Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/September 1914/The Rise of a New Profession

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By Professor EDWARD D. JONES


IF we consider the industrial history of the United States, for the span of a long generation, dating backward from this year of grace to about 1840, we can distinguish at least three great movements which have occupied the minds of men in industry.

The Age of the Pioneer

The first period was still engaged, as previous decades had been, in the process of settling the country, and of starting those simple basic industries which are the foundation of civilized life.

In 1840 Boston was not yet connected with Albany by rail, nor Albany with Buffalo. The grain elevator had not yet been devised; and no coke ovens yet existed near Connellsville. The first steamboat had just been seen at the Soo; and in Iowa they were plowing a furrow from the Mississippi river west 100 miles to guide settlers. A few pioneers were beginning to pass over the Oregon trail; and Fremont was just describing Utah in the papers. It was not until 1845 that copper was produced in upper Michigan. It was only in 1852 that Chicago was connected with the East by railway. The locomotive did not reach the Missouri river until 1859, nor the Pacific coast until ten years later.

The mention of the pioneers calls for a word of tribute. Our nation's first industrial task was the stupendous one of clearing the farms, and of building the common roads, and of establishing villages and cities, and opening outlets for the marketing of surplus products. Perhaps the history of the pioneers was, indeed, but "The short and simple annals of the poor." Carlyle dismissed America with the contemptuous summary, "Hitherto She but plows and hammers." The work of opening the country was simply the first duty. But it was not industry of the cramped mechanical sort which Carlyle knew in the grimy manufacturing towns of Scotland. The pioneers partook somewhat of the nature of the explorers. Their advance westward had the stirring quality of a military reconnaissance directed against the hostile forces of nature which were entrenched in the wilderness. The victory was not to mere economy and patience, and the weaker virtues, but to industry animated with boldness, directed by invention, and ennobled by sacrifice for the future. The pioneers were rugged, self-reliant men and busy contented women. Into the enjoyment of the fruits of their labors we have all of us entered.

The Age of Mechanism

The second industrial movement of the period we are considering centered upon the task of providing an adequate mechanical equipment. Its purpose was to develop inanimate sources of power, by means of which the burden of physical toil could be, to some extent, lifted from human shoulders.

Accordingly, the second act transfers the scene of industry from the field to the factory. The first billet of Bessemer steel was produced in America in a little furnace at Wyandotte, near Detroit, in 1864. The first band-saw was brought from Paris to New York in 1869. The first middlings purifier was built in Minneapolis in 1870. The twine-binder was invented in 1874. In the wonderful Centennial year of 1876, there was given to the country the telephone, the incandescent light, the typewriter and the first steel-frame building. Since those years, the American farmer has come into the possession of a well-nigh perfect equipment of agricultural implements. Our factories have been filled with machinery, our offices with appliances, and our stores with furnishings, until it is generally conceded that no people of the world excel the Americans in the use of mechanical facilities.

The Age of Administration

And now that these achievements are no longer in their origins, and the issues called up by them are recognized as virtually settled, and there is no longer any opposition to try men's souls in establishing and defending them, a third great industrial problem can be seen to emerge and become the center of interest. This is the question of administration. Upon this generation is laid the task of discovering, testing and establishing in general use those methods of organization and management by which the great productive agencies now within the possession of industry can be united, subjected to proper control, stimulated, guided, inspected, instructed and rewarded, to the end that they may serve society with efficiency. In short, the problem is that of originating and formulating a science of administration which shall comprise those basic principles and practical policies required for the guidance of great affairs.

Self-Made Men

This administrative phase of our industrial evolution has, of course, already a history of value, and this history is concerned with the doings of a very interesting generation of men. For years the United States, with its enormous domestic market, its ample capital, its freedom from tradition and its colossal daring, has been perhaps the most favorable spot in the world for trying out new ideas of organization and management.

The men who first took advantage of these conditions were, for the most part, self-made men. We often refer to them as captains of industry. The majority of them were individuals of motor temperament, endowed with exceptional talents, who fought their way upward and gained eminence, through a rough-and-ready struggle for the survival of the fittest.

These men seized leadership by right of ability, but, technically speaking, they secured it as the perquisite or privilege arising from the ownership of great fortunes. They lived in a day when men generally managed their own capital. In most cases they were the first to build up institutions of great size in the lines of industry with which they were connected. These circumstances involve the point that had not these men built up fortunes they could not, individually, have become administrators. The price of their economic power was to make everything bend to the getting of money. In other words, they had to create the kingdoms over which they later ruled.

