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Corporation Schooling and the Labor Market at General Electric

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Shan Nelson-Rowe*
Affiliation:
Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey

Extract

As the twentieth century opened, many corporate leaders viewed with dismay the failure of manual training and trade schools to supply an army of skilled workers. Business people especially disliked industrial education programs offered through public school systems, and targeted trade unions and educators alike for criticism. Thomas E. Donnelley of R. R. Donnelley and Sons in Chicago, for example, charged that labor unions gained “representation upon the board of managers (of public schools) for the avowed purpose of seeing that their own monopolistic advantages are not jeopardized.” The chief educational spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) characterized public education as “an incapable, semi-ignorant, headless jumble.” The problem, he claimed, stemmed from the training of “the schoolmaster… [who was] uninformed in the needs and direction of the School of Life.”

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 1991 by the History of Education Society 

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References

1. Donnelley, Thomas E., “Some Problems of Apprenticeship Schools,” Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1913), 131.

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2. Miles, H. E., “The Continuation School and Its Direction,” Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1914), 321.

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3. The term “corporation school” was used to cover a variety of employee-training programs conducted by business. These programs included training for management, engineering, and the skilled trades. I will limit my discussion to an analysis of the training of skilled workers by corporations, or what were also known as “factory apprenticeships.”

4. Katz, Michael B., The Irony of Early School Reform: Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts (Boston, 1968); Cohen, David K. and Lazerson, Marvin, “Education and the Corporate Order,” Socialist Revolution 2 (Mar.–Apr. 1972): 47–72; Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert, Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life (New York, 1976).

5. Hogan, David J., “Making It in America: Work, Education, and Social Structure,” in Work, Youth, and Schooling: Historical Perspectives on Vocationalism in American Education, ed. Kantor, Harvey and Tyack, David (Stanford, 1982), 142–79; see also Hogan, David, Class and Reform: School and Society in Chicago, 1880–1930 (Philadelphia, 1985); Kantor, Harvey, “Vocationalism in American Education: The Economic and Political Context, 1880–1930,” in Work, Youth, and Schooling, ed. Kantor, and Tyack, , 14–44; see also Kantor, Harvey A., Learning to Earn: School, Work, and Vocational Reform in California, 1880–1930 (Madison, Wis., 1988), ch. 7.

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6. Norton Grubb, W. and Lazerson, Marvin, “Education and the Labor Market: Recycling the Youth Problem,” in Work, Youth, and Schooling, ed. Kantor, and Tyack, (Stanford, 1982), 110–41.

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7. The General Electric material is based on original archival research into the recruitment and training process, and the earnings and occupational attainment of apprentices both during and after their training.

8. Bennett, Charles A., History of Manual and Industrial Education, 1870–1917 (Peoria, Ill., 1937), 510; Douglas, Paul H., American Apprenticeship and Industrial Education (New York, 1921), 213; and Nelson, Daniel, Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States, 1880–1920 (Madison, Wis., 1975), 97.

9. National Association of Corporation Schools, 1914, “Report of the Subcommittee on Manufacturing and Transportation,” Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention, 404ff.

10. National Association of Corporation Schools Bulletin 5 (1914): 39; Bulletin 10 (1916): 8.

11. Miles, H. E., “The Continuation School, the Basis of Vocational Education—Educate the Masses—Be Democratic—Stop Planning for the Few Only,” Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1913), 269.

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12. Fisher, Berenice M., Industrial Education: American Ideals and Institutions (Madison, Wis., 1967), 114–19.

13. Rohrer, Albert L., “Discussion of the Report of the Trade Apprentice Committee,” Proceedings of the Third Annual Convention of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1915), 172.

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14. Thomas, F. W., “Educational Work of the AT&SF Railway Company,” NACS Bulletin 3 (May 1916): 2021.

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15. Indeed the emergence and extension of corporation schools coincide with the period (1910–20) during which economists first directed their attention to the “turnover problem.” See, for example, Douglas, Paul H., “The Problem of Labor Turnover,” American Economic Review (June 1918): 306–16; and Slichter, Sumner H., The Turnover of Factory Labor (New York, 1919) for early analyses of factory turnover rates.

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16. Alexander, Magnus, “Waste in Hiring and Discharging Men,” Iron Age 94 (no. 18, 1914): 1032–33; Alexander, Magnus, “Hiring and Firing: Its Economic Waste and How to Avoid It,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 40 (no. 1, 1916): 130; see also Schatz, Ronald W., The Electrical Workers: A History of Labor at General Electric and Westinghouse, 1923–1960 (Urbana, 1983), 17–18.

