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Industrial Home Work of the Dennison Manufacturing Company of Framingham, Massachusetts, 1912–1935

  • Gloria Vollmers (a1)
Abstract

Dennison Manufacturing Company let work out into private homes in surrounding communities and paid piece rates for it for many decades. This work, primarily attaching strings to tags, benefited both the company and the community but contained the potential for abusive child labor. Home work declined when machinery could be substituted for hand labor, but machinery capable of replacing all handwork was never developed. Social and political pressures to reduce or eliminate child labor increased the incentives to end home work; but not until the depression of the 1930s, when national efforts to put men back to work gained momentum, did home manufacture end in the tag and other industries. This article uses internal company documents spanning the period 1912 to 1935 to illuminate the company's policy towards this work. It also relies on the recollections of many of those who performed the work when they were children. This research contributes to a substantial body of literature on home work by providing a case study on one company and enriching it with human testimony.

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1 Home work is commonly called a cottage industry. Other terms are outside work, industrial home work and industrial home manufactures. The workers involved here are called outside or home workers. Dennison did send other types of work into the home. Of these, box making was the most important. However, box making ended voluntarily because it involved skilled labor and needed supervision.

2 Williamson Oliver E., “Transaction-Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractual Relations,” The Journal of Law and Economics 22 (Oct. 1979): 233261.

3 This background information comes from the following sources: Kim McQuaid, “Henry S. Dennison and the Science of Industrial Reform, 1900–1950,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology (Oct. 1977): 79–98; H. Feldman, “The Outstanding Features of Dennison Management,” Industrial Management (Aug., Sept., and Oct., 1922); E. P. Hayes, “History of the Dennison Manufacturing Company,” Journal of Economic and Business History (Aug. 1929): 467–502; and Charlotte Heath, “History of the Dennison Manufacturing Company—II,” Journal of Economic and Business History (Sept. 1929): 163–202. Dennison employed Hayes and Heath as historians. The company began to publish annual reports in 1920 and these provided information about the primary product lines. Information on changes in the classes and ownership of stock comes from the foregoing as well as from Moody's Industrial Manual for the years in question.

4 Scranton Philip, “Diversity in Diversity: Flexible Production and American Industrialization,” Business History Review 65 (Spring 1991): 2790. Throughput is the continuous production of a single product, for example, blank tags. In batch work, after an order is complete, workers stop the machinery to change its specifications (jigs, dies, ink) for a different product run.

5 Henry Dennison (president from 1917 to 1952) worked with managers over the years to minimize the impact business cycles and strove to keep employment as high as possible during recessions. See McQuaid, “Henry S. Dennison and the Science of Industrial Reform”; and Feldman, “The Outstanding Features of Dennison Management.”

6 For details on the battle for voting control in 1911 see McQuaid, “Henry S. Dennison and the Science of Industrial Reform.”

7 Charlotte Heath wrote “A History of Home Work as a Factor in Dennison Production,” for internal use in 1928. Information on stringing machines, agencies and rates comes from her work and the supporting documentation she gathered.

8 The Cincinnati Daily Gazette published the following letter describing the Dennison stringing industry on Cape Cod on 23 August 1879:

“The most noticeable industry here is the tying of tags, those small bits of pasteboard attached to articles in the shops with the price in figures or signs. These tags are cut elsewhere and sent in bulk to West Falmouth. The string is sent in skeins. The business here is to tie, cut the string in suitable lengths, tie one into each tag, and return it to the manufacturer in Boston. This…furnishes occupation to between 300 and 400 persons, and it involves an elaborate system of bookkeeping. The business has been carried on by a woman for the last 20 years. The orders which once were filled in a bushel basket now require large freight boxes, and amount to about 40,000,000 tags a year. The strings…with a corresponding number of tags are given out to people who are paid 12 to 17 cents a thousand. Young children tie with their mothers, and even old men, and it is the great resource for pin money in the community.”

