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The Reception of Scientific Management by British Engineers, 1890–1914

  • Kevin Whitston (a1)
Abstract

While Britain never had a scientific management movement like that in America, historians have exaggerated the negative reaction of British engineers to the ideas of F. W. Taylor and other American proponents of business efficiency. A review of the leading British engineering journals in the early twentieth century reveals that Taylorism received a fair amount of attention, and much of it positive. By the beginning of the First World War, the majority of trade journals were echoing Taylor's demands for a new type of management. The misapprehension on behalf of historians stems from a number of factors: an overemphasis on articles published during years of labor agitation, such as 1911 and 1912; and, a failure to appreciate the different way in which scientific management was perceived in Britain. This fuller understanding of British responses to Taylor and his ideas helps to elucidate a chapter in the broader history of British economic performance and managerial methods in the twentieth century.

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1 Urwick, Lyndall and Brech, E. F. L., The Making of Scientific Management 2 (London, 1957), 102.

2 Aldcroft, Derek H., “The Economy, Management and Foreign Competition,” in Where Did We Go Wrong? ed. Roderick, G. and Stephens, M. (Lewes, England, 1981), 27; Payne, P. L., “Industrial Entrepreneurship and Management in Great Britain,” The Cambridge Economic History of Europe vol. 7, Part 1, (London, 1978), 218.

3 Littler, Craig R., The Development of the Labour Process in Capitalist Societies (Guilford, 1982), 94.

4 Locke, R., The End of Practical Man: Entrepreneurship and Higher Education (London, 1984), 98.

5 Nelson, Daniel, A Mental Revolution—Scientific Management Since Taylor (Columbus, Ohio, 1992), 19.

6 Merkle, Judith, Management and Ideology: The legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement (Berkeley, Calif., 1980), 230.

7 Pollard, Sidney, Britain's Prime and Britain's Decline (London, 1989), 54.

8 Hyman, Richard, “The Historical Evolution of British Industrial Relations,” in Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice in Britain, ed. Edwards, Paul (Oxford, 1995), 32.

9 “British Engineers to Visit America,” Engineering 77 (April 1904): 506.

10 In his Scientific Management in Europe, Paul Devinat notes that “it is the technical periodicals that offer the most valuable documentation,” ILO Studies and Reports, Series B (Economic Conditions) 17 (Geneva, 1927): 92; Landes too, says that the best source on the early management movements “remains the contemporary engineering periodicals,” see Landes, David S., The Unbound Prometheus, (Cambridge, 1969), 322, footnote.

11 Armytage, W. H. G., A Social History of Engineering (London, 1961), 184.

12 Mechanical Engineering 46 (1924): 301.

13 Other periodicals of some interest include The Engineering Review founded in 1899; Mechanical Progress, which noted in an editorial in the first volume, “The charming openness of American engineers in offering every facility for competitors to go through their workshops,” 1 (April 1900): 157; The Mechanical World, and The World's Work. The latter described itself as “An Illustrated Magazine of National Efficiency and Social Progress.” Founded in 1902, it enthusiastically promoted Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management in a series of articles in 1911 (vols. 17 and 18), carrying an article from Taylor himself in May, and covered the criticism appearing in other journals that year. Its comment on the article in Engineering of 2 June 1911 entitled “The Task Work System” was that “it probably represents a general attitude on the part of the British trade world,” 18 (1911): 298. For its part, Engineering commented on Taylor's article that there was “little here that will be new to readers of Engineering” (2 June 1911).

14 They include, for example, James Rowan on premium bonus in engineering work shops, Engineering 75 (27 March 1903): 432; Parsons, A. D. C., “Manufacturing Organization,” Machinery 9 (23 Nov. 1916): 177; Orcutt, H. F. L. on “Modern Machine Methods,” The Engineer 93 (24 Jan. 1902): 97; Herbert, Alfred, “Machine Tools and Workshop Methods of a Former Period,” The Engineer 127 (21 March 1919): 283.

15 Westgarth, T., “British Industrial Supremacy and British Workmen,” Cassiers 20 (May 1901–Oct. 1901): 65. See also, the editor's response.

16 Harber, Samuel, Efficiency and Uplift (London, 1964), 16; Taylor, F. W., Scientific Management (New York, 1947), 148.

17 Havelock, M. A., “Personnel Management in Relation to Time and Motion Study,” Time and Motion Study 3 (1954): 29.

18 Litterer, J., “Systematic Management—the Search for Order and Integration,” Business History Review 35 (Winter 1961): 461476.

19 Nelson, Daniel, “Scientific Management, Systematic Management and Labor 1880–1915,” Business History Review 48 (1974): 500.

20 Urwick and Brech, Making of Scientific Management, 120. There is a modern school of thought which attributes poor British economic performance to the way in which engineers have been confined to their professional specialism rather than take on more general management functions, although its exponents are also critical of what they describe as an Anglo-Saxon, British and American, obsession with “management” as a function distinct from production, Glover, I., “Professionalism and Manufacturing Industry,” in Manufacturing and Management, ed. Fores, M. and Glover, I. (London, 1978).

