Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Ford Sociological Department

In 1913, the Ford Motor Company established a Sociological Department "to promote the welfare of employees." In addition to providing thousands of immigrant labourers with home visits, the department supported English and acculturation classes that culminated in spectacular melting-pot pageants. Ford's Sociological Department also published pamphlets such as a 'Typical Case of Poverty Relieved by the Hiring of an Unemployed Man by the Company' (photos here). People said Ford was trying to make the world a better place.

On January 5 1914, Ford announced the revolutionary five-dollar, eight-hour day:

What the company announced was not a plan to pay workers an hourly rate equivalent to five dollars a day. Instead, the company announced a plan to allow the workers to share in the company profits at a rate that promised five dollars a day ... The five-dollar profit sharing plan was designed by the company to include only those who were 'worthy' and who would 'not debauch the additional money he receives'.

The Sociological Department, under the leadership of the Reverend Samuel S. Marquis, was put in charge of administering the programme and investigating the home lives of workers: "investigators from the Sociological Department visited workers' homes and suggested ways to achieve the company's standards for 'better morals,' sanitary living conditions, and 'habits of thrift and saving'."

Ford workers would come to redefine what was meant by quality of life in the era of mass-production.

Inspired by welfare capitalism, Ford's "philosophy adopted a paternalistic attitude toward workers that, in Ford's case, was rooted in the Protestant work ethic. Ford believed in it and wanted his employees to adopt it..." And Ford's social standards reached far beyond the confines of work-life. The PBS film Demon Rum documents the Sociological Department's efforts to "end the working man's drinking habit" and how the "success of the small program led to a national prohibition campaign."

Apparently, many workers felt the wage - and social benefits - outweighed the intrusions into their personal lives. And many people found ways around the rules.

But, damn, that's creepy sociology! (And not just because our cultural mosaic approach to ethnic relations makes more sense to me, despite its own multicultural high weirdness.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your write up makes this sound so benign when other sources make it seem more of an insulting intrusion. Europeans knew how to brush their teeth and bathe and had their own tastes in food -- all of these elements were subject to the FSD inspection. It was possible for individuals to lose their jobs merely by virtue of who they associated with.

Anonymous Anne said...

Apparently the "creepy sociology" bit wasn't strong enough condemnation?

It was *incredibly* intrusive, racist and classist - but it wasn't absolute either.

Too bad you didn't read the surrounding posts as well...


Post a Comment

<< Home

CC Copyright 2001-2009 by Anne Galloway. Some rights reserved. Powered by Blogger and hosted by Dreamhost.