When Hawthorne saw the great Gothic cathedrals of England in mid-century, he felt that they must be the most wonderful works that man had yet achieved. But there was something about those masterpieces of an earlier civilization which was alien to him, with which he could not feel at home. No matter how familiar he might become with their vast, intricate, yet harmonious shapes, he knew that he would never be able adequately to comprehend them, and would always be "remotely excluded from the interior mystery" of their beauty and grandeur.
A half century later one of the greatest American novelists found himself similarly excluded from the "mystery" of the great buildings which symbolized some of the strongest forces in contemporary American civilizationNew York's skyscrapers. Henry James, revisiting America in 1904-06 after having lived abroad for more than twenty years, felt that the huge buildings-the most piercing notes, as he called them, in that "concert of the expensively provisional" which was the metropolis-left him staring at them "as at a world of immovably-closed doors." Behind those doors, to be sure, there was immense material for the artist, but be reluctantly concluded that it was beyond the reach of a writer who, like himself, had "so early and so fatally" withdrawn from contacts which might have initiated him into the life which the skyscrapers symbolized.
In these parallel reactions it is the shift of viewpoint which measures the change from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. It was common enough in Hawthorne's time for the American artist to be conscious that he was outside the European tradition and to try by whatever means he could devise to get inside. As for the ver nacular tradition growing up around him, in so far as it had taken on any definite character, he either consciously rejected and resisted it, or simply took it for granted. Whatever influence it had upon his work was unconsciously assimilated. It would never have occurred to him to regret that he could not "get inside" such a formative tradition because it would not have occurred to him that it had anything whatever to do with art. By the time James revisited America in the early twentieth century, however, the vitality and energy of the vernacular had effectively displayed themselves in so many forms that the situation was almost exactly reversed. Artists like James, thoroughly immersed in the cultivated tradition, began to feel the need to make fruitful contact with the emerging tradition. But as James's career makes clear, the gap between the two was so wide that it could not easily be bridged.
Educated chiefly in Europe, lacking any close connection with the vital commercial, industrial, and technical elements of American life, James early discovered that the American scene was too restricted to supply materials for his art. As he wrote to Charles Eliot Norton in 1871, after returning to America from a year abroad, he concluded after looking about him that "the face of nature and civilization in this our country is to a certain point a very sufficient literary field. But it will yield its secrets only to a really grasping imagination." James did look about him, but as Hartley Grattan pointed out some years ago, in what is still one of the most perceptive studies of the novelist, he did not look in the places where we now know--and a few even then knew-that the secret and tremendous drives in American life were to be found. It was in the new factories, the new cities, the hustle and bustle of commerce and manufacturing and transportation that the American secret was hidden; business was a closed field for James, whose interest was in the leisure class-which in the America of the seventies was very small and almost exclusively feminine. In other words, by training and by taste he was concerned with the cultivated tradition. For it was "matured and established" manners, customs, usages, habits, and forms which, as he wrote to Howells, were the very stuff upon which a novelist, in James's sense, must work. It was inevitable that James, who of all American writers contributed most to the development of the novel as a form of western European literature, taking rank with George Sand, Balzac, Flaubert, and the other nineteenth-century masters, should have preferred "the denser, richer, warmer European spectacle" to life in America. In a famous passage from his critical study of Hawthorne (1879) he enumerated the essential "items of high civilization" which were lacking in the United States:
No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, no manners, nor old country- houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities, nor public schools-no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class--no Epsom nor Ascot!
Not that he believed these things were necessarily the proper subjects of fiction. As Grattan said, he simply found that without these things present to him in the surrounding air, his characters existed in a void. It was inevitable that he chose England as his residence, and ultimately became a British subject.
The recent revival of interest in James has done much to combat the jingoistic prejudice which for a number of years condemned him for "deserting" America and which underrated his artistic achievements on the basis that they were un-American. There was, to be sure, much in America that he disliked, much which he could not understand, and much of which he was afraid. Back in England, at his home in Rye, after his last trip to the United States, he remembered his homeland as giving "an immense impression of material and political power; but almost cruelly charmless, in effect, and calculated to make one crouch, ever afterwards, as cravenly as possible, at Lamb House, Rye." But James was too acute, and too brilliantly analytical, to confuse the issue as his detractors have done. What was taking place in America, as he observed, was "a perpetual repudiation of the past, so far as there had been a past to repudiate." But this repudiation-or as he elsewhere calls it, "the will to grow at no matter what or whose expense"--was not an exclusively American phenomenon. He had seen it, and hated it, on the other side of the world in a thousand places and forms; he was, indeed, aware that it was "the pipe to which humanity is actually dancing." In the United States, however, there was a difference; here, as he phrased it, it was a question of "scale and space and chance, margin and elbow- room." To some extent he meant this in the purely geographical sense. As he said in another connection, the nation seemed to him "too large for any human convenience," so large in fact that it could "scarce, in the scheme of Providence, have been meant to be dealt with" as he was trying to deal with it. But geography wasn't the whole of it. The bourgeois "will to grow" had more chance in America than in England, for instance, because here the influence of the aristocracy had been suppressed, and "a bourgeoisie without an aristocracy to worry it is of course a very different thing from a bourgeoisie struggling in that shade."
