henry ford doubles his workers’ wages

Today’s selection — from Railroading Economics by Michael Perelman. As the Industrial Age took hold, workers did not adapt well to the regimented hours and crushing and monotonous life in the factory. The problem became so pronounced that Henry Ford’s factories of the early 1900s had turnover of almost 400 percent — meaning he had to hire 50,448 men in a given year year to maintain a workforce of 13,623. So in 1913, he famously doubled wages — not as a matter of largesse but in order to reduce his expenses. However, as with all things involving Henry Ford, there was a catch:

“Nowhere was the problem of turnover and absenteeism more severe than in the factory of Henry Ford, where workers’ dissatisfaction was running dangerously high. Absenteeism in the Ford plant in 1913 had reached 10.5 percent.
“Turnover at the Ford plant had soared to 370 percent by 1913. The company had to hire 50,448 men just to maintain the average labor force of 13,623. Company sur­veys at Ford revealed that more than 7,300 workers left in March 1913 alone. Of these, 18 percent were discharged; 11 percent formally quit; and 71 percent were let go because they missed five days in row without excuse and so were deemed to have quit. On each day, it was necessary to make use of 1,300 or 1,400 replacement work­ers without any experience. One observer remarked, ‘the Ford Motor Co. had reached the point of owning a great factory without having enough workers to keep it humming.’
“Hiring new workers, even unskilled workers, and offering them a minimum of training turned out to be an expensive proposition. Stephen Meyer estimates that Ford spent $35 to break in each new worker. With 52,000 workers entering the Ford factory in 1913, the company lost $1,820,000 because of turnover. In addition, although conventional union organizing was not much of a threat for most industrial­ists at the time, the Industrial Workers of the World was threatening to organize Ford’s factory.’
The day after the Jan. 5, 1914, announcement of the 5-a-day wage an estimated 10,000 job seekers stood outside the Ford plant in Highland Park despite the frigid temperatures. /The Henry Ford
“These conditions prompted Ford to initiate what was perhaps the most dramatic precursor of welfare capitalism: his famous introduction of the $5 a day wage. Although Ford’s gesture seemed unexpectedly generous at the time, Ford himself freely admitted that his motives were entirely self-interested:
There was … no charity involved. … We wanted to pay these wages so that business would be on a lasting foundation. We were building for the future. A low wage busi­ness is always insecure. The payment of $5 a day for an eight-hour day was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made.
“Although Ford based his policy on sound business principles, the business com­munity was aghast at his behavior, excoriating Ford as a ‘mad socialist’ and a ‘traitor to his class.’ The Wall Street Journal and other financial papers enthusiastically joined in the attack.
“Nonetheless, the $5 wage was a brilliant stroke of capitalist genius. In 1914, the first year after Fordbegan the $5 wage, turnover fell dramatically to 54 percent, By 1915, it dropped still further to 16percent. Absenteeism also subsided, falling to 0.4 percent in 1914.
“Despite its effectiveness, the $5 plan was not exactly what it seemed to be. It included a basic hourly wage of only 34 cents per hour plus a profit-sharing rate of 28.5 cents. Workers did not automatically receive the profit-sharing rate. Instead, eli­gibility profit sharing depended on a number of special conditions. To begin with, workers had to perform satisfactory work to participate in profit sharing. In addition, Ford disqualified all women. According to one source, ‘Women did not work on the assembly line, and were not likely to drink and fail to show up for work. They did not jump from job to job. So there was no reason to include them.’
“According to a 1914 Ford pamphlet, to qualify for the plan, a worker also had to be at least twenty-two years old, with six months seniority. Ford imposed numerous other conditions for profit sharing that seemed to be unrelated to work. The company established a Sociological Department, initially consisting of 200 inspectors, to investigate the workers to see if they met the company’s qualifica­tions. They ‘visited workers’ homes gathering information and giving advice on intimate details of the family budget, diet, living arrangements, recreation, social outlook, and morality.’
“For example, the company had to be ‘satisfied that he [ the qualified worker] will not debauch the additional money he receives.’ Toward this end, the Sociological Department had to be certain that the workers maintained a suitable home, refrained from taking in boarders, operated no outside business, made sure that the family did not associate with the wrong people, avoided excessive smok­ing or drinking, and demonstrated adequate progress in learning English. In addi­tion, wives of qualified workers could not work outside of the home. Furthermore, the inspectors had to determine whether the workers displayed suf­ficient thrift, cleanliness, ‘good manhood,’ and good citizenship. Workers also had to tend gardens that the inspectors deemed to be adequate. Not surprising­ly, during the first two years, 28 percent of all male workers were disqualified from profit sharing.
“Ford expected more than improved family life in return for his plan. He expected near absolute obedience. One contemporary study of the Ford system concluded that Ford ‘desires and prefers machine-tool operators who have nothing to unlearn, who have no theories of correct surface speeds for metal finishing, and will simply do what they are told to do, over and over again, from bell-time to bell-time.’

