exception.  As one writer said:  “John H. Patterson devotes his life to building cash registers and making workers happy.”  He has made of a factory and its environment a thing of beauty—he has put joy in the work.  He has made the earning of a living harmonize with the earning of happiness.


How He Spends His Money

     A long time ago John H. Patterson quit thinking first about dividends and directed his thoughts to making each man and woman connected with his institution happy and successful.  As soon as he did that, he found that the success of the institution began to take care of itself.

     The N. C. R. Relief Association has been formed as a purely voluntary organization.  It pays exceptionally large sick, accident, and death benefits, yet the dues are only ten cents per week.  Free medical service is provided to members.

     Every noon hour in the “N. C. R. School House,” which seats 1,200, entertainments are held for employees, generally educational motion pictures, or programs including musical numbers and interesting lectures.  Mr. Patterson was the first employer in the United States to institute this feature. He has brought many prominent men to the school house, the first building of its kind ever erected by a manufacturing company.

     In his school house are also held the conventions of salesmen and sales agents—it was here, while their husbands were home hard at work, that five hundred wives of  N. C. R. representatives throughout the country met last October in the first convention of its kind ever held here or abroad.   Mr. Patterson originated the idea of conventions for salesmen, and through this wives' convention he has enlisted the aid of the most conscientious of all workers, the women of America.

     Long before the Minimum Wage Law was passed the lowest salary paid by the N. C. R. Company was $9 per week.  The N. C. R. has the eight hour work day.


Profit sharing Plan.

     My employer has developed the profit-sharing idea most effectively.  Thirty-five officials have twelve and one-half per cent of the yearly net profits divided among them, in ratio to their salaries.  One hundred and seventy-five department heads and foremen have ten percent. divided among them, and two hundred and seventy-five assistant department heads and job foremen are given seven and one-half percent.  Thus thirty per cent of all the company earns is given to encourage and reward the efforts of those responsible for the work.  Moreover, salesmen are awarded generous bonuses when they exceed the sales quota given them.

     Welfare work does not take the places of wages at the N. C. R.   One of the results of welfare work is good wages.

     Another innovation of Mr. Patterson’s is the employees’ “Suggestion Bureau.”  When a suggestion is adopted, the man is rewarded;  $2,400 is spent yearly in prizes ranging from $1 to $100.  Thus there are 6,000 brains, 6,000 hearts, 12,000 eyes, 12,000 ears, all working to help one another.  The suggestion idea is a big success.

     To supplement the suggestion plan, Mr. Patterson habitually walks through the factory, and, going from bench to bench, talks to the workmen.  Thus he gets their confidence and the benefit of their ideas.  And a boss whom the workers can see daily toiling away harder than any of them is certainly the one who will get the most work from his men.

     As an instance of how Mr. Patterson’s personal contact with his men pays big dividends let me relate what happened to me.

     Several years ago I operated one of the stereopticon machines which Mr. Patterson took to New York with him when giving a lecture.  In New York he asked if I would like to see a polo game.  Of course I told him I would.  “Well,” said Mr. Patterson, “get your tickets and take a friend with you.”  To my chagrin I found that ticket sharks had bought up every available seat and that I could not get one for less than $15.  I resolved to say nothing to Mr. Patterson.  But he searched me out and asked me if I had secured my seats.  I said I had not, and told him the price asked.  “Buy them anyway,” he said.  My friend and I enjoyed the game thoroughly and my sense of gratitude for this little act of thoughtfulness toward one of the humblest of his employees was not satisfied until I presented Mr. Patterson with a mechanical device that enabled the lecturer to  have his slides automatically changed by the mere pressing of a button.  This has saved the company about $2,000 annually ever since.

     Mr. Patterson believes in teaching through the eye and that a little travel will do more for a man than a great deal of book lore.  Therefore, he frequently selects employees, from all positions and all departments, and sends them on what he calls educational trips with instructions to “Learn from others; keep your ears and eyes open.”


Women’s, Men’s, Boys’ Clubs.

     The Women’s Century Club, composed of the women employees of the N. C. R., maintains a country club house where women employees may spend their vacations, at very low cost.  For those interested, this vacation house affords an opportunity for acquiring a knowledge of household management.