Actually, as we have repeatedly seen, and as James knew, Americans were by no means out from under the shadow of the cultivated tradition. Strether, the symbolic American of The Ambassadors, had fallen so deeply under the spell of Europe on. his first visit that he had returned with the resolve to raise up "a temple of taste" by preserving, cherishing, and extending the germs of "the higher culture" he had seen abroad. And many of James's contemporaries had the same idea, as witness the founding of art schools and art museums and the wholesale acquisition of European objets d'art for American collections like that of Mrs. Jack Gardner in Boston. It was the success of these efforts, steadily increasing in audacity and ingenuity in the quarter century after the Centennial, which was usually meant when people in the early 1900s referred admiringly to the increasing culture of America.
Curiously enough it was three of James's English contemporaries in literature who, on their visits to this country, were able to see beneath surfaces and discover, as he had failed to do, the real sources of creative energy in modern civilization. Oscar Wilde, who might be presumed to have beers even less well equipped than James to cope with the vernacular environment, made some amazingly acute observations in a lecture entitled "Impressions of America" which he first delivered in September 1883, shortly after returning to England.
There was little beauty to be found in American cities, he said-- nothing like "the lovely relics of a beautiful age" which were to be found in Oxford, Cambridge, Salisbury, or Winchester. And whatever beauty there was could be found "only where the American has not attempted to create it." Wherever the Americans had consciously sought to produce beauty, he went on, they had signally failed Where they had succeeded-unconsciously-was in the field of applied science:
There is no country in the world [he told his British audiences] where machinery is so lovely as in America. I have always wished to believe that the line of strength and the line of beauty are one. That wish was realized when I contemplated American machinery. It was not until I had seen the waterworks at Chicago that I realized the wonders of machinery; the rise and fall of the steel rods, the symmetrical motion of great wheels is the most beautifully rhythmic thing I have ever seen.
But if cultivated Americans ever read what Wilde had said about them, they apparently assumed that he was merely being witty or paradoxical, for they continued to ignore the vernacular. Thirty years later the novelist Arnold Bennett reported that the most exacerbating experience that had befallen him during his visit to the United States had been to hear in discreetly lighted and luxurious drawing rooms, amid various mural proofs of trained taste, and usually from the lips of an elegantly Europeanized American woman with a sad, agreeable smile: "There is no art in the United States . . . . I feel like an exile." A number of these exiles, each believing himself or herself to be a solitary lamp in the awful darkness, are dotted up and down the great cities . . . . They associate art with Florentine frames, matinee hats, distant museums, and clever talk full of allusions to the dead.
It did not occur to them, he added (any more than it had to Henry James) to search for American art in the architecture of railroad stations or in the draftsmanship and sketch-writing of newspapers and magazines, because -as he scornfully put it-they had not the wit to learn that genuine art flourishes best in the atmosphere of genuine popular demand.
H. G. Wells, in a book about America published in the very year that Henry James left it for the last time, had been oppressed by the same sort of talk. At a meeting of a Boston book collectors' club which he attended it came to him with a horrible quality of conviction "that the mind of the world was dead, and that this was a distribution of the souvenirs"; and it seemed to him that all so-called American refinement, mysteriously enchanting and ineffectual as it was, was pervaded with "that Boston of the mind and heart" which, having eyes, did not see and, having powers, achieved nothing. It was an oppressive fact, but a fact none the less, that the full sensing of what was ripe and good in the past carried with it the quality of discriminating against the present and the future.
Outside of the realms dominated by this Boston of the mind and heart, however, there were signs which made Wells hopeful. There were the dynamos and turbines at the Niagara hydroelectric plant. Best of all there were men like Pierrepont Noyes, president of the Oneida Company -manufacturers of traps and plated silver. Noyes showed Wells around the factories; showed him the processes of manufacturing panther traps, bear traps, fox traps, and others; told him how the trap trade of all North America was in Oneida's hands, how they fought and won against British traps in South America and Burma. Time after time Wells tried to get Noyes going on politics. (His father, John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community, had after all been a communist, even if a "non-political" one.) But the attempts came to nothing. As Wells described it, making a new world was to Noyes a mere rhetorical flourish about futile and troublesome activities, and politicians were merely a disreputable sort of parasite upon honorable people who made traps and chains and plated spoons. To see a man "so firmly gripped by the romantic constructive and adventurous element of business, so little concerned about personal riches or wealth," taught Wells something which he had never before understood about the American character-- and which many people still do not comprehend. To such a man, Wells gathered, America was just "the impartial space, the large liberty," (space and chance, James had called it) in which Oneida grew. With America as a state or nation, in the European sense, such men had no concern. Yet back in 1906 Wells suspected--and he may still have been right--that it was with the services of such men that the World State, and peace, would one day be built. 1
Underlying the devotion of men like Noyes to their manufacturing enterprises there was, of course, a wholehearted acceptance of the industrial and technological environment which was instinctive with almost all Americans when they were not consciously struggling in the shadow of an imported (or transplanted) culture. As Joseph Wood Krutch once remarked, Europeans learned to use the machine as a middle-aged man learns to drive a car-dubiously and without ceasing to feel that it is alien to his nature; but Americans took to it with the enthusiasm of youth and manipulated its levers as if they were the muscles of their own bodies.