21 Urwick, Lyndall, “The Development of Scientific Management in Great Britain,” British Management Review (Oct.-Dec. 1938): 39.

22 Ibid., 22.

23 In describing the relationship between management and mechanization as perceived by British engineers I do not wish to imply that this was a necessary relationship, or the only sort of relationship which mechanization might conceivably have encouraged, or that mod ern management had to take the form that it did.

24 “English Criticisms of American Engineering,” The Engineer 70 (12 Dec. 1890): 476.

25 Floud, R. C., “The Adolescence of American Engineering Competition 1860–1900,” Economic History Review 27 (1974): 70; Saul, S. B., “The American Impact on British Industry,” Business History 3 (1960): 23.

26 “English and American Machine Tools,” The Engineer 86 (2 Dec. 1898): 543.

27 “The Engineers Dispute,” Engineering 63 (23 April 1897): 549; Landes, The Unbound Prometheus, 309.

28 Orcutt, H. F. L., “Modern Machine Methods,” The Engineer 93 (24 Jan. 1902): 97.

29 Binsee, H. B., “Some reasons for the Excellence of American Machinery,” Cassiers Magazine 16 (May 1899-Oct. 1899): 591.

30 “European and American Foundry Methods,” Cassiers Magazine 29 (Nov. 1905–April 1906): 344.

31 Francois, E., “American Machine and Engine Building seen through European Eyes,” Cassieri Magazine 11 (Nov. 1896-April 1897): 160.

32 Homer, J., “The Modern Machine Shop,” Cassiers Magazine 17 (Nov. 1899-April 1900): 383.

33 “Current Topics,” Cassiers Magazine 35 (Nov. 1908-April 1909): 640.

34 Montgomery, David, The Fall of the House of Labour (Cambridge, 1989), 231.

35 Smith, O., “Machine Shop Economy,” Cassiers Magazine 8 (May 1895-Oct. 1895): 130; Smith advised employers not to “allow a workman to think that sixteen feet cutting speed per minute on soft cast iron is “good enough” because he did it yesterday or last year, or because his grandfather did it.”

36 Report of F. W. Taylor's paper, The Art of Cutting Metals,” Mechanical World 41 (Jan. 1907): 34.

37 Thomas, E., “The Management of Engineering Workshops,” Mechanical Engineer 21 (Jan. 1908-June 1908): 597.

38 “The Cost of Production,” Engineering 78 (18 Nov. 1904): 658–6.

39 “Modern Manufacturing Methods,” Engineering 75 (6 Feb.): 181–2; (5 June 1903): 753–4.

40 The minutes of the Engineering Employers Federation in 1898 record a decision to purchase 1,500 copies of an article on piecework in Cassiers for distribution to members which could have been Cassiers' reprint of Taylor's “A Piece Rate System, Being a Step towards Partial Solution of the Labour Problem,” which appeared at about that time; Modern Records Centre (MRC) Engineering Employers Federation Minutes, (Feb. 1898); Cassiers 13 (Nov. 1897–April 1898): 369.

41 “The Remuneration of Labour,” Engineering 80 (29 Sept. 1905): 413–4.

42 Engineering 83 (11 Jan. 1907); Cassiers 31 (Nov. 1906-April 1907): 267; Mechanical World 41 (4 Jan. 1907): 34; Mechanical Engineer (29 Dee. 1906): 925.

43 Letters, , “Interested,” Engineering 67 (4 April 1899): 487.

44 Urwick and Brech, Making of Scientific Management, 93,

45 “Industrial Organization,” Engineering 83 (1 Feb. 1907): 149.

46 “Hopkinson's Valve Works at Huddersfeld,” Engineering 80 (8 Sept. 1905): 303–8.

47 Dickie, G. W., “A System of Remunerating Labour,” Mechanical Engineer 25 (27 May 1910): 646–8; Waldron, F. A., “Modern Methods of Shop Management,” Mechanical Engineer 25 (20 May 1910): 622–5.

48 “Home Made Scientific Management,” Machinery 4 (25 June 1914): 399.

49 Editorial statement, Engineering and Industrial Management 6 (27 Oct. 1921): 458. Cassiers Magazine changed its title a number of times, to Cassiers Engineering Monthly, Engineering and Industrial Management, to Cassiers Industrial Management, and finally to a magazine devoted to mechanical handling.

50 “Remuneration of Labour,” Engineering 80 (29 Sept. 1905): 413–4.

51 “The Task Work System” Engineering 91 (2 June 1911): 732; “Motion Study” Engineering 91 (15 Sept. 1911): 357–8.

52 “Scientific Management,” Engineering 93 (1 March 1912): 289–91.

