Harrington Emerson

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Harrington Emerson, 1911.

Harrington Emerson (August 2, 1853 – September 2, 1931) was an American efficiency engineer and business theorist, who founded the management consultancy firm Emerson Institute in New York City in 1900. He is known for his pioneering contributions to scientific management.


  • The schedule is a moral contract or agreement with the men as to a particular machine operation, rate of wages and time. Any change in men [etc.] calls for a new schedule.
  • The individual effort method of increasing the reward of the wage-earner includes all that is best in other methods, and attempts to exclude all that is objectionable. Its good points are summed up as follows:
  1. The standard time set is reasonable and one that can be reached without extraordinary effort, is in fact such time as a good foreman would demand.
  2. An extra reward of one-fifth of the regular wages for the operation is given to whoever makes standard time.
  3. Extra compensation above the hourly rate is paid even if standard time is not reached, although this extra compensation diminishes in percentage above standard time-and-a-half.
  4. If longer than time-and-a-half is taken, the regulai day rate is paid. Of this, the wage-earner is also sure.
  5. Standard time is carefully determined by observation and experiment, and is only changed when conditions change.
  6. The arrangement is one of mutual benefit to both parties — of increased earning to the worker, of increased saving to the employer.
  7. The employer loses more than the wage-earner if schedules do not encourage co-operation.
  8. The wage-earner, working on a schedule, becomes in a large degree his own foreman.
  9. The wage-earner determines his own earning power, and by co-operating to cut out wastes increases his own value.

Efficiency as a Basis for Operation and Wages


Harrington Emerson. Efficiency as a Basis for Operation and Wages. Engineering Magazine, 1909.

  • Staff standards are not theological abstractions, but scientific approximations, and are evolved for the use of the line, the sole justification of the standards being that they will make line work more efficient. Staff standards being for the benefit of the line and often entrusted to line officials, must be put in the form of permanent instructions so that all may understand what is being aimed at, and deviations by the line be noted and reprimanded.
    • p. 70; Cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 79
  • We have not put our trust in Kings; let us not put it in natural resources, but grasp the truth that exhaustless wealth lies in the latent and as yet undeveloped capacities of individuals, of corporations, of States.
    • p. 164; ; Cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 80

The twelve principles of efficiency (1912)


Harrington Emerson. The twelve principles of efficiency. New York, Engineering magazine, 1912.

  1. Clearly defined ideals: the organization must know what its goals are, what it stands for, and its relationship with society.
  2. Common sense: the organization must be practical in its methods and outlook.
  3. Competent counsel: the organisation should seek wise advice, turning to external experts if it lacks the necessary staff expertise.
  4. Discipline: not so much top—down discipline as internal discipline and self-discipline,with workers conforming willingly and readily to the systems in place.
  5. The fair deal: workers should be treated fairly at all times, to encourage their participation in the efficiency movement.
  6. Reliable, immediate and adequate records: measurement over time is important in determining if efficiency has been achieved.
  7. Despatching: workflow must be scheduled in such a way that processes move smoothly.
  8. Standards and schedules: the establishment of these is, as discussed above, fundamental to the achievement of efficiency.
  9. Standardized conditions workplace conditions should be standardized according to natural scientific precepts, and should evolve as new knowledge becomes available.
  10. Standardised operations: likewise, operations should follow scientific principles, particularly in terms of planning and work methods.
  11. Written instructions: all standards should be recorded in the form of written instructions to workers and foremen, which detail not only the standards themselves but the methods of compliance.
  12. Efficiency reward: if workers achieve efficiency, then they should be duly rewarded.
  • Expert cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 79-80
  • It is psychology, not soil or climate, that enables a man to raise five times as many potatoes per acre as the average in his own state.
    • p. 107 ; cited in: Hugo Münsterberg. Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, 1913, p. 52
  • The type for the great newspaper is set up by linotype operators. Apprenticeship is rigorously limited. Some operators can never get beyond the 2500-em class, others with no more personal effort can set 5000 ems. Do the employers test out applicants for apprenticeship so as to be sure to secure boys who will develop into the 5000-em class? They do not: they select applicants for any near reason except the fundamental important one of innate fitness.
  • In selecting human assistants such superficialities as education, as physical strength, even antecedent morality, are not as important as the inner attitudes, proclivities, character, which after all determine the man or woman.
  • The competent specialist who has supplemented natural gifts and good judgment by analysis and synthesis can perceive attitudes and proclivities even in the very young, much more readily in those semi-matured, and can with almost infallible certainty point out, not only what work can be undertaken with fair hope of success, but also what slight modification or addition and diminution will more than double the personal power.

Quotes about Harrington Emerson

  • The estimate that at least $1,000,000 a day could be saved by the pursuit of methods of scientific management was first made by Mr. Harrington Emerson. It is submitted that, with aggregate operating expenses by the railroads in 1908 of $1,669,938,717, of which $1,035,437,528 was for labor, this estimate appears moderate.
    • United States. Interstate Commerce Commission, ‎Martin Augustine Knapp (1911), Evidence Taken by the Interstate Commerce Commission in the Matter of Proposed Advances in Freight Rates by Carriers: August to December, 1910.'
  • With the triumph of scientific management, unions would have nothing left to do, and they would have been cleansed of their most evil feature: the restriction of output. To underscore this idea, Taylor fashioned the myth that 'there has never been a strike of men working under scientific management', trying to give it credibility by constant repetition. In similar fashion he incessantly linked his proposals to shorter hours of work, without bothering to produce evidence of "Taylorized" firms that reduced working hours, and he revised his famous tale of Schmidt carrying pig iron at Bethlehem Steel at least three times, obscuring some aspects of his study and stressing others, so that each successive version made Schmidt's exertions more impressive, more voluntary and more rewarding to him than the last. Unlike Harrington Emerson, Taylor was not a charlatan, but his ideological message required the suppression of all evidence of worker's dissent, of coercion, or of any human motives or aspirations other than those his vision of progress could encompass.
    • David Montgomery (1989) The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925. p. 254
  • By the time of Frederick Winslow Taylor's death, the gospel of industrial efficiency preached by American scientific managers was commonplace on both sides of the Atlantic. In the following years of world war, reconstruction, and adjustment, scientific management attracted a new generation of advocates and practitioners, many of whom would have perplexed and shocked Taylor and his immediate circle. Of the entrepreneurs of scientific management who succeeded Frank Gilbreth, Harrington Emerson, Richard Feiss, and other pioneers, none was more successful than Charles Eugene Bedaux (1886-1944). Unlike Tay­lor and his colleagues, Bedaux was and still is a mysterious figure. Secretive to a fault, he avoided professional contacts, refused to write for popular or technical journals, and spurned publicity. Yet he was a master salesman whose operations were global in scope and impact. Only in recent years, with the discovery of the papers of the British Bedaux Company, is it possible to gauge the impact of Bedaux and his extraordinary career.
    • Kreis, Steven. "The diffusion of scientific management: the Bedaux company in America and Britain, 1926-1945." A Mental Revolution: Scientific Management and Taylor (1992): 156-74.
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