The American's affection for machinery has always been an outstanding characteristic. There is an amusing story, preserved by Julia Neal, of a Negro who received his freedom from the Shakers at South Union, Kentucky, in the early 1830s and went along with some of the Shaker merchants on a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans. On the return trip he left his companions at Nashville and took a job on a river steamer at fifteen dollars per month. When the Shakers admonished him about leaving his religion he replied: "Talk to me about Eternal Lifel Why Jesus Christ never saw a steamboat." Howard Paul, in some American sketches published in England in 3.853, commented on the enthusiasm and devotion which the members of American fire companies lavished on their machines. The nearest thing to it in England, he said, was the devotion to favorite horses on Derby Day. The same sort of intense affection has been lavished on railroad locomotives, river steamers, automobiles, airplanes, and countless other machines and engines.
It is no accident that one of the most eloquent and moving elegies in American literature, Lee Strout White's "Farewell, My Lovely," is a lament for the passing of the Model-T Ford car. No other people in the world have adopted the automobile with such fervor as the Americans. In great part, of course, it was economic and geographic factors which accounted for the tremendous growth of the automobile industry here as compared with Europe.
To paraphrase the conclusions of David L. Cohn in his informal history of the automobile age, from 1900 to 1942 the industry produced 69,000,000 automobiles whose wholesale value was $44,000,000,000; to accommodate those cars we built hundreds of thousands of miles of road connecting 500,000 square miles of our national territory; fabulous industries were created or vastly expanded to serve the car, including petroleum, rubber, tourism, and installment finance; millions of people earned their living by making cars or servicing them and millions more used cars as an essential part of their daily lives. These are, as Mr. Cohn says, stupendous economic and social facts, "not comparable to anything else in our national life or in the experience of any other people." But, as Bergen Evans has argued with some plausibility, there is really no economic excuse for the amount of money and time which the average American citizen spends on and in his car. The whole business of car owning long ago exceeded the bounds of reason and took on the color and characteristics of something much closer to a love affair than a business proposition. And who counts the cost of a love affair?
Three reasons are commonly given for the American's passionate attachment to his car: that it serves him as a sort of mechanized magic carpet (in 1940, the American people drove their cars an estimated four hundred and ninety-eight billion passenger miles-an average of almost four thousand miles for every man, woman, and child in the country); that it vicariously gratifies his lust for power; and that it serves as a symbol of social prestige. All these are undoubtedly elements in the phenomenon, but there are at least two others which are even more important. For one thing, automobiles provide the majority of people with their most impressive firsthand experience of the machine civilization which shapes their lives. C. F. Hirschfeld estimated that in 1930 more than three quarters of the nation's prime-mover capacity (steam, hydroelectric, internal combustion, and all) was located under the hoods of pleasure carsl The defense plants, war machines, and airplanes built since then may well have reduced this percentage, but it is nevertheless true that an astounding proportion of the total mechanical power which our civilization has produced is owned and controlled by individual citizens.
The psychological results of this fact have never been adequately considered. Obviously the person who knows how to clean his own fuel-pump filter and to adjust his ignition timing will be hard to convince that "the machine" is his master. Merely understanding a few of your car's idiosyncrasies-the particular way to tease its worn- out windshield wiper into renewed activity, or the exact amount of pressure on the foot pedal which the brakes' adjustment requires-- gives you a kind of secret intimacy with mechanical power which deprives it of the irrational terrors with which some people still like to scare themselves.
But in addition to providing a sense of familiarity with and personal control over "the machine," automobiles also happen to be among the most beautiful objects which modern civilization has produced, in spite of the chromium academicism of bulbous streamlining which the professional designers have imposed upon so many of them. Along with the skyscrapers, the grain elevators, the suspension bridges, and the huge transport planes, they are among the most aesthetically satisfying products of technology-and of all these objects they are the only ones which the average citizen can own.
In the early years, of course, the design of automobiles reflected the conflicting influences of the vernacular and cultivated traditions even more clearly than it now does.
Only reluctantly was the essentially technological character of the car acknowledged. Back in 1896, when cars were still a rarity, Charles Duryea advertised his Duryea Motor Carriage as "having a 'complete appearance'--not a 'carriage-without-a-horse look'--and yet not a machine in appearance." But of course it was a machine, and no satisfactory solution of its design could disguise that fact.
When the history of automobile design is someday written, the Model- T Ford will surely turn out to have been one of the most effective contributions to the evolution of a distinctively automotive design. Here was a naked, undisguised machine for transportation, as free from extraneous ornament, as perfectly adapted to mass-production techniques of manufacture as its modern successor in popular affection, the honest-to-God army jeep. If there ever was an unabashed product of the vernacular tradition as this book has defined it, the Model-T Ford was it.