Their policies were, therefore, like those of most conquerors, simple, often crude and sometimes morally abominable. They were often drive-masters, and not infrequently they resorted to the intellectually contemptible methods of unfair trade. Yet we do not withhold admiration for the splendid independence and energy which they exhibited. They generally possessed a thorough knowledge of details, due to the small beginnings from which they had started. They had the ease and speed of decision due to long experience and gradually imposed responsibility. The names of the leaders of this generation of giants will long remain household words in America.

If we pause to consider broadly this introductory period of administration, we can see that it was marked by strenuous rather than finely calculated action, and by physical rather than intellectual tests. Most important of all, it was characterized by a confusion or conflict between the principles of the true art of administration and the requirements of the process of amassing a fortune. We are so accustomed to measure mastership in industry by the increase of the wealth of the individual, that it is difficult to perceive that there can be any such thing as an independent art, with principles and ideals of its own. If we turn to politics we are able to see that a man's record for efficiency as a mayor of a city does not depend upon his getting rich in office. Neither do we measure the skill of our military leaders by their strategy in gathering private booty, nor the capacity of our statesmen by their ability to insure tranquillity and prosperity to themselves, rather than their country. In all of these cases we have the conception of the requirements of an art or polity. The standards of judgment are entirely distinct from the state of the private fortune of the administrator. It is this method of judging which is beginning to make itself felt in industry. That we have not more generally used such tests hitherto is one of the reasons why broad and intellectually respectable principles have been so slow in gaining control of industrial action, and why it has been so difficult to detect the really capable administrators among the crowd of men who are merely, and perhaps even accidentally, rich.

The early administrators, living in a highly individualistic and self-confident society, worked out rules of action each man for himself. Many of them were rather builders than administrators, emphasizing the builder's tests of size and growth. They made many mistakes which they could not perceive because, living in a community which had broken sharply with the past, and which had little applicable history of its own, they thought little of lessons drawn from the past. As they were devoted to little else than business, they saw few analogies between the administration of industry and of other forms of social action.

Being so much in a world of their own creation, they looked upon the administration of the organizations with which they were connected as their own private business. Such organizations were, therefore, in many cases, no more than mere extensions of themselves, incapable of serving as the object of the loyalty of the various classes of persons which might become connected with them. While these men sometimes made notable technical achievements, and claimed the title of super-men, they were, many of them, mere master mechanics, putting men and equipment together into corporations in a wooden way and driving them with their individual will power, rather than true administrators with a social sense.

And so it is that, in spite of the magnificent physical development of industry, and the more noble spirit which now begins to animate it, the conduct of affairs is often thought of as something cold, mechanical, and out of line with the ethical feeling of the time—as a matter of endless negotiations and compromises and makeshifts which can not bottom themselves on permanent principles. And, because it has received this (reputation, many fine spirits keep clear of it, as they do also from politics. And many others who take part in it do so without making a fair effort to comprehend its possibilities.

New Conditions

Since the ranks of the first generation of administrators have begun to be seriously thinned by death, a notable change has been taking place in the character of our industrial leadership and in the conditions under which it is exercised. The natural growth of businesses into units embracing, under a single administration, hundreds and even thousands of stockholders and employees, and which must unite many minds in operations requiring long periods of time for their completion, calls for searching tests and clear and stable policies. The use of the corporate form of organization, which makes the business unit the dependent creature of the state, coupled with the increasing sensitiveness of public opinion to the probity of the financing and the humanity of the operative policies employed, unite to demand a more skillful diplomacy, and methods which will bear public inspection. The question of getting adequate administration has now become pressing.

Administrative Helps

If the task of the executive is now more difficult than before, there have been provided various helps to assist in its performance. In the first place, the physical sciences have been applied to industrial operations in a multitude of ways in recent years. They assist in the testing of materials, the refining of productive processes, the preservation of the health of the operative, the sharpening of technical standards, and the provision of new forces and instrumentalities. A second aid is the greatly improved systems of accounting and cost accounting, and the developing theories of valuation, which serve as the administrator's chief instruments of precision, where problems of value rather than problems of physical processes or of human nature are concerned. A third aid is what is commonly called "system"; a somewhat indefinite mass of rules of procedure, together with appropriate equipments, relating especially to office work, and representing the accumulated experience of innumerable official minds. The most recent aid is "scientific management" which, taking its rise as a philosophy of the shop, has culminated in a group of principles constituting an encouraging earnest of a forthcoming more fully developed science of administration.

The Professional Administrator

The large business enterprises now required to meet society's need are gathering the money of hundreds of investors, so that individual or family domination resting upon ownership must decline as a system. Between the multitude of stock and bond holders, on the one side, constituting the proprietors, and the still greater multitude of employees, on the other, there is being created a central strategic position to be occupied by the professional administrator. The whole situation of industry now conspires to create an opportunity for a new race of executives which shall justly appreciate the various classes of responsibilities resting upon it. Upon these men will rest a sort of trusteeship to preserve the property entrusted to them, and a sort of leadership to guide and guard their employees. Upon them will also rest a general responsibility to the public to help this day to live its life, and this generation to make its contribution to progress.