“Ford also expected that this obedience would translate into greater effort from the workers. A production foreman named W. Klann reported, ‘[They] called us in and said that since the workers were getting twice the wages, (the management) wanted twice as much work. On the assembly lines, we just simply turned up the speed of the lines.’ “

Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology

Author: Michael Perelman
Publisher: Monthly Review Press
Copyright 2006 by Michael Perelman
Pages: 135-136
All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.

the cold reality of child labor

Today’s selection — from Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert. Little 10-year-old Ellen Hootten testified to the working conditions in British cotton mills during an 1833 investigation by the British government:

“Like Brecht’s haulers and builders, few cotton workers have entered our history books. Most left not even a trace; too often they were illiterate, and almost always their waking hours were occupied with holding body and soul together, leaving little time to write letters or diaries, as their social betters did, and thus few ways for us to piece their lives together. One of the saddest sights to this day is St. Michael’s Flags in Manchester, a small park where allegedly forty thousand people, most of them cot­ton workers, lie buried in unmarked graves, one on top of the other, ‘an almost industrial process of burying the dead.’ Ellen Hootton was one of these rare exceptions. Unlike millions of others, she entered the histori­cal record when in June 1833 she was called before His Majesty’s Factory Inquiry Commission, which was charged with investigating child labor in British textile mills. Though only ten when she appeared before the committee and frightened, she was already a seasoned worker, a two-year veteran of the cotton mill. Ellen had drawn public attention because a group of middle-class Manchester activists concerned with labor condi­tions in the factories sprouting in and around their city had sought to use her case to highlight the abuse of children. They asserted that she was a child slave, forced to work not just in metaphorical chains, but in real ones, penalized by a brutal overseer.
“The commission, determined to show that the girl was a ‘notorious liar’ who could not be trusted, questioned Ellen, her mother, Mary, and her overseer William Swanton, as well as factory manager John Finch. Yet despite their efforts to whitewash the case, the accusations proved to be essentially true: Ellen was the only child of Mary Hootton, a single mother, who was herself a handloom weaver barely able to make a living. Until she turned seven, Ellen had received some child support from her father, also a weaver, but once that expired her mother brought her down to a nearby factory to add to the family’s meager income. After as many as five months of unpaid labor (it was said that she had to learn the trade first), she became one of the many children working at Eccles’ Spinning Mill. When asked about her workday, Ellen said it began at five-thirty in the morning and ended at eight in the evening, with two breaks, one for breakfast and one for lunch. The overseer, Mr. Swanton, explained that Ellen worked in a room with twenty-five others, three adults, the rest children. She was, in her own words, a ‘piecer at throstles’ — a tedious job that entailed repairing and reknotting broken threads as they were pulled onto the bobbin of the mule. With constant breakage, often sev­eral times a minute, she only had a few seconds to finish her task.
Men, women, and young children worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire, England
“It was all but impossible to keep up with the speed of the machine as it moved back and forth, so she sometimes had ‘her ends down’  — that is, she had not attached the loose and broken ends of the thread fast enough. Such errors were costly. Ellen reported being beaten by Swanton ‘twice a week’ until her ‘head was sore with his hands.’ Swanton denied the frequency of the beatings, but admitted using ‘a scrap’ discipline the girl. Her mother, who called her daughter ‘a naughty, stupid girl,’ testi­fied that she approved of such corporal punishment, and had even asked Swanton to be more severe to put an end to her habit of running away. Life was hard for Mary Hootton, she desperately needed the girl’s wages, and she begged Swanton repeatedly to keep on the girl, despite all the troubles. As Mary said, ‘I cries many a times.’
“The beatings, however, were not the worst treatment Ellen experi­enced at Swanton’s hands. One day, when she arrived late to work, Swan­ton penalized her even more severely: He hung an iron weight around her neck (there was no agreement about whether it weighed sixteen or twenty pounds) and made her walk up and down the factory floor. The other children heckled her, and as a result, ‘she fell down several times while fighting with the other hands. She fought them with the stick.’ Even today, nearly two hundred years lacer, the pain of the girl’s life, from the tedium of her work to the violence of her abuse, is hard to fathom. …
“Like Ellen Hootton, thousands and, by the 1850s, millions of workers streamed into the world’s newly built factories to operate the machines that produced cotton thread and cloth. The ability to mobilize so many women, children, and men to work in factories was awe-inspiring. Many a contemporary was overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds or even thou­sands of workers walking to and from their places of toil. Every morn­ing before sunrise, thousands of workers walked down narrow paths in the Vosges to the factories in the valley, crawled out of dormitory beds just up the hill from Quarry Bank Mill, left their struggling farms above the Llobregat River, and made their way through crowded Manchester streets toone of the dozens of mills lining its putrid canals. At night they returned to sparse dormitories where they slept several to a bed, or to cold and drafty cottages, or to densely populated and poorly constructed working-class neighborhoods in Barcelona, Chemnitz, or Lowell.
“The world had seen extreme poverty and labor exploitation for cen­turies, but it had never seen a sea of humanity organizing every aspect of their lives around the rhythms of machine production. For at least twelve hours a day, six days a week, women, children, and men fed machines, operated machines, repaired machines, and supervised machines.”