Once established (in 1909 the design of the Model-T was almost immutable, granted the business principle to which Ford adhered for so many years. What he set out to do was to manufacture a dependable, inexpensive, simple, and "completely utilitarian" car to meet the needs of "the ninety-five percent" of the population who could not afford fancy trimmings. Writing in 1923, he put it this way:
It is considered good manufacturing practice, and not bad ethics, occasionally to change designs so that old models will become obsolete and new ones will have to be bought . . . . Our principle of business is precisely to the contrary. We cannot conceive how to serve the customer unless we make for him something that, as far as we can provide, will last forever . . . . We never make an improvement that renders any previous model obsolete. The parts of a specific model are not only interchangeable with all other cars of that model, but they are interchangeable with similar parts on all cars that we have turned out. You can take a car of ten years ago, and buying today's parts, make it with very little expense into a car of today.
From the beginning, of course, some people were dissatisfied with the stripped utilitarianism of the Model-T's appearance. Industries grew up to supply the aesthetic deficiencies of the dowdy Ford, offering fancy radiator caps, wire wheels, special mudguards, and other ornamental gadgets. In 1916 a company in Detroit manufactured a complete transformation for Model-T. Heretofore, their advertisement said, "You have had to choose either Ford dependability and economy and put up with its appearance or pay a higher price for a better appearing car and stand its extravagant upkeep." Now, for $260, you could get a beautiful, luxuriously upholstered Beau Brummel Body to fit any Ford chassis. But of the millions of Model-T's sold, far and away the majority were appreciated for what they were, and were left in their natal, unornamented state.
For those who couldn't stomach the Ford's unashamedly vernacular design, there were a number of cars which carried on for several years the Duryea tradition of disguising or minimizing the mechanical nature of the automobile, at least in their advertising. There was the Apperson, with its "Old English Coach of 182o lines," for instance, whose bright red with black trimmings was advertised as "an exact duplicate of color study as used in the latter days of George III before railroads had spanned countries." Yet by 1916 at the latest the basic "streamline" design of the modern car had been generally adopted. (See Fig. 26) As the magazine Motor World summarized it in December 1916, "The year gone by has not been a remarkable one for engineering achievement. There has been no great change, no upheaval, in design or construction." What changes had been made were chiefly the addition of such "selling features" as dashboard clocks, Boyce Moto-Meters (on radiator caps to indicate water temperature), cigar lighters (not yet called cigarette lighters), and other items designed to make the cars more "attractive and comfortable." Closed cars were rapidly increasing in popularity; seventeen makes were regularly equipped with detachable closed and open tops for summer and winter, and sedans were being made in increasing numbers. But the important fact was that, as any group of illustrations of 1916 models will show, automobiles by then looked like automobiles and nothing else.
The relative success of automobile design in thus early rejecting the influence of the cultivated tradition can be traced to a number of influences. For one thing, once the "horseless carriage" idea was overcome it was recognized that a car was an altogether new kind of vehicle, undeniably a machine, and as such it was enthusiastically welcomed by all but a few of the conservatively wealthy. (It was the big, expensive cars which held on longest to the carriage and coach styles.) For another thing, the mass-production techniques which Ford introduced into the business tended, as they always do in the long run, to simplify and standardize design.
Indeed it was chiefly the automobile industry as created by Ford which, by the 1920s seemed to many people to symbolize America. The Frenchman, Andre Siegfried, for instance, announced with "heart burnings and regrets" in 1927 that Americans were creating, on a vast scale, "an entirely original social structure which bears only a superficial resemblance to the European"-and the basis of that structure, as he saw it, was "Fordism." " By Fordism, of course, he meant industrial mass production, which, as he rightly feared, meant doom for the kind of society to which he, as a European, was accustomed.
For in Europe as well as in America the influence of Fordism was strong. What appealed to American artists and travelers abroad was, of course, "the Europe of `dreaming spires,' divine Gothic, moss- grown castles, quaint villages, special crafts, folk songs, gay peasant costumes, and workingmen who love Wagner with their beer," but, as Charles Beard wrote in 1929, only a blind man could contend that that was any longer the creative and dynamic Europe. The truth was, as he pointed out, that Europe was at war with herself, and that the American invasion -spearheaded during the twenties by tourists, expatriates, and commercial and financial expansionists-was merely adding weight to the winning side.
Actually, Europe had been at war with herself in this sense ever since the Industrial Revolution got under way in England toward the end of the eighteenth century. That America had by the late 1920s become synonymous with modern civilization, while Europe was still regarded (and on the whole regarded herself) as the custodian of the older culture, was-as James had observed-merely the result of the fact that here the new forces had found more space and chance. But the inevitable result was that when Europeans became aware of the new civilization's growing domination in their own countries they tended to identify it with American influence.
To some extent, of course, it was American influence. Industrial mass production, though it was the logical and inevitable outgrowth of forces which had their origins in eighteenth-century Europe, evolved so much more rapidly in the United States that its techniques were largely of American origin by the time Europe began to adopt it on a large scale.
The first great American influence on European indus- try was not "Fordism" however, but "Taylorism," and it is revealing to look briefly at what that influence involved. It began in 1903, when the Philadelphia engineer and in- ventor Frederick Winslow Taylor published an article called "Shop Management" in the Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The article was translated and published in almost every European country, as was the book The Principles of Scientific Man- agement (1911.) in which Taylor subsequently expanded his ideas.