9 Mary Cahill, telephone interview by author, 1994.

10 Mrs. Mildred Read, telephone interview by author, 1994.

11 Manning Caroline, “The Immigrant Woman and her Job,” Bulletin of the Women's Bureau, No. 74, U.S. Department of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1930), 156; Skinner Mary, “Industrial Home Work Under the NRA,” Children's Bureau Publication No. 234, U.S. Department of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1936), 15; Amy Hewes and The Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics, Industrial Home Work in Massachusetts, The Department of Research, Womens's Educational and Industrial Union (Boston, Mass., 1915), 48; Hewes Amy, “Industrial Home Work of Children—A study made in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls, R.I.” Children's Bureau Publication No. 100, U.S. DOL (Washington, D.C., 1922), 42. Manning found that tags paid the second lowest of five types of homework; Skinner that stringing earned the second lowest weekly income among fourteen types; and Hewes, in Industrial Home, found the paper goods industry to be the lowest paying of fourteen surveyed, and in her article for the Children's Bureau Publication, that stringing was among the three lowest paying.

12 Inspector's reports for the months January 1913, February 1914, and May 1914. The Inspector's reports are in a manila file folder marked “Homework” which is stored in a file cabinet marked only by alphabetization (hereafter “Homework File”). The average weekly wage for men was $10.82 in 1913 and $10.97 in 1914. “History File, 1913” and “History File, 1914.” “History File 19xx” is the title of each in a series of books compiled by the company historian. All are now stored in a file cabinet marked “History Files.”

13 Hewes, Industrial Home Work in Massachusetts, xxii. Also, Hewes, “Industrial Home Work of Children,” 20, reported that 36% paid between $12.50 and $20 a month for rent and another third paid between $7.50 and $12.50. Hewes said that fifty percent of the home work force in Massachusetts earned less than eight cents an hour from home work. In the paper goods industry, which included tag stringing, 91% earned less than eleven cents and 59% less than six cents. Annual earnings from home work were as follows: 29% under $25, 21% between $25 and $50, 18% between $50 and $100, 25% between $100 and $200, and 6% over $200. Hewes, Industrial Homework, xiii, 38–39.

14 Lorraine Pavia, telephone interview by author, 1994.

15 A partial list of federal and state government publications include: Brown Emily, “Industrial Home Work,” Bulletin of the Women's Bureau, No. 79, U.S. DOL (Washington, D.C., 1930), 9; Manning, “The Immigrant Woman and her Job,” (1930); Skinner, “Industrial Home Work Under the NRA,” (1936); “Industrial Home-Work Legislation and Its Administration,” Division of Labor Standards Bulletin No. 26, U.S. DOL, (Washington, D.C., 1939); Hewes, Industrial Home Work in Massachusetts, and “Industrial Home Work of Children.” Academic works include: Van Kleeck MaryChild Labor in Home Industries,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 35 (March 1910): Supplement 145–9; and Shallcross Ruth, Industrial Homework: An Analysis of Homework Regulation Here and Abroad, (New York, 1939), 193195. Shallcross did not favor abolishing homework and offered well-reasoned arguments to support her position. See her concluding chapter.

16 Hopkins Mary, “Children in Bondage: Turning Children's Homes into Factories,” Good Housekeeping Magazine 56 (June 1913): 743752; Markham EdwinThe Sweat-Shop Inferno,” Cosmopolitan 42 (Jan. 1907): 330–1; “Where Babies Work,” Wheeling, Va., News, (7 Jan. 1913); “Child Labor Horrors,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader (16 Jan. 1913).

