Academic journal article Journalism History

"For Better, Higher and Nobler Things": Massey's Pioneering Employee Publication

Academic journal article Journalism History

"For Better, Higher and Nobler Things": Massey's Pioneering Employee Publication

Article excerpt

Massey's Pioneering Employee Publication

In 1885, a Toronto-based agricultural implements maker, the Massey Manufactunng Co., inaugurated the Trip Hammer, which is widely believed to be the first treu employee publication in North America. The magazine lasted one year and then the company's management and the publication's editors jointly agreed to end it because they felt there was an "absence of evidence" that it was meeting its goals and a lack of "outward marks of appreciation "for the"considerable labour opended "Thus, it was viewed as a failure. This article sketches the compay and its founding family, and describes the publication's contents. It argues the monthly's birth can be linked to personzal and societal factor. but its content starkly reflected the employer's moral and social values. Finally, the article examines why the company felt the publication was a failure despite substantial evidence that it was beneficial for the workers.

Employee publications, it has been said by one who has studied them, serve a purpose "almost as fundamental and necessary as washrooms or good lighting."1 Kathryn Troy, a Conference Board researcher, reports that 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have internal publications, and Otis Baskin, Craig Aronoff, and Dan Lattimore estimate that there are more than 50,000 in-house publications in the United States alone, with a combined circulation of 460 million.2 As Gary Grates puts it, the venerable house organ is "alive, well and maybe even thriving."3

As with public relations history generally, however, little has been written about the development of this form of organizational communication. For example, several scholars say the first true employee journal in North America was the Trip Hammer, published by the Massey Manufacturing Company of Toronto, Canada, in 188586. The literature, though, provides no further details about this pioneer,4 and thus this study is intended to help fill that gap.

Specifically, this article has three principal purposes. First, it describes the content of the Trip Hammer, showing that the main types of stories found in today's employee publications were present from the outset. Second, it argues that there are substantial reasons why the Massey publication emerged when it did; it arose both from the Massey family's appreciation of corporate communication in general, and from the broader political, economic, and social changes that blazed across Canada's industrial heartland in the 1880s. And third, this paper traces how the magazine's contents reflected the employer's values and beliefs about industrial relations as well as the ennobling effects of education, temperance, and other markers of an upright life.5 Before turning to these matters, however, it is necessary to sketch a brief profile of the Massey firm and the family who led it.

The Massey Manufacturing Company was founded by Daniel Massey (1798-1856), whose ancestors had landed in 1630 at Salem, Massachusetts.6 He emigrated from northern New York state to Upper Canada (now the province of Ontario) with his parents in 1802 and eventually followed his father into farming. On a visit to New York state in 1830, he saw a mechanical thresher for the first time and subsequently imported one to Upper Canada; it is believed to have been the colony's first. He was determined to reproduce such equipment for the local market, and in 1847 he purchased a foundry and blacksmith shop in Newcastle, about thirty miles east of Toronto.

The firm prospered. Within two years, Massey moved to larger premises and employed ten men. Under his son Hart (1823-96), who became sole proprietor in 1855, expansion continued. Hart perfected the strategy of obtaining the rights to manufacture U.S. inventions; he also focused on European markets, thus avoiding direct American competition. In 1879, after fire destroyed the Newcastle facility, the company developed a six-acre site on the western outskirts of Toronto. …

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