If Taylor is remembered now, it is usually only as the man who introduced time and motion studies into factory management, but his contribution was a much more significant one than that. What it involved was a recognition that the worker was an integral part of the industrial process-that increased productivity involved not only the improvement of machines and of factory layout but also the increased efficiency of the men and women who tended them. Essentially, as Taylor said in his testimony before a special congressional investigating committee in 1912, scientific management was not a mere bunch of efficiency devices. It was, rather, an attitude toward production which involved a complete mental revolution on the part of both workers and management. Both must take their eyes off the division of the surplus resulting from their joint labors and concentrate instead on increasing the surplus. Both must substitute "exact scientific investigation and knowledge" for individual judgments or opinions, either of the workman or boss, in all matters relating to production.
In other words, Taylor was working toward a unifying conception of the total industrial process, based on scientific rather than empirical knowledge. By many of his contemporaries, however, his system was accepted as simply a new kind of wage system or a collection of "efficiency devices" in the crude sense, and Taylor himself was partly to blame for the misunderstanding. To get his system adopted, he had to sell the idea to management and he therefore tended to emphasize the ways in which it would increase management's immediate profits. Labor, consequently, got the notion that the system exploited the workers, and labor leaders viciously attacked the man who proposed it. Labor's attacks in turn led Taylor, who was hotheaded and frequently tactless, to say and do things which confirmed the impression that he was anti-labor.
Taylor never formally stated his basic philosophy, but there are enough scattered clues to indicate the democratic bases of his thought. In his book, for instance, he thus summarized the characteristics of the kind of industrial system he advocated as distinguished from current practice:
Science, not rule of thumb.
These are social objectives, far removed from the "public be damned" attitude of the finance-capitalists who, at that time, were largely in control of American industry. But Taylor made his outlook even clearer in a letter written in the same year that his book was published. In it he pointed out that workmen and employers are only two of the parties in the industrial process; that it is the whole people who eventually pay both wages and profits; and that "the rights of the people are therefore greater than those of either employer or employee." The aim of scientific management was, therefore, the broadly social one of maximum production in the interests of the whole people. That maximum was to be achieved by over-all planning in terms of exact knowledge of all production factorsincluding the workers.
What Taylor's work amounted to was the systematic formalization of industrial procedures which up to that time had evolved in hit-or-miss fashion out of the everyday experience of many scattered shops and factories. That it failed to achieve the harmony and co-operation which he aimed at was perhaps inevitable in a time when the entire industrial and economic system was thought of as something distinct from the rest of human life, having nothing to do with the values expressed in political and social institutions, to say nothing of the arts. Full recognition of the interrelationships between the industrial system and the rest of society had to await the now famous experiments undertaken in the late twenties by F. J. Roethlisberger of Harvard and W. J. Dickson of the Western Electric Company at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant in Chicago. Those experiments, together with the subsequent studies directed by Elton Mayo, make it clear that Taylor's emphasis on techniques to promote human efficiency must give way to an emphasis on techniques of human co-operation.
But in his own time it was, as we have said, Taylor's efficiency techniques which were seized upon by industry, and it was these which were borrowed most eagerly in Europe. The pressures toward increased industrial efficiency growing out of the First World War created widespread interest in American methods of production, and as Taylor's biographer, F. B. Copley, has shown, Taylorism became the focal point of that interest. In France the Michelin Foundation sought to promote Taylorism by courses given in the advanced technical colleges and by public lectures, and in a circular dated February 26, 3.918, signed by Clemenceau, the French Ministry of War declared "an imperative necessity" that all heads of military establishments should study Taylorism, and ordered that in every plant there should be created a planning department whose directors should consult Taylor's books. In Vienna there appeared a periodical called Taylor-Zeitschrift. In Russia Pravda for April 28, 1918, carried a long article by Lenin on "The Urgent Problems of Soviet Rule" in which he declared that the new Russia "should try out every scientific and progressive suggestion of the Taylor system. "
The spread of Taylorism and later of Fordism to Europe and the rest of the world has, of course, been more often lamented than welcomed by those who cherish the values inherent in the older cultures. To many it has seemed, as it did to Andre Siegfried, that mankind was giving up a system in which the individual was considered as an independent ego, and substituting for it one which sacrificed the individual to material conquests. Certainly there is little enough in the history of the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany, or of Soviet Communism in Russia, to contradict this gloomy view. It is no wonder, after the horrors of the last fifteen years (1933-48), that the "Americanization" of Europe or Asia is regarded with dread-if to Americanize means merely to adopt or imitate our technology rather than to adopt those attitudes and motives which made that technology possible.
That it has meant this, in many instances, is one of the greatest tragedies of our time, a tragedy which results from a fundamental misconception of the American experience. For underlying that experience and running through every phase of our history, as we have seen in our tracing of the vernacular tradition, the technological influences have been inextricably interwoven with those of democracy. It was our democratic political and social institutions that gave our industrial system its special characteristics, while at the same time it was our technological achievements that strengthened and extended our political and social democracy. Neither could have existed without the other in anything like its present form.