     The residents of  South Park, the vicinity in which the factory is located, are organized into what is called the Rubicon Club, with a palatial meeting house, the gift of Mr. Patterson.  Through this organization welfare activities are extended through the entire neighborhood.  Eventually such organizations become self-supporting.

     Mr. Patterson also organized the Boys’ Club and the Men’s Club of South Park, and through these organizations the members learn many things.  In the Boys’ Garden Company, incorporated, the youthful gardeners are stockholders.  There is the Boys' Furniture Company, where bird houses and small pieces of furniture are made from old packing cases donated by the company.  Mr. Patterson gave the buildings and all other equipment necessary.  These are real organizations, with regularly elected presidents, boards of directors, and stockholders.


Gives Educational Opportunities.

     At the N. C. R. City Club evening meetings of an educational nature are held.  The three-story club building is given over without rent for educational purposes, and has in conjunction a community hall, or big auditorium.  In the City Club the famous N. C. R. night classes in salesmanship, advertising, business letter writing, public speaking, cartoon drawing, etc., are held.

     Other organizations to bring the people into closer harmony are the N.C. R. Women’s Club, composed of the wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters of employees; the Women’s Century Club, composed of the women employees, and the children’s organization, which meets every Saturday morning for free educational moving pictures and refreshments.

     Co-operative classes for N. C. R. apprentices were organized several years ago.  They include boys and young men, who spend alternately one week in high school, under special teachers, and one week in the factory, thus giving them opportunity to complete the high school course while learning a trade.  From high school they may proceed to the University of Cincinnati, spending alternately two weeks in the factory and two weeks in the university.

     The N. C. R. has a 6,000 volume library which is open at all times to the workers and neighborhood people.

     An Engineers’ Club for employees mechanically inclined meets weekly, when talks by authorities on engineering subjects are featured.


Stimulates Health and Recreation.

     “Health First,”  “The greatest Wealth is Health,” are favorite mottoes of Mr. Patterson.  The illustrated health talks prepared by the N. C. R. for their employees’ education are widely known.  One has been taken over in its entirety by the Government for the benefit of its soldiers—an example of the thoroughness of Mr. Patterson’s “teaching through the eye” methods.

     Since fresh air and exercise are essential to good health, recreation fields and equipment for all sorts of games have been provided.  Adjoining the factory is an athletic field, fully equipped, and tennis courts.  Mr. Patterson has also endowed a Country Club for his employees.  As a key to the character and the democracy of Mr. Patterson, may be cited the fact that Hills and Dales, his eleven-hundred–acre estate located three miles from Dayton, has been transformed into a beautiful play ground with shaded walks, roads, and bridle paths.  Camps fully equipped with dishes, cooking utensils, fuel, water, and first-aid kits, nestle among the trees.  All this is for the use of the public.


Advancement for All

     Nobody in the N. C. R. organization is in a rut or blind alley.  All roads lead to the big jobs.  The company helps, boosts, heals, encourages, and saves human beings every step of their way up the hill of success.

     Ours is the best school of business methods in the world.  Such men as Colonel E. A. Deeds, the head of the new Government Aircraft Board; Hugh Chalmers, former president and organizer of the Chalmers Motor Company; T. J. Watson, president of the Computing, Tabulating, and Recording Company;  A. J. Lauver of the Packard Motor Car Company, and many others have won their way by virtue of their own capabilities plus the helpful hand that Mr. Patterson extended to them through the “N. C. R.  School of Hard Knocks.”

     Little men never build big institutions.  The N. C. R. is the biggest thing of its kind in the world, and the reason it is big is that there is a big man eternally pumping steam into it.

     Mr. Patterson believes that, as an employer, he is directly responsible for any friction between capital and labor.  Labor today demands three things:

     First: Fair wages.

     Second:  Reasonable hours.

     Third:  Good conditions.

     All these things have been accomplished at the N. C. R.  Labor is satisfied here.  Hours have been continually decreased and wages continually increased.

     When capital becomes generous to labor, labor becomes loyal to capital.  That Mr. Patterson develops the most contented, the most intelligent and, therefore, the most painstaking workers cannot be gainsaid.


What Others Say.

     “An earnest effort like yours to solve by business principles, and at the same time in a kindly spirit, the great problems of the best relations between employers and employed, is an important and patriotic contribution to the welfare of our beloved country,”  writes Andrew D. White,  former American  Ambassador, to Mr. Patterson.