Wanted, therefore, new leaders for industry, who shall unite with native talent, trained minds. Who shall believe that the sea of affairs can be charted, and can be sailed by the aid of eternal principles and a fine exact technique of diplomatic and humane methods, and who shall be at least as much devoted to the ennoblement of their art as to their own advancement.

Transitional Difficulties

The new order always evolves out of the old with pain and misunderstanding. The new is long looked upon from the inadequate viewpoint of the old. The exigencies of the new situation are always upon us before the teachings of the old have been sufficiently deliberated upon to yield a settled philosophy of action. It is not surprising that this generation should be embarrassed in finding new maxims and ideals, while it is yet blinded by the brilliant achievements of the age of the captains of industry. The shadows of the great founders still fall upon the present-day executive in many forms. In one case it is the tradition of methods once successful, and of conceptions and tests once considered adequate. In another case it is embodied as the incompetent heir, invested with an estate and the glamor of a successful name, and set as an amateur to rule over experts. Again, the shadow of a departing order takes the form of a vast enterprise, which was, perhaps, originally builded with enthusiasm to great size and power, but which is now a shell with many a sheltered spot within, where weak men may vegetate as clerks, perpetually referring matters from one to another, or strong men may be induced to trust to "the impulse of an early start," or to "interlocking directorates," or "banking control," or "dominating influence on the market," or to "predatory competition," or to anything else than service.

Perhaps the chief hinderance to the development of the scientific administrator in America will prove to be what we may call the danger of the entrenched position. The significance of this danger was long ago pointed out by Machiavelli, who warned his ideal prince of the harm wrought by strong fortresses. His words, written in 1513, are still full of significance. He said,

Whenever either princes or republics are afraid lest their subjects should revolt, it results mainly from the hatred of the subjects on account of the bad treatment experienced from those who govern them; and this comes either from the belief that they can best be controlled by force, or from lack of sound judgment in governing them. And one of the things that induce the belief that they can be controlled by force is the possession of fortresses with which to menace them; and thus the ill treatment that engenders hatred in the subjects arises in great measure from the fact that the prince or republic hold the fortresses, which (if this be true) are therefore by far more injurious than useful. For, in the first instance, they cause you to be more violent and audacious towards your subjects; and next, they do not afford the security which you imagine.

And, further, he says:

A good and wise prince, desirous of maintaining that character, and to avoid giving the opportunity to his sons to become oppressive, will never build fortresses, so that they may place their reliance upon the good will of their subjects, and not upon the strength of citadels.[1]

Whence the Supply Will Come

In this day of large and permanent undertakings, industry can not afford the risk of administrators who, being ignorant of principles, must govern by extempore decrees. Nor can it endure to educate those who will become wise only through disasters. Society is no longer satisfied to prepare its physicians or lawyers or engineers by an unregulated process of learning through experience. If administration is an intellectual pursuit, it is not sufficient to trust to such processes for administrators.

Furthermore, business experiences now less than formerly offer themselves as an educational ladder apt for the upward climbing of the growing mind. It is only in the world of small independent business that responsibility increases gradually and pari passu with ability. The typical captain of industry advanced step by step. As his experience and powers of mind grew, his business increased and enlarged his responsibilities by almost imperceptible increments. In the end he emerged, as a scholar might graduate from a carefully graded school, having passed through a finely graduated scale of functions, extending from the simplest to the most difficult things. Business experience less and less offers this encouraging educational aspect. Superior minds are as much wanted as ever, but they are wanted already trained in those general principles of administration which the last generation only grasped as the result of prolonged experience. Young men must now expect to enter some department of an organization which is already large, and to remain for long periods engaged in highly specialized functions, making such upward advance as is made by sudden leaps.

Already the dearth of administrators, who are grounded in general principles, is keenly felt in industrial affairs. The late Mr. Dill once said that he could secure a million dollars ten times while he was finding a man with the capacity to administer the affairs representing a million dollars at work. One of the reasons for the excessive concentration of administrative control in American business is the lack of an adequate supply of executives. And this is also one of the reasons why we overload good men and wear them out so rapidly.

What natural processes fail to do for us we must accomplish by educational agencies. To make education effective, however, we must establish the principles and policies which are to be mastered, so that training may form the mind of the executive more certainly, more rapidly, and more thoroughly than unregulated experience can do.