It would be pointless to defend such an assertion as anything more than a useful generalization. The present writer has no interest in trying to foster the notion that American industrialists have been uniformly democratic and humane. It is absurd, however, to assume as many people do that industrial technology is everywhere the same in its character and influence. Anyone who reads the British government's postwar surveys of the need for increased productivity in British industry, or who studies the so- called Monet plan for industrial modernization in France, will find ample evidence of the astonishing divergences between British and French technology and that of the United States. Only in the most superficial sense is it true that an automobile plant or electric motor factory is the same sort of thing in Britain or France as in America. Even the most cursory reading of prewar and postwar technical and industrial publications will confirm the impression that both in its administrative aspects and in its technology American industry has been shaped by vernacular influences to a much greater degree than that of Europe.
It will be apparent, for instance, that the differences between European and American technical practice grow out of the differing social contexts in which industry has developed there and here. Consider in this connection the conclusions of Wallace Clark, consulting management engineer, after three and a half years of experience in France, Germany, England, Poland, and several other countries during the boom years of 1927-3o. He was impressed by the fact that European industrialists had long persisted in the belief "that the purchase of the most efficient machinery and equipment" was all that was required to bring them American prosperity, and were only beginning to learn that the attitudes and methods of American manage- ment were "quite as important as machines and processes." Throughout Europe he found that there was a barrier between the administrator and the practical mechanic which was almost never crossed. Plant executives, from the superintendent up, invariably had engineering degrees which represented good theoretical training, but they had seldom had any actual shop experience. Workers, on the other hand, had so little reason to expect promotion to positions of responsibility that they did nothing to fit themselves for it. There were, of course, variations in this pat- tern from place to place, but as Mr. Clark piles up illustrations of his point in plant after plant and country after country it becomes apparent that the degree to which the gap between management and worker is unbridgeable in any nation reflects the relative rigidity of class lines in other social spheres. Not, as he said, that executives in European industry actively opposed promotions from the ranks when he suggested them. It was simply that under normal circumstances such things were very rare. To put it in Mr. Clark's own words, "it does not occur to anyone that they can be done."
What this means is that in countries where distinctions between social classes were established by long tradition before modern industrialism was introduced, the technology of production tends to be administered by an elite which deliberately cuts itself off from practical experience. In America, on the other hand, despite the increasing concentration of economic power which industrial development has produced in this as in other countries, control of production is still largely in the hands of men who have had actual shop experience.
Similarly, vernacular influences have molded the technology of American industry, with the result that the organization of production still retains its characteristic flexibility and adaptability. In an earlier chapter we noted how belts and pulleys were early substituted for toothed gears and shafts in transmitting power in American factories, thus permitting greater flexibility in layout. At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 one of the most striking inventions exhibited was the Stow flexible shaft (Fig. 27)--ancestor of the cordlike shaft on a modern dentist's drill--which with its various attachments, enabled power to he transmitted readily to all positions and applied in any desired direction. Two years later, at the Paris exhibition, the London Times correspondent singled it out as the very type of Yankee contrivances. Watching its operator holding what seemed at first sight to be a small garden hose with an auger at its end, with which he could bore in every direction, the Times writer declared that it "upsets all one's ideas of rigidity."
With the coming of the electric motor, flexibility of factory layout was further increased. When each machine and power tool had its own direct source of power, and it was no longer necessary to arrange them in relation to fixed lines of shafting, the old standard factory aisles could be broken up and the machines could be grouped in functional units.
The degree to which this flexibility has been carried in recent years can be illustrated by the setup in a plant like that of the Spicer Manufacturing Company of Toledo, Ohio, makers of truck and bus parts, which was described by Mike Kallaher in the June 1943 issue of Factory. The nature of the company's business required major changes in its production lines every four or five months, and lesser changes-involving on the average twenty machines-every week. The plant was housed in a one-story building with monitor roof so constructed as to provide adequate natural light in all parts of the interior, thus imposing no limitations on the location of machines because of light requirements. The factory floor was made of asphalt-impregnated wood blocks over which heavy machines could be slid without injury to them or to the floor. Suspended from the roof at regular intervals were electric power ducts, which could be plugged into at any point. The machines themselves, each driven by an individual motor, got their electric current from the overhead ducts through lead-in wires carried in flexible cable rather than in rigid pipe, as in other plants. This system did not make for tidiness of appearance, but it saved a lot of pipe- fitting time when changes in layout were made. As a result of these various features it was possible for a tractor and its operator and one millwright to haul and shove a machine from one location to another in a very brief time, the electrician merely pulling the plug out of one junction box on the overhead ducts and plugging it into another. A department of fifty machines, many of them heavy gear cutters, was thus moved in a single day by two tractors plus their operators, two millwrights, and two electricians. 2
This factory was, of course, a somewhat special case. Many plants do not require such frequent changes of layout. But throughout American industry one can find evidence of essentially the same sort of adaptability. The magazine which contained the description of the Spicer plant carried in the same issue an article on the decentralization of the maintenance department at a Douglas Aircraft Company plant, an outgrowth of the need for more flexible operations; and an entire section of the magazine was devoted to a review of portable factory equipment which had been introduced during the preceding year. Another technical magazine, Mill and Factory, brought out a special 684-page issue in May 1947, in which were presented thousands of recently introduced devices and techniques, many of which-like portable conveyor systems, shop trucks and tractors, and free-moving cranes-greatly increase the flexibility of plant layout. (See fig. 28)
A notable development in this area was the new theory of machine design proposed by two young Canadian physicists, Eric W. Leaver and John J. Brown, both of whom worked for a number of years in the United States. Their experience in Canada's wartime radar program stimulated their interest in the application of electronics to industrial processes. In the past, they argued in an article in Fortune (November 1946), machines were designed to turn out a certain product rather than to perform a certain function, and this point of view resulted in increasingly uneconomic specialization. As an example of this they mention a machine made during the war to massproduce aircraft cylinder heads.
