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Hired Hands or Human Resources?

Hired Hands or Human Resources?: Case Studies of HRM Programs and Practices in Early American Industry

Bruce E. Kaufman
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Hired Hands or Human Resources?
    Book Description:

    In a companion volume to Managing the Human Factor, also from Cornell, Bruce E. Kaufman shows how American firms transitioned from the traditional "hired hand" model of human resource management (HRM) to the modern "human resources" version popular today. Kaufman illuminates through fifteen detailed case studies the structure and operation of HRM programs and practices across a diverse range of American business firms spanning the fifty years from 1880 to 1930.

    Nine of the fifteen case studies in Hired Hands or Human Resources? examine HRM before World War I and document the highly informal, decentralized, externalized, and sometimes harsh nature of the people-management practices of that era. The remaining six span the Welfare Capitalism decade of the 1920s and reveal the marked transformation to a more progressive and professional model of personnel practice at some companies, along with continued reliance on the traditional model at others.

    Kaufman gained access to the richly detailed audits of company HRM programs prepared during the 1920s by Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc., and draws upon this trove of information to present the most in-depth, up-close evidence available of how companies of this period managed their employees and how the practice of HRM evolved and developed. Hired Hands or Human Resources? features new insights into key subjects such as the strategic versus tactical nature of early HRM, alternative models of workforce governance used in these years, and the reasons some companies created autonomous HRM departments.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6036-4
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Early Human Resource Management: Context and History
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is the second volume of a two-volume set on the roots, birth, and early development of the human resource management (HRM) function in American industry. The story starts in the mid-1870s with the emergence of large-scale industry, an urban-based wage-earning workforce, and a growing labor problem, heralded by the Great Railway Strike of 1877; it ends in 1932 at the nadir of the Great Depression when the nonunion welfare capitalism movement of the 1920s is in tatters and its New Deal union replacement lies just over the horizon. Between these two end points lies a remarkable half-century evolution...

  5. Part I The Practice of Human Resource Management, 1875–1920

    • 2 HRM at the Beginning: The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad
      (pp. 25-37)

      The modern practice of human resource management (HRM) has its roots in the rise of large-scale capital intensive enterprises spawned by the Industrial Revolution. Although rudiments of HRM as practiced today can be found in the textile mills of New England and Great Britain of the early 1800s, it was not until after the Civil War, when national markets and large limited liability corporations emerged, that employers had to come to grips with management of hundreds and thousands of employees.

      This process first began in earnest in the railroad industry.¹ For this reason, our case studies of early HRM start...

    • 3 Contrasting HRM Strategies: Pullman and Baldwin
      (pp. 38-48)

      The case study of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad in chapter 2 indicates that as early as the 1880s railroad executives were debating different strategic approaches to labor management. Since labor was the largest component of total railroad cost, the truly surprising thing would be if these executives had not given at least some strategic consideration to alternative modes of labor management. The strategic dimension of late-nineteenth-century labor management is further highlighted in the case studies presented in this chapter. Examined are the labor policies and practices of, respectively, the Pullman Palace Car Company and the Baldwin Locomotive Works....

    • 4 HRM and Alternative Systems of Workforce Governance
      (pp. 49-71)

      Another dimension along which employment systems vary is mode of workforce governance. Governance includes how the rules of the workplace are formulated and implemented, provisions for due process in the administration of discipline and discharge, and the degree of influence and voice employees are given. In this chapter I will provide four short case studies that reflect four alternative regimes of workforce governance. These may be called the autocratic, paternalistic, participative, and collective bargaining models.

      The Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills company (FBCM) was incorporated in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1889 by Jacob Elsas.¹ Elsas had come to America as a...

    • 5 HRM in the Industrial Heartland I: The United States Steel Corporation
      (pp. 72-86)

      Part 1 of this volume closes with two case studies of early labor management practices in the industrial heartland of the American economy: the steel and auto industries. These industries exemplify the transformation of America from a nineteenth-century agricultural- and natural resource–based economy to a modern, technologically advanced twentieth-century industrial economy. By the end of World War I, steel was the core of the manufacturing sector and the automobile industry was at the leading edge. The case studies focus on two particular firms in steel and autos, the United States Steel Corporation and the Ford Motor Company. A good...

    • 6 HRM in the Industrial Heartland II: The Ford Motor Company
      (pp. 87-100)

      If the steel industry symbolized the industrial core of the early-twentieth-century American economy, automobiles symbolized its future and leading edge. The automobile was an invention of the mid-1890s and a decade later was still a high-priced luxury item beyond the means of all but the affluent. The cheapest models started around $800, and the most popular were over $2,000. The entire output of the auto industry in 1904 amounted to 22,800 cars, produced by 12,000 workers.¹ Over the next fifteen years the industry was transformed by a cascading series of new innovations in every aspect of the business, including product...

