TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Western Electric and Al Capone

Re: Western Electric and Al Capone

Arthur Kamlet (
8 Dec 2004 15:29:05 -0500

In article <>,
Ernie B. <ernie@withheld on request> wrote:

> Having lived in the shadow of the Hawthorne works in Cicero, IL in my
> youth, this book intrigues me. I have been in search of photographs of
> the interior and exterior of this fabled manufacturing facility. Can
> you tell me if this book contains any pictures? The web has produced
> only one vintage photograph of the plant as viewed from 22nd st. I
> recall that at one time I read that the huge neon sign on the Cermak
> Road (22nd st.) facade was once the largest neon sign in the world. I
> could see it's glow from my bedroom at night. I also remember that
> every Christmas, the tower of the building, located at the corner of
> Cicero Ave. and Cermak Road was festooned with colored lights from top
> to bottom.

> Anyone who knows of a source of photographs of this behemoth plant
> please contact me at: beeaybay "at" yahoo "dot" com. These pictures
> would only be used for non-commercial personal purposes.

In the early 1970s I contracted with Dr. Henry MacIlvane Parsons, a
former president of the Human Factors [and Ergonomics] Society, to
teach a weekly class for engineers working at the Whippany NJ Bell
Telephone Laboratories location.

He would often arrive early, and poke around the Lab's Whippany
Library, and one day came to me very excited. He had found a
typewritten research report by the team of researchers who conducted
the studies collectively known as the Hawthorne Study and resulted in
their concluding the Hawthrorne Effect. This effect says the more
attention you provide to workers, the more productive they become.

On the margins of this report were pencil notes, including the names
of the (female) workers: Mary, Alice, etc, and a few notes about what
occurred during the study.

Mac Parsons and I re-read major portions of this report, and he
contacted Roethelsberger (I have no idea if he is related to
Pittsburgh's current freshman quarterback) who was the only author
still around, and was a Harvard professor emeritus, and had several
long phone conversations with him.

The study involved several female relay winders working at the WE
Hawthorne plant. The authors gathered them and said they were going
to improve their working conditions, and the workers suggested several
things that could be done, including higher lighting levels. Sure
enough, when higher lighting was in place productivity increased.

Later they gathered the workers and said they had heard some
complaints that the lighting was too high and people had complained
about the glare and so as a favor to everyone they would lower the
levels, but not lower than originally. In fact they returned the
ligting exactly where it was at the start, and productivity went up
even more.

Their conclusion: Pay attention to the workers, show them you are
concerned, and productivity goes up.

Mac Parsons, after his conversations with the author and a careful
reading of the typewritten manuscript, came up with an entirely
different conclusion.

It turned out, and this is not stressed in the paper, or in the
analysis of the Hawthorne effect, that in order to be able to measure
productivity they installed, for the first time, mechanical counters
to count the number of relays wound at each position, and for each

Each team recognized they could now have sort of a rivalry to see
which team could wind the most relays, regardless of lighting.

Mac Parson's conclusion: The increase in productivity was due to each
team having feedback on their performance and not on the level of
lighting. The more they got into the "contest" the more productive
they became because they now knew how many relays each wound. To a
limit, of course, No one worked their fingers to the bone. And the
returning of the lighting to its original level came in the middle of
the contest so the women continued to improve to beat the other teams.

"Feedback" led to performance improvement, not "paying attention" to
them. Installing the counters was thought by the researchers to be a
minor procedural item, not worth much attention, while Parsons though
it was the central, most crucial part of the study.

He published this paper in the mid 1970s in Science, [I ended up with
a footnote credit, oh well ] but from what I can tell, everyone
trained that the Hawthorne Effect was due to being nice to workers
still train others in their belief. That's life. --

Art Kamlet ArtKamlet @ Columbus OH K2PZH

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: Steve Sobol: "Re: Lycos Pulls Anti-Spam 'Vigilante' Campaign"
Go to Previous message: NOTvalid@surplus4actors.INFO: "Re: How to Call from A to B to C? Please Help"
May be in reply to: Jim Haynes: "Western Electric and Al Capone"
Next in thread: Peter Brooks: "Re: Western Electric and Al Capone"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page