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Author: Sven Beckert
Publisher: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright 2014 by Sven Beckert
Pages: 176-179
All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.

Later Never Comes

O when the tables turn

As a meal is served

It is proclaimed

The earth a stage

That later never cometh

To be given peace and promise

And hope for another day

Night doth fall upon it

And none shall see at all

Keep thy words short

For a siren’s spell is certain

Calling from the rocks

Even those built by man

O heaven! O earth!

Hear my cry and see me

Late shall never be

It is as always hath been, they sayeth

But, lo, this is false

Time shalt heal

Even as it strips away

Ever silent; forever speaking

Later never cometh

For the lowest slave

Nor the highest king

Speaketh again, do I

Her voice beckons

And she giveth no answer


Dear Santa Claus,

I regret to inform you that your delivery is now exactly one month late. I have not yet received the new car I ordered, nor has the million dollars been deposited into my account. The absolute deadline is my birthday. At that time, the interest rates will have increased drastically. I must insist on the prompt delivery of all items on my list, and please include a partridge in a pear tree and some reindeer jerky. If you are unable to deliver in person, an elf, leprechaun, Cupid or the Easter Bunny are required for official holiday representation. If they have not arrived by my birthday, I will report you the Tooth Fairy for collections (Remember, they call her “Tooth Fairy” because she “collects teeth”).


Grown-ups everywhere

Money for old rope

A Phrase A Week – Money for old rope


A profitable return for little effort.


Any online search for the expression ‘money for old rope’ will bring up many pages which state authoritatively that it originated in reference to the payment for old, frayed ropes which were subsequently used to fill cracks between planks on ships. These usually date the practice to ‘the days of sail…‘, which is one of those phrases that set etymologists’ noses twitching (the other being ‘I was told that…’).

Money for old rope

Is that story true? Well, no, I’m afraid not (and it’s a pity that the rope in question can’t talk as it might express that better as “I’m a frayed knot”). The politest response would be that this story is folk-etymology, a.k.a. nonsense stories, made up to fool the gullible – see a few more made-up stories here.

What’s at work with the ‘money for old rope’ story is the old friend (enemy?) of etymology – plausibility. Gaps between planks on ships were indeed filled with a material called caulk, which was made largely from hemp soaked in tar. The ropes on sailing ships were made from hemp and old ropes (and new ones too) were used to caulk planking. Given the method and the fact that the phrase exists in the language, many have put two and two together… and made five.

What’s lacking is anything that actually supports the link between the caulking of sailing ships and the phrase. The killer blow is really that the phrase wasn’t known in English until the 1930s – well after the heyday of sailing ships, in the British author James Curtis’s novel Gilt Kid, 1936:

He would spin her a fanny about the marriage laws, tie the poor kid up. It ought to be money for old rope.

Given that Curtis used the slang expression without any explanation of it, it’s probable that he expected his readers to be familiar with it and that it may well have been in wide circulation in England in 1936. It can’t date from much earlier than that though as it appears nowhere else in print.

The copious archives of The Old Bailey proceedings have numerous mentions of ‘old rope’ throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but nowhere is there any mention of ‘money for old rope’.

The definitive dictionary of sailors’ language dating from the aforementioned ‘days of sail’ – the Sailor’s Word Book, by the admirable Admiral William Henry Smyth, has no mention of the phrase.

‘Money for old rope’ is most likely to have originated in a similar manner to ‘money for jam’. This was a British Army expression from around WWI. The reference is to the ubiquity of jam in the soldiers’ diet and that it had little value. ‘Old rope’ had the same status. ‘Money for old rope’ just means ‘easy money’ – the nautical origin is, sad to say as it would have made a nice addition to my list of nautical phrases, bogus.