    (pp. None)
  7. Part II The Practice of Human Resource Management, 1920–1930

    • 7 Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc.
      (pp. 103-114)

      Part 2 of this book transitions to human resource management (HRM) programs and practices in the 1920s. Six case studies are presented. All come from consulting reports prepared by the staff of Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. (IRC) and its predecessor organization, the industrial relations (IR) section of the law firm of Curtis, Fosdick, and Belknap. These reports provide what are certainly the most detailed and in-depth portraits in existence of how HRM was organized and practiced at American firms in the years before the Great Depression.

      The full story of the birth, activities, and accomplishments of IRC is contained in...

    • 8 The Human Resource Model in a Welfare Capitalism Firm: The Top-Grade Oil Company
      (pp. 115-133)

      Our first case study is of a large oil refining company headquartered in a major eastern city. This firm was an industrial relations pioneer, was widely recognized as having one of the most advanced and far-reaching human resource management (HRM) programs in the nation, and typifies the leading edge of labor management practices among firms in the welfare capitalism movement of the 1920s. Of the six IRC case studies, this one best represents the human resource model in operation.

      In this case study and the ones that follow, I write the text in the present tense just as it is...

    • 9 A High-Road Employer in a Low-Road Industry: The Great Eastern Coal Company
      (pp. 134-158)

      The second case study from the IRC archives features one of the largest coal companies in the United States. It is an insightful example of the tight constraints that product market conditions can exert on a firm’s labor strategy and human resource management program. This firm endeavored to take the high road in labor management, but the cutthroat competition in the coal market and existence of hundreds of low-road competitors in the labor market left it with few good choices and little room for maneuver with its employees.

      The Great Eastern Coal Company was one of the largest producers of...

    • 10 The Middle Ground of HRM in the 1920s: The United Steel and Coal Company
      (pp. 159-174)

      In this chapter is an IRC survey done in 1924 of a large vertically integrated company that operated both a steel mill and accompanying coal and iron ore mines. This company had been traditionally managed up to about 1915; after a long and bitter strike the company decided to change course and upgrade and humanize its approach to employee relations. The centerpiece was a companywide employee representation plan. Although unique in fundamental respects, this company’s human resource management system nonetheless represents for the 1920s something of a middle point in terms of formalization and modernity.

      The company is the largest...

    • 11 Paternalism Combined with Decentralized and Informal HRM: Mega-Watt Light and Power
      (pp. 175-184)

      Nearly all Industrial Relations Counselors Inc. (IRC) surveys in the 1920s were of firms engaged in manufacturing and natural resource extraction, with the result that sectors outside durable goods production were unrepresented. This chapter’s case study features the single exception—an electric utility. This company’s human resource management program attained a high level of cooperation and loyalty among the employees, yet did so in a most rudimentary and nonsystematized way. The key was a company culture and management philosophy that gave long-standing emphasis to positive treatment of employees through a highly individualized and personalized system of corporate paternalism and welfarism....

    • 12 The “Hired Hand” Model in a Large Manufacturing Firm: New Era Radio
      (pp. 185-193)

      Of the six IRC case studies, this one most closely approximates the “hired hand” or supply-and-demand model of human resource management (HRM). New Era Radio was a rapidly up-and-coming manufacturer of radios and other consumer electrical products and was noted for its leadership in new technology and product development. In the area of labor management, however, it badly lagged behind and had a very haphazard and poorly run HRM program marked by huge swings in hiring and firing. This consulting report was completed in late 1930.

      The company was organized shortly after the end of World War I to provide...

    • 13 HRM in the Industrial Heartland III: High-Beam Steel
      (pp. 194-213)

      This is the last of the six IRC case studies. High-Beam Steel, a medium-size multiplant producer of rolled steel sheeting and tubing, was widely recognized at the time as in the top echelon of companies regarding its HRM program and quality of employer-employee relations. This case study and the one at Top-Grade Oil (see chapter 8) are representative of companies at the top level of the industrial relations movement before the New Deal. This survey was completed at the very end of 1930.

      High Beam Steel (HBS) is a steel manufacturer specializing in specialty steel sheet. It is vertically integrated...

    • 14 The Case Studies: Insights and Lessons Learned
      (pp. 214-230)

      The fifteen case studies presented here provide a particularly detailed and in-depth portrait of how American firms in the pre–New Deal era practiced labor management and employee relations. The detail cannot be repeated here, but in this concluding chapter I think it is useful to draw out what appear to me to be the most important insights and lessons learned.

      A person reading these case studies has to walk away sobered by the harsh, dangerous, and insecure work world that tens of millions of Americans lived in a century ago and the primitive and often wasteful and unjust methods...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 231-244)
  9. Photo Credits
    (pp. 245-246)
  10. Index
    (pp. 247-254)