The sociological department at Ford

I stumbled across an interesting piece of information the other day: Henry Ford established a sociological department at his company in 1913. Here are some interesting tidbits about the short-lived department culled from some varied sources:

From a University of Michigan website:

The Sociological Department of the Ford Motor Company was organized in March, 1913, and oversaw a broad array of social benefits for Ford employees, including assistance in living in well-maintained single-family homes as opposed to small apartments. After the announcement of the Five Dollar Day in 1914, the Sociological Department was responsible for determining if employees’ personal lives and personal habits made them eligible for the full wage. This phase of the Department’s activities terminated with the reorganization of the company in 1920.

From a blogger:

On January 5 1914, Ford announced the revolutionary five-dollar, eight-hour day:

What the company announced was not a plan to pay workers an hourly rate equivalent to five dollars a day. Instead, the company announced a plan to allow the workers to share in the company profits at a rate that promised five dollars a day … The five-dollar profit sharing plan was designed by the company to include only those who were ‘worthy’ and who would ‘not debauch the additional money he receives’.

The Sociological Department, under the leadership of the Reverend Samuel S. Marquis, was put in charge of administering the programme and investigating the home lives of workers: “investigators from the Sociological Department visited workers’ homes and suggested ways to achieve the company’s standards for ‘better morals,’ sanitary living conditions, and ‘habits of thrift and saving’.”…

Inspired by welfare capitalism, Ford’s “philosophy adopted a paternalistic attitude toward workers that, in Ford’s case, was rooted in the Protestant work ethic. Ford believed in it and wanted his employees to adopt it…” And Ford’s social standards reached far beyond the confines of work-life. The PBS film Demon Rum documents the Sociological Department’s efforts to “end the working man’s drinking habit” and how the “success of the small program led to a national prohibition campaign.”

-A 2004 article in American Culture titled “Ford’s Sociology Department and the Americanization Campaign and the Manufacture of Popular Culture Among Assembly Line Workers.”

A two-day lesson for (high school?) students on the topic.

I am not surprised by Ford’s actions: there was a lot of pressure at the time to improve efficiency and a number of companies tried other tactics we might consider paternalistic today (example: the Pullman town which is now part of Chicago).

I am also reminded about the changed role of sociology. Ford seems to have viewed sociology as a means of “social engineering” or enforcing particular ways of living. This involved very strong value judgments and a lot of company control over workers. I imagine this would make most, if not all, sociologists today very nervous.

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