Sing Anew, O Freedom

O, hark! Let Freedom sing

Of times anew, times to be

Of days forgotten, days lost

O, see her embark, taking wing

Flying upon all that lives

“Joy!” She exclaims!

Dark clouds near, now disappear

Light shines in heaven

Let the earth be illuminated!

Freedom and Justice, her friend

Liberty her companion

And more gather in the skies

To sing a new, yet familiar tune.

She is not satisfied,

For Mankind has abandoned Truth,

Her closest confidant.

O, hark! She sheds tears as diamonds.

Joy continues to be silent to her cry

Happiness left the land long ago,

But has promised to return.

“O, Love! You abound in hearts and minds

Perhaps Hope will heal Mankind.”

She sighs again, with Liberty at her side

Patience shows her face;

She is followed by Grace,

And finally Strength,

The legend that trampled Evil to its grave.

Strength lifted up her voice

“O, hark! Today is the day!

Let us join once more

We may face War,

We will serve with Honor,

We will uphold Peace,

And Joy will follow in our wake.”

Freedom stood, looking to the North

“Verily, Strength has proclaimed

And lamented words heard before,

From the voice of Truth itself.”

Thus was the resurrection of Truth,

And it came forth

From the heights and depths

To reclaim its rightful place.

war and despair

Today’s encore selection — from A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914-1918 by G.J. Meyer. War and loneliness. During the final years of World War I, Eric Ludendorff, a protege of Otto von Bismarck himself, was the commanding general of all German armies. His grandiose military plans had failed repeatedly, he had presided over ten million casualties, and in 1918 his forces had begun to rapidly disintegrate:
“Things had never gone so badly for Eric Ludendorff, or gone badly in so many ways over such a long period, as they did in 1918. As his problems mounted, he grew visibly fragile.
“All his life he had displayed an insatiable appetite for work, but now his staff noticed him slipping away from headquarters without explanation. A member of the medical staff, writing of Ludendorff, would recall that at this juncture ‘there were reports of occasional crying episodes.’
“Officers who served him became concerned for him personally and about his ability to function. Quietly, with considerable trepidation, they arranged for a psychiatrist who knew Ludendorff, a Dr. Hocheimer, to visit and see what might be done.

“Everyone was on pins and needles the day Hocheimer arrived, wondering how he was going to approach Ludendorff and how the general was going to react. Ludendorff was a stiff, distant man with no visible sense of humor and firm control over all emotion except the rage that could break out in moments of intense stress. An ugly explosion was by no means out of the question. What happened was more unexpected than that. It revealed the depth of Ludendorff’s neediness.

“He was predictably impatient at being interrupted but consented to see the doctor. ‘I talked earnestly, urgently and warmly, and said that I had noticed with great sadness that for years he had given no consideration to one matter — his own spirit,’ Hocheimer recalled afterward. ‘Always only work, worry, straining his body and mind. No recreation, no joy, rushing his food, not breathing, not laughing, not seeing anything of nature and art, not hearing the rustle of the forest nor the splashing of the brook.’
“Ludendorff sat for a long time without answering. ‘You’re right in everything,’ he said at last. ‘I’ve felt it for a long time. But what shall I do?’
“Hocheimer urged a move from Ludendorff’s cramped quarters at Avesnes back to the more pleasant accommodations at Spa in Belgium. He recommended walks, breathing exercises, and a change in routine calculated to induce relaxation and the ability to sleep. Ludendorff followed these instructions conscientiously, even eagerly. As long as he continued to do so, his torments eased. He and Hocheimer continued to confer. The doctor’s ultimate diagnosis: ‘The man is utterly lonely.’ …
“Ludendorff was especially close to the youngest of his stepsons, who happened to share his first name. In March 1918 he received word that young Erich, still a teenager, had been shot down behind British lines, his fate uncertain. Not long afterward, with German troops advancing across France in the Michael offensive, Ludendorff was told of the discovery of a fresh grave. Its marker said, in English, ‘Here rest two German pilots.’ He went to the grave and had the bodies dug up. One was Erich’s. It was temporarily reburied at Avesnes while arrangements were made for its transfer to Berlin.
“That was where Ludendorff was going when he began to disappear from headquarters: to brood at Erich’s grave. That was when an army doctor heard ‘reports of occasional crying.’ Nothing could ever be the same. [His wife] Margarethe was broken, permanently in the grip of depression, grief, and fear. Ludendorff, in his own words, felt that the war had taken everything.”

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

Author: G.J. Meyer
Publisher: Delacorte Press a division of Random House
Date: Copyright 2006 by GJ. Meyer
Pages: 644-648
All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.