The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921

The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921

The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921

The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921

Synopsis

In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in a small Detroit workshop. Five years later, he introduced the Model T and met with extraordinary commercial success. Between 1910 and 1914, he developed mass production and made the conveyor a symbol of the auto-industrial age. Then, in 1914, Ford acquired an overnight reputation as humanitarian, philanthropist and social reformer; and simultaneously infuriated the business community and stunned social reformers with his announcement of the outrageous Five Dollar Day.

More than simply high-wage policy, the Five Dollar Day attempted to solve attitudinal and behavioral problems with an effort to change the worker's domestic environment. Half of the five dollars represented wages and the other half was called profits which the worker received only when he met specific standards of efficiency and home life that accorded with the ideal of an American way of life which the company felt was the basis for industrial efficiency.

The unique and short-lived Ford program did not succeed, yet its significance as an early managerial strategy goes beyond the boundaries of success or failure. The Ford Motor Company was uniquely situated in the historical evolution of labor management and industrial technology, and this readable study of that evolution, which highlights the Ford workers, is a chapter in the larger history of labor and work in America."

Excerpt

In the popular mind, Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company have assumed mythic proportions within the framework of American consciousness. Ford was the archtype of the rags-to-riches myth—the poor farm boy who through spunk, discipline, and hard work moved up the social ladder to become skilled mechanic, engineer, and finally billionaire industrialist. He was the tinkerer‐ craftsman who produced one of many horseless carriages. In 1903, he founded the Ford Motor Company in a small Detroit workshop. In 1908, he introduced the Model T Ford and met with extraordinary commercial success. Between 1910 and 1914, the technical genius developed mass production and made the conveyor a symbol of the auto-industrial age. In 1914, Ford outraged financiers and industrialists and stunned trade unionists and socialists with his announcement of the then-outrageous Five Dollar Day. He immediately acquired the reputation of humanitarian, philanthropist, and social reformer. And, the Ford legend survived his repressive anti-labor policies in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1940, a Roper survey of American workers revealed that Ford ranked first as the political, industrial, or business leader most "helpful to labor."

To be sure, the Ford myth took different forms with various interpretations. To the venerable John D. Rockefeller, the Ford Highland Park factory was "the industrial miracle of the age." To many others, Ford propounded a new religious cult and he was "the industrial high priest" or "the high priest of efficiency." To Charlie Chaplin, Ford brought on "Modern Times," with workers condemned to perpetual involuntary motions. To Ford workers, he brought on a new disease, Forditis, whose symptoms included "a nervous stomach and all parts of your body breaking down." To Aldous Huxley, Ford mass production inaugurated the "brave new world" which began in "the year of our Ford" with the birth of the Model T.

Of course, the Ford legend contained much substance. The period from 1908 to 1921 was important for the development of the Ford Motor Company . . .

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