     You often hear in Dayton, “Patterson is a good man to work for.”  That doesn’t mean that he is “easy,” that he permits each man to work according to his own ideas, that he tolerates indifference or shirking.  It doesn’t mean that his factory is run loosely or that discipline is lacking.  If that were so, he would not be a good man to work for.  It does mean, however, that Mr. Patterson is not only willing, but anxious to speak a work of commendation to a faithful worker, to recognize a bit of good work and to reward it, that he isn’t a grouch or a miser, that he isn’t afraid to smile occasionally.  It does mean, too, that he is a leader and not a driver.

     “John H. Patterson,” says John D. Rockefeller, “has spared no expense in finding, securing, and utilizing the best and cheapest methods of manufacture.  He has sought for the best superintendents and workmen, and paid the best wages.”

     A man of ideals, Mr. Patterson has never hesitated to bring about changes and innovations, no matter how radical, provided they were sound.  Indeed, many of his ideas were broad enough in their conception to work a benefit to the entire town and even beyond.  “His efforts,” commented The Americana, “have been an incentive to others in the United States, and perhaps have brought him greater reputation abroad than at home.  It was in acknowledgment of his accomplishments in this direction that the Government of France gave him its decoration as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.”


His Achievements During Flood.

     On the first day of the Dayton Flood, in March, 1913, President Patterson called all his employees who had reported for work to a meeting in the school house.  Mounting the platform, he said:  “A great calamity has befallen our city.  We must do what we can to help.  I declare the National Cash Register Company disbanded, and establish a Citizens’ Relief Committee.”

     Where the danger was greatest there was seen my employer, born fighter that he is, personally directing the work and bringing in the victims with his own hands.   The N. C. R. as he organized it for flood work turned out large relief boats and rafts at the rate of one every seven minutes, and by his quick action he saved thousands of lives.  This is the spirit that transformed dingy Slidertown into South Park.

     After the flood, Mr. Patterson, perceiving that Dayton had been badly governed, fought until he succeeded in getting the City Manager plan, with the result that Dayton has earned the title “The best governed city in America.”

     Mr. Patterson invests his money chiefly in the happiness of his work-people.  Every notch he rises, he lifts a hundred with him; every dollar he makes, makes a hundred for others.  He has mounted by helping and by co-operation.  What he does anybody else can do; other businesses can extend a helping hand as they thrive.

     In our national hour of need Mr. Patterson is proving his patriotism in a substantial way.  His motto is: “War first, business second---if there is any time left for business.”  He has put his factory entirely at the disposal of the Government.  He is compiling an illustrated war lecture to arouse the fighting spirit of the American people and make them realize how the aims of the Kaiser affect the individual.  When completed, the pictures will be sent broadcast through the country.  At his own expense, Mr. Patterson has bulletins posted throughout the factory daily for the same purpose.

     America has no other large employer who has given so much attention to the welfare of employees.  And the Patterson employees are loyal to the last man and the last woman.  His work has influenced the whole industrial and civic atmosphere of the country. Because of it other shops and factories have been made models of convenience and efficiency from the workers’ standpoint, city after city in which industrial employees live has been beautified and living conditions have been improved.  Rough, ugly sections of many great industrial centers have been transformed into districts of parks and gardens and cozy homes.  Thousands of children have been educated through the influence of Mr. Patterson’s Boys’ Garden.  He has shown the people not only how to play but how to work.  He has added to the health, happiness, and prosperity of the nation.

     Has not what has been all too feebly recorded here demonstrated beyond question that John H. Patterson, President of The National Cash Register Company, pioneer in Welfare Work, and leader for almost a generation in developing it, is “The Best Employer in America?”


                                                         Dayton, Ohio,

                                                         March 4, 1918


Editor, Forbes  Magazine.


     Your letter notifying me that the first prize of five hundred dollars in your contest, “Who is the best employer in America?” has been awarded to our Mr. P. O. Warren, is highly gratifying.

     For many years I have endeavored to bring about amicable relations between employers and their workers; welfare work has now been introduced, and indeed is considered essential in practically every factory in this country.

     To have my efforts towards this end so handsomely recognized by the judges of your contest is a signal honor.  I deeply appreciate the seal of approval thus set upon what I have tried to do.


                                                                                                       Yours very sincerely,

                                                                                                 JOHN  H. PATTERSON.