17 Boris Eileen, “Regulating Industrial Homework: The Triumph of Sacred Motherhood,” The Journal of American History 71 (March 1985): 745763. For case studies of home work performed for electronics firms in New York and a discussion of the gender issues involved see: Dangler Jamie, Hidden in the Home (New York, 1994). For a history of home work and its politics in the United States and an overview of the implications of contemporary home work arising from the possibilities introduced by the personal computer see Boris Eileen, Home to Work (Cambridge, Mass., 1994). Both books examine the Reagan administration's attempts to deregulate home work. Case studies and an analysis of how the structure of business and labor needs create an informal work environment network (including the self-employed and home workers) in the San Francisco Bay Area in the information services industry appear in Lozano Beverly, The Invisible Work Force (New York, 1989). For case studies of home assembly work in Kansas among rural women see Gringeri Christina, Getting By (Kansas City, Mo., 1994). For a compilation of articles spanning many industries and 70 years of home work research, including the plight of Black and Hispanic workers, see Boris Eileen and Daniels Cynthia, eds., Homework—Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Paid Labor at Home (Chicago, Ill., 1989). For an excellent history of the genre see: Kessler-Harris Alice, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York, 1982).

18 Boston American, 19 Jan. 1913.

19 Boston American, 30 April 1913.

20 Brown, “Industrial Home Work,” 6.

21 Inspector's reports, 3 Feb. 1913 and 6 March 1913, Homework File.

22 Approximately 30 reports exist.

23 Inspectors reports, 3 Feb. 1913, 2 Jan. 1917, Homework File. Heath, Charlotte, “Homework as a Factor in Dennison Production,” Homework File, 1928, 6.

24 Inspector's report, 3 Feb. 1914, Homework File.

25 Inspectors reports, 25 Feb. 1913 and 6 March 1914, Homework File.

26 Inspectors reports, 3 Feb. 1913 and 25 Feb. 1914, Homework File.

27 Inspector's report, 3 Feb. 1914, Homework File.

28 Heath, “Homework as a Factor in Dennison Production,” 12–13.

29 Memo by Alice Walmsley, Inspector, dated 9/20/1917, and distributed to all Dennison agencies as instructed by Thomas Portore, factory manager, Homework File.

30 Heath, “Homework as a Factor in Dennison Production, 12–13.

31 Inspector's report, 2 Jan. 1917, Homework File.

32 “History File 1919” and “History File 1920,” Homework File.

33 The proposed law can be found in Hewes, Industrial Home Work in Massachusetts, xi–xii.

34 The home work division of the Massachusetts State Board of Labor and Industries, responsible for inspecting and regulating child labor, was abolished in August 1914. The Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries took over those functions in 1919 but did not issue reports on child labor until 1926.

35 “History File 1917,” “History File 1919,” and “History File 1920,” Homework File.

36 Report of Inspector Walmsley, 2 Jan. 1919, Homework File.

37 In 1935, the Voluntary Code Agreement Between Tag Manufacturers published stringing rates for the industry. The minimum wage for women (33 cents an hour) was the base rate, not that for men (40 cents).

38 “Personnel Annual Report 1943” and “History File 1942.” The “Personnel Annual Reports” were books prepared annually by the Director of Personnel. They are located together in a file cabinet marked similarly. Additionally, many respondents who worked for the company distinguished between women's and men's jobs. Charles Hall, letter to author 15 Aug. 1994.

39 “History File, 1915,” “History File, 1917,” and “Cost Department Report, Spring and May 1918.” Note: The frequent references throughout the books and memos in the archive made to checking the rates by time study and comparing them to state averages underscores the care company management took in setting and changing rates.

40 Louise Little, telephone interview by author, 1994; Mrs Mildred Read, telephone interview by author, 1994; Eleanor Capellos, telephone interview by author, 1994; Mrs. Curren, telephone interview by author, 1994; Mary Cahill, telephone interview by author, 1994; Terry Hastie, letter to author, 28 Sept. 1994.

