Business Use of Information and
Technology during the Industrial Age
We have seen that democratic ideology encouraged U.S. demand for information in the eighteenth century, and that technologies such as the printing press allowed and encouraged increased dissemination of such information. The continued growth of demand for information, combined with new communication and transportation technologies and evolving organizational forms, encouraged the development and support of information infrastructures such as the postal system, the railroad, the telegraph, and the telephone in the early and mid‐ nineteenth century. During the period from 1880 to 1950, the nonfarm sectors in the U.S. economy, especially manufacturing, expanded rapidly, with manufacturing overtaking agriculture as the dominant sector in the private economy.' The rapid growth of manufacturing both encouraged and was built on the extensive use of information to control business processes and outcomes; this appetite for information in turn encouraged the diffusion of technologies—including both office equipment and bureaucratic techniques or systems that supported information use. 2 These information processing technologies spread into other, often information-intensive sectors such as financial services and retail selling, adding further to the demand for information processing technologies. By 1950, the uses and technologies of business information had evolved to a considerable extent, putting U.S. business on the threshold of what has become known as the Information Age.
This chapter will first consider the period of growth in markets, production, and firms from 1880 to 1920. I will discuss the systematic management ideology that emerged in response to problems of managerial control—and the ways in which this philosophy of system and efficiency encouraged new uses of information, along with increased office work and the development and/or adoption of new supporting