New Conceptions

Great leaders come in response to great issues. When the school can present to its students a stimulating view of life, a superior raw material is attracted to it as by a lodestone. In the struggles of life men are inspired to great exertions when new ideals become vivid to them. War produces capable generals, intellectual conflict breeds a generation of acute thinkers, prophets arise to preach new gospels. It matters little what difficulties there are. "Truth," says Nietzsche, "does not find fewest champions when it is dangerous to speak it, but when it is dull." Industry insists upon efficiency, but efficiency may be chiefly insured by discovering great inspiring tasks.

The old ambition to build up big business units, and to accumulate great fortunes, is now no longer quite as fresh and full of zest as it once was. It does not get the response, and call out the best men, as in the old dramatic buccaneering days. To simply repeat what the last generation did in the way of piling up fortunes, and to do it on the same intellectual and ethical and esthetic plane, but without the novelty of being the first to do it, nor the freedom of action of the day of laissez faire, is not to set forth a very exciting aim. In the sphere of the intellect there is nothing especially notable about doing it. The hungry intelligence of industry is asking for great new objectives worthy of effort, like the opening of the continent or the building of the railroads. A new and larger conception of the function of industrial leadership is called for. The great resources of the country subdued by the pioneers, and the elaborate equipment provided by the engineers, combine to set the stage for a high statesmanship and for a fine diplomacy to begin to play their role in industry. Since it inherits ample physical equipment, the new generation can be less material in its aim, and give itself to providing an intellectual equipment. As we live in a more advanced stage of society, the thought of the administrator should be less of equipment than of policies governing operations, less of operations than of ultimate ends, less of his own part in those ends than of the harmony of the ends themselves with the aspirations and constructive tendencies of society. The result of this can be nothing less, ultimately, than a body of broad, permanent, and socially beneficent principles of action, to which superior minds, forming an aristocracy in industrial affairs, will swear allegiance.

The administrator who is willing to take part in this movement will find himself upon an intellectual frontier, with the opportunity opened before him, as before his forefathers, to become a pioneer. It is not now a frontier of axe and plow, nor of engines and machinery, but of principles and policies. The administrative problems awaiting solution are almost innumerable. The executive who carries the scientific spirit into his work will find an opportunity to make more clear the conception of authority and responsibility, and to formulate the rules of their distribution. He will study the coordination of mutually functioning agencies, and the means of their supervision. He will find need to more precisely determine the basis upon which rests the division of labor between administration and operation, and between principal matters and details. He will concern himself with the meaning and use of standards and sequences and schedules, and will attack the great problem of framing a theory of rewards and punishments adequately adjusted to the moral sense of the time.

The Fellowship of Administrators

What the military leader was in the ancient days of constant war, and the statesman in the period of the formation of great empires, the industrial executive may be considered to be in this commercial age. He is the leading exponent of organized action in the world. He should dignify his task, boldly conceiving it on the highest plane of which he is capable. He is the intellectual heir of all the executives of the past, and has resting upon him the mandate not to disgrace the succession. It is open to him to maintain a stimulating communion with his predecessors—with all the great military leaders and statesmen and diplomats whose history is preserved for us—and from their experience to gather basic principles of action. Why should not the business executive practise Cæsar's leniency, and his art of making common cause with his men, or endeavor whether Napoleon's celerity may not be used in the bloodless battles of economic service? Why should he not be stimulated by Richelieu's example to strive for coolness in analysis, or be moved by Sir Philip Sidney's charm to practise the art of winning friends?

Brought into contact with the thoughts and deeds of great minds, the business executive need not feel alone in the smallest village or the most distant engineering camp. He will find that before him the great company of the world's executives has had to deal with the same weaknesses of human nature as those against which he combats, and has relied upon such virtues and employed such methods of organization and administration, in bringing men to effective joint action, as are open equally to him. The fields of leadership may, indeed, have been different, but the fundamental principles have been largely the same.

Viewed thus, work again becomes a challenge. The function of the business executive is seen to lose its isolated and empirical character, and acquire a history, and an intimate relation with all other branches of society's organized effort. It is lifted onto the plane of an intellectual achievement, and so offers a foundation upon which to erect ideals of a professional character.

The Outlook

A previous age witnessed the industrial revolution, which introduced the machine, and through it worked the entire reconstruction of society; now a second industrial revolution is in progress, which aims to lay a foundation of administrative principles underneath business practise, and which will inaugurate a new era of progress.

It lies within the power of this generation to end much of the drudgery and antagonism from which the operative classes suffer, by devising more just methods of partnership with the other factors in industry, and by harmonizing administrative methods with the requirements of human nature. It will be possible to unlock much of the energy of administrators, which is at present unused, because of the lack of an enthralling object of effort. It will be possible to raise the general tone of industry, by setting forth new ideals of efficiency, distributive justice and democracy.

  1. "Discourses," Bk. II., Ch. XXIV.