41 Dennison History File, 1920, Homework File.

42 Dennison History File, 1920, Homework File.

43 Dennison History File, 1920, Homework File.

44 Dennison History File, 1921, Homework File.

45 The amendment passed both houses of Congress in 1924 but failed in the ratification process the following year.

46 Dennison History File, 1923, Homework File.

47 Unfortunately, information does not prove a decline. The two references to the number of tags strung annually show an increase. The 1920 annual history reported 240 million (a year in which outside stringing was said to be running 30% above normal) and Heath said 276 million in 1928. However, since Heath (1928) wrote her history for internal use, there is little reason to doubt her statement that home work declined. The 1920 number appeared in the company's annual history and consisted of a compilation of individual summaries written by managers and committee chairmen, which may be in error.

48 Outside stringing payroll for the years in which it was reported: 1912–$59,544, 1913–$50,947, 1914–$47,711, 1915–$40,034, 1916–$52,623, 1917–$55,142, 1918–$56,584, 1919–$62,251, 1920–$88,651, 1921–$58,641, 1927–$62,072, 1928–$56,521, 1930–$39,949. Source: History files for successive years and factory cost reports for 1928 and 1930.

49 Heath, “Homework as a Factor in Dennison Production,” 1 and 13. Memo from Rhoda Mahar, Inspector, to Charlotte Heath, dated 6 April 1928; Thomas Portmore's report to Directors dated 1 Oct. 1932, Homework File.

50 The rationing of tags according to the number of adults in a family had been the responsibility of the tag room supervisor or the agent. With home delivery handling 100% of the work, the truck drivers became responsible for rationing tags according to company policy. However, many respondents remembered that the truck drivers gave their mothers as many boxes of tags as they wanted. Nelli Guidi, telephone interview by author, 1994; Eleanor Capellos, telephone interview by author, 1994; Mary Cahill, telephone interview by author, 1994; Lorraine Pavia, telephone interview by author, 1994; Angela Surro, telephone interview by author, 1994; and Tina Stefanini, telephone interview by author, 1994.

51 Moodys Manual of Investments 1905–1932. See also Dennison's Annual Reports to Stockholders from 1920–1932.

52 W. Wentworth to T. Portmore, 9 March 1931, Homework File.

53 Work Manager's Report to Directors, 1 Oct. 1932, Homework File.

54 Boris, “Regulating Industrial Homework,” 745. Also Frieda Miller, “Industrial Home Work in the United States,” International Labor Review (1941): 1–50.

55 Boris, “Regulating Industrial Homework,” 747.

56 Skinner, “Industrial Home Work Under the NRA,” 1.

57 McQuaid “Henry S. Dennison and the Science of Industrial Reform,” 90–91.

58 Dennison James, Henry S. Dennison: New England Industrialist who Served America (New York, 1955). Henry Dennison participated in all of the trade associations that involved company products.

59 Work Manager's Committee Minutes, 25 July 1933, Homework File.

60 Works Manager's Annual report to directors, 1 Oct. 1933, Homework File.

61 Louise Little, telephone interview by author, 1994.

62 Angela Surro, telephone interview by author, 1994.

63 Mrs. Florence Anderson, letter to author, 30 Aug. 1994.

64 Memo from the Tag Division Manager to Thomas Portmore, Factory Manager, dated 30 Aug. 1933.

65 Memo from tag division manager to Portmore, 30 Aug. 1933, Homework File.

66 The promised rate was 30 cents, however, by the time the people entered, the minimum wage for women was set at 33 cents which is what the inside stringers were paid.

67 Memo from tag division manager to Portmore, 24 Oct. 1933, Homework File.

68 Memo from tag division manager to Portmore, 20 Nov. 1933, Homework File.

69 The “Voluntary Code Agreement between Tag Manufacturers and Frank H. Baxter (executive director of the Tag Industry Code Authority)” took effect on 5 June 1935, although home work officially ended on 1 January 1935. Section 3(b) applied to home work. The appendix listed rates for hundreds of tag and string combinations.

70 “Personnel Annual Report, 1935.”

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Business History Review
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