It was ninety feet long, a marvel of precision and ingenuity, and cost in the neighborhood of $100,000. Rough castings went in one end, and finished cylinder heads dropped out the other at the rate of one a minute. The machine is now just scrap metal; that type of cylinder head is no longer made.
What Leaver and Brown proposed was a theory of design which concentrated on basic operations rather than on products. Briefly summarized, their idea was that machines should be made up of groups of small units plugged together, each unit designed to perform one function. Various combinations of these basic units would comprise machines to make the various parts of a given product. A number of such machines, electronically controlled and linked by conveyors, would produce and assemble a complete product.
In discussing the significance of their proposal, they and the editors of Fortune placed the chief emphasis on the automatism which would be achieved in a factory that used such machines-the H. G. Wellsian concept of a factory whose production floor, "as clean, spacious, and continuously operating as a hydroelectric plant," is barren of men, the only human presences being a few engineers and technicians who walk about on a balcony before a great wall of master control panels. But automatic production is by no means new. In the processing of raw materials it was achieved more than a century and a half ago, as we know from the accounts of Oliver Evans' flour mill (quoted in Chapter 2) , and it has been common practice in bulk manufacturing-of bread, gasoline, and many other products-for a number of years. Even in large-scale assembly operations it is well beyond the experimental stage.
Almost thirty years ago the A. O. Smith Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, completed an automatic factory for manufacturing automobile frames, and by 1930 the company's assistant works manager, A. W. Redlin, was able to report to the members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers that every operation from raw steel stock to the assembled and painted frame, including nearly all handling, was done with automatic machinery. The scope of the engineering imagination involved in designing such a factory is suggested by the fact that each frame was composed of more than a hundred parts, and that fabricating and assembling those parts required more than five hundred separate operations, all of which had to be perfectly synchronized. The raw materials had to be automatically tested by special machines and then distributed mechanically to more than a hundred different places in the plant, where as many different machines fabricated the various parts. These parts in turn had to be conveyed mechanically to meet on precise schedule at one place where other machines automatically assembled them at the rate of a completed frame every eight seconds. In a twenty-four-hour day the plant could turn out ten thousand frames, the machines performing approximately four million synchronized, automatic operations.
Yet for all the engineering genius displayed in the A. O. Smith factory, its automatism may well prove to have been a dead-end solution to an essentially anachronistic problem. Nothing, surely, could be more inflexible, more me- chanically rigid, than a factory so arranged. Nowhere in modern industry has mechanical specialization been carried so far.
From our point of view, therefore, it is not the automatic feature of the Leaver and Brown proposal that is significant, but their idea that machines should be "highly adaptable, with easily detachable components designed to be shuffled and rearranged at any time to build an entirely different product." This interchangeability of basic units would permit a factory to accommodate itself to changes in the market with an ease unknown in contemporary production, and would remove one of the most binding restrictions on the introduction of new products. The great problem with mass production has always been that the cost of the plant can be justified only by large demand. But for a new product the demand is rarely great. Leaver and Brown take as an instance the dilemma of the manufacturers of helicopters. The demand for these aircraft would undoubtedly increase if the price could be cut to that of an automobile. But the only way to get the price down is to mass-produce, and that would involve an investment of millions of dollars in specialized machines. If such an investment were made now, when helicopter design is changing rapidly, the whole factory might be ob- solete before a single helicopter was sold. Under a system of flexible machine units, however, changes in design could easily be made.
Putting the Leaver and Brown proposal into practice would create some painful social and economic con- sequences, including technological unemployment and the scrapping of costly current equipment-consequences which cannot be lightly dismissed. But the suggestion commands our attention here because it so dramatically extends the traditional adaptability and flexibility of American industry.
Signs of the same sort of adaptability have appeared also in recent developments in the administrative and financial branches of industry. One of the most interesting experiments along this line got its start in 194o when a young physicist named Richard S. Morse set out to organize a company which would depend for its economic success on turning out one new process or product after another. At first glance there may not appear to be anything very revolutionary about that. Introducing new products and processes has long been a source of profit to manufacturers and businessmen, and has kept our economic system supple and expanding. But if the history of American business demonstrates anything, it demonstrates that once a company turns out an idea which is a financial success it tends to lose interest in other ideas and concentrate on exploiting the successful one already launched. As Mr. Kettering of the General Motors research laboratories once put it, "the human family in industry is always looking for a park bench along the road of progress where it can sit down and rest."
