In the early 1920s, officers of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) undertook a series of studies to update the 1898 report on Hand and Machine Labor. During a time of weakness for the labor movement, with sharply declining membership and a lack of leadership within the movement, the officers turned from cost-of-living studies that had under-girded union demands for fair “living wages,” to studying work. They undertook studies of a good dozen industries for which comparative information on nineteenth century hand and machine production methods was available—thus excluding newly emerging industries with high productivity increases, such as the automotive industry. The resulting reports provided narratives describing the production process in a given industry. While none of the reports appear to have been published, the one on the manufacture of brick stood out among the others for its completion; it also reveals how BLS officers idolized modern manufacturing technologies; it is reproduced here in its entirety. Notably, the reports used the more common term “labor efficiency”, rather than the notion of “productivity”.
Related Subjects: Productivity Technology