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17. Hicks, C. J., “International Harvester Shop School,” NAGS Bulletin 5 (July 1914): 20; Alexander, Magnus, “The Apprenticeship System of the General Electric Company at West Lynn, Massachusetts,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 33 (no. 1, 1909): 143.

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18. Sample, N. W., “Apprenticeship System at the Baldwin Locomotive Works,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 33 (no. 1, 1909): 176; Alexander, Magnus, “A Plan to Provide for a Supply of Skilled Workmen,” American Society of Mechanical Engineers Transactions 28 (1906): 479.

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19. Thomas, F. W., “A General Talk on Apprentice Schools,” Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1914), 308; Kreuzpointer, Paul, “The Relation of the Public School System to Corporation Schools,” Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the National Association of Corporation Schools (1914), 292.

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20. “The Educational Work of Swift and Company,” NACS Bulletin 3 (Apr. 1916): 13.

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22. General Electric Company, “Information Concerning the Shop Apprentice System for Boys at the Schenectady Works of the General Electric Company” (Schenectady, 1914), 3.

23. Tripp, Charles K., “Apprentice System of the Lynn Plant, General Electric Company” (Address to the New England Industries Meeting, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1–3 Oct. 1928, Boston).

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24. Fischer, Paul, personal interview with the author, 27 June 1985.

25. All references in this section to the records of specific apprentices or groups of apprentices not otherwise noted are from the apprentice graduate files in the apprentice office at General Electric, Lynn, Mass.

26. General Electric Company, “The Apprentice System of the General Electric Company at West Lynn, Massachusetts” (West Lynn, 1902; 1917).

27. General Electric, “Information Concerning the Shop Apprentice System.”

28. Alexander, M. to Lane, Ralph, 30 Oct. 1906, Apprentice Graduate Files, General Electric Company, Lynn, Mass.

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29. United States Bureau of Labor, Bulletin 77 (July 1908): 2739; see also Nearing, Scott Wages in the United States, 1908–1910 (New York, 1914), 154.

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30. National Industrial Conference Board, Wages in the United States, 1914–1931 (New York, 1931), tables 4–7.

31. Marquis, C. F., “Record of Apprentices for the Year 1921” (General Electric Company, Schenectady, 1922).

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32. “The Apprentice System of the Lynn Works,” GEB-14E (General Electric Company, West Lynn, 1931), 3138. “The Apprentice System of the Lynn Works” (General Electric Company, West Lynn, 1942), 24–33.

33. Ibid.

34. Marquis, , “Record of Apprentices for the Year 1921” (General Electric Company, Schenectady, 1922).

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35. “Apprentice System of the Lynn Works” (General Electric Company, 1931); “The Apprentice System of the Lynn Works” (General Electric Company, 1942).

36. Marquis, C. F., “Record of Apprentices for the Year 1921.”

37. Thernstrom, Stephan, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880–1970 (Cambridge, 1973), 50; “Apprentice System of the Lynn Works” (General Electric Company, 1931).

38. Marquis, C. F., “Record of Apprentices for the Year 1915” (General Electric Company, Schenectady, 1916), 2; idem, “Record of Apprentices for the Year 1916” (General Electric Company, Schenectady, 1917), 2.

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39. “Apprentice System of the General Electric Lynn Works” (General Electric, 1931 and 1942).

40. Paul Fischer interview.

41. Tripp, Charles K., “Our Apprentice School,” Lynn Works News 1 (15 May 1919).

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42. Alternatively, GE may have retained fewer graduates either because they were “stolen” by other firms that avoided the costs of training by offering slightly higher wages, or because many graduates were unqualified. Company officials voiced no such complaints, however. Instead, it appears that GE foremen and superintendents were able to pick the “cream of the crop,” or at least apprentice graduates who were well qualified by company standards.

43. On Fitchburg High School see Ringel, Paul J., “Industrial Education in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, 1908–1928,” in Schools and Cities: Consensus and Conflict in American Educational History, ed. Goodenow, Ronald K. and Ravitch, Diane (New York, 1983); and Nelson-Rowe, Shan, “Markets, Politics and Professions: The Rise of Vocationalism in American Education” (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1988), 180–89. On the Pratt Institute see Nelson-Rowe, , “Markets, Politics, and Professions,” 159–79. On commercial education see Kantor, , Learning to Earn, ch. 7.

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