53 “Industrial Management,” Engineering 95 (27 June 1913): 877.

54 Cadbury, Edward, “Some Principles of Industrial Organization: The Case For and Against Scientific Management,” Sociological Review 7 (1914): 105.

55 Cadbury, “Some Principles of Industrial Organization,” 114; see also Rowlinson, Michael, “The Early Application of Scientific Management by Cadbury,” Business History 30 (1988): 377395.

56 “British Industries,” Engineering 102 (25 Aug. 1916): 181; Maw, W. H., “Vote of Thanks,” Engineering 108 (31 Oct. 1919): 589–90.

57 “Taylorism,” The Engineer 111 (19 May 1911): 520–1.

58 “Taylorism Again,” The Engineer 113 (12 April 1912): 382.

59 “Scientific Management and Works Efficiency,” The Engineer 115 (25 April 1913): 443.

60 “Workshop Management,” The Engineer 116 (14 Nov. 1913): 521.

61 “English and American Methods,” The Engineer 90 (31 Aug. 1900): 215.

62 “Human Efficiency,” The Engineer 122 (1 Dec. 1916): 489–90. Gilbreth wrote a furious reply arguing that “our methods aim to increase interest in work as well as eliminate waste” and accusing The Engineer of being against training and progress. In reply, the editor simply noted that Mr. Gilbreth had enclosed a circular on simplified spelling! 123 (4 May 1917): 400.

63 Kreis, S., “The Diffusion of an Idea—The History of Scientific Management in Britain 1890–1945,” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Missouri Columbia, 1990); see also, Renold, C. R., Joint Consultation over Thirty Years (London, 1950).

64 “Hopkinson's,” Engineering 80 (8 Sept. 1905): 303–8.

65 Loscher, A. P., “Engineering Workshop Organization,” The Engineer 91 (20 Dec. 1901): 633.

66 Letters, , “Observer,” Engineering 94 (6 Sept. 1912): 332.

67 Cadbury, E., Experiments in Industrial Organization (London, 1912), 141.

68 “The Works of G and J Weir Ltd., Glasgow,” Engineering 71 (21 June 1901): 795.

69 “Messrs David Rowan and Co. Works,” Engineering 73 (9 May 1902): 597–8.

70 “The Premium System vi,” The Engineer 93 (4 April 1902): 328.

71 MRC, EEF Microfilm Records, MSS 237/3/1/205.

72 “Editorial Introduction to Workshop Methods,” The Engineer 92 (27 Sept. 1901): 339.

73 J. Rowan, “The Premium System of Remunerating Labour”: W. Thompson, 383; “Some Factors Affecting the Economical Production of Marine Engines,” 397; Weir, W. and Richmond, J. R., “Workshop Methods, Some Efficiency Factors in an Engineering Business,” Engineering 72 (13 Sept. 1901): 376.

74 Rowan, J., “A Premium System Applied to Engineering Workshops,” Engineering 75 (March 1903): 432.

75 “The Characteristics of a Foreman,” Engineering 88 (18 Dec. 1908): 825.

76 “System at the Lanchester Works,” The Engineer 125 (15 Feb. 1918): 133–6.

77 “Unskilled Labour,” The Engineer 108 (8 Oct. 1909): 372.

78 “Definitions of Skilled, Semi-Skilled and Unskilled Men,” Engineering 105 (1 March 1918): 231–3.

79 For example, Fox argues that a particular class accommodation in Britain led to the failure to adopt either the American or the German model and identifies this as the root cause of British economic decline. See Fox, Alan, History and Heritage (London, 1985), 228.

80 Public Record Office, London, Board of Trade BT/56/44CIA/1884/5.

81 For a discussion of some of the evidence for scientific management practice between the wars, see Whitston, Kevin, “Scientific Management and Production Management Practice in Britain between the Wars,” Historical Studies in Industrial Relations 1 (March 1996): 4775.

82 Nockolds, Harold, Lucas—The First Hundred Years (Newton Abbot, 1976), 209, testimony of Albert Sidall, Head of Process Planning Department.

83 Yates, Morris L., Wages and Labour Conditions in British Engineering (London, 1937), 86.

84 Cummings, E. W., “Motion Study in Action,” Motion Economy (March 1952): 1718; Gibbons, G. I., “Human Problems Arising from Work Study Schemes,” Time and Motion Study (Dec. 1954); Coleman, D. C., Courtaulds: An Economic and Social History (Oxford, 1969), 455.

85 Turner, N. C., “Organising for Work Study,” Work Study and Management (May 1963), 204–7.

86 “Focus on Industry” Work Study and Industrial Engineering (Jan. 1961), 107–8.

87 Dalziel, S. J., “Work Study in Industry,” Political Quarterly 27 (1956): 270283; “What others are doing,” Work Study and Industrial Engineering (Jan. 1958).

88 “Comment,” Work Study and Management Services (March 1967), 119.

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