Despite the loud wailing of some of our crusading liberals, there is no unholy conspiracy of corporate evil involved in the reluctance of an established producer to introduce a new process or product. He faces the prospect of putting out of business some of his equipment, of having to spend money to train men in new processes, of having to shut down his plant, of incurring expenses for new machinery, and hence of losing money. Even with an automatic factory like that proposed by Leaver and Brown, change would involve the risk of some losses, and in present practice the losses are often great. Obviously these are disquieting prospects, and it is not surprising that few businessmen feel they can afford to act in terms of the perfectly obvious but remote fact that such losses would be temporary, and that in the long run an improved product or process would be more profitable than the old one.
As long as business remained in the hands of a great many relatively small companies, many of which went bankrupt or simply went out of business every generation and were replaced by new enterprises, the economic system as a whole did not suffer much from the natural tendency of established business to shy away from new talent and new techniques. In a highly competitive field there was nearly always someone who would take a chance on the long-run profits, someone who would be able to take Mr. Kettering's advice that the surest way to sell a new device to one company is to sell it first to a competitor.
But what if there is no competitor? The history of American business has been the story of a larger and larger proportion of our economic activity coming under the control of fewer and fewer large corporations. This long-term trend was markedly accelerated by the war, and the restrictive pressures-the clogs on progress-inevitably have become greater and greater. On all sides we see symptoms of hardening of the economic arteries, from devices aimed at getting around the anti-trust laws to an increasing reliance on salesmanship.
Everyone agrees, of course, that we must continue to have a healthy and expanding economy, with the rising standard of living it implies. But only constant, progressive change in the techniques of manufacture and distribution can keep the economic system healthy. And that is why it is worth looking at a company which, like Morse's National Research Corporation, attempts to find an organizational basis which will make change profitable.
Basically, Morse's company was designed as a producing unit built around scientific and technical research. The core of the company was to be ideas rather than products. His intention was that production should stimulate research rather than that research should merely assist production. If things went according to plan the company would set up subsidiary companies to manufacture the products or to exploit the processes which the research outfit develops. (Only one such subsidiary had been set up when this chapter was written, but others were in the offing.) Obviously, if the subsidiaries were very successful there would be a tendency for the tail to wag the dog unless the parent company automatically divested itself of its interests in the subsidiary after a fixed interval, and some such arrangement would be inevitable if the parent company was to be put in a position where continued profits require the constant development of new methods and new products.
Since creative scientific research is "a young man's game," as Vannevar Bush has said, a company sparked by research must remain in the control of young men. Morse decided that high salaries and early retirement for research men were essential to the future of his company, and it was intended that the older members of the original outfit should move over into administrative positions in the subsidiaries as those were set up, thus making room for younger research men to replace them.
Whatever the outcome of this particular experiment in enterprise, it called attention to the continuing need for fresh solutions to the conflict between the profit-making necessities of established units in our business system and the experimentation and innovation which renews the system's lifeblood. Whether or not this particular solution works, interest in the problem is widespread. Edwin H. Land of the Polaroid Corporation took this sort of organizational scheme as the subject of his talk at the Standard Oil Development Company's 1944 forum on the "Future of Industrial Research." More recently, in 1946, a group of businessmen and scientists, originally led by Ralph E. Flanders-machine-tool manufacturer, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and senator from Vermont-formed the American Research and Development Corporation to provide financial support and research facilities for small companies trying to introduce "new ideas and developments which give promise of expanded production and employment, and an increased standard of living for the American people." These and other financial and organizational experiments, coupled with technological proposals like those of Mr. Leaver and Mr. Brown, suggest that the adaptability and flexibility of American industry are by no means played out, and that the one-time bugaboo of a "mature economy" was more a depression-born slogan than an industrial reality. As long as our civilization rests upon an industrial system which remains quick on its feet and readily adaptable there will be space and chance for those who are "firmly gripped by the romantic constructive and adventurous element of business." The danger comes, as the so-called Americanization of Europe and a number of grim episodes in our own history have demonstrated, when the instruments of technological civilization come under the control of those who use them to perpetuate the forms and values of a moribund social structure.
1 Hugo Munsterberg, professor of psychology at Harvard, in a book about America published in Germany in 1904, commented in similar terms on the American attitude toward business. "The economic life means to the American a realizing of efforts which are in themselves precious. It is not the means to an end, but is its own end .... The merchant in Europe does not feel himself to be a free creator like the artist or scholar.. . . The American merchant works for money in exactly the sense that a great painter works for money; the high price which is paid for his picture is a very welcome indication of the general appreciation of his art." The Americans, translated by Edwin B. Holt, New York, 1904 pp. 237-38. Return
2 For an earlier example of the same sort of flexible layout, with belt- driven machines, see "Migration of Presses into Grouped Production Units," The Iron Age, November 13, 1930, which describes practices at the Acklin Stamping Company of Toledo, Ohio. Return