By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting
The library of the American Textile History Museum holds a collection of over 2,700 reports created by the Barnes Textile Associates. One of America’s earlier management consulting firms, the company was founded in 1910 by Joel M. Barnes and kept headquarters in Boston’s financial district (at varying locations, including 101 Milk Street, and later, 10 High Street) along with additional offices in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. From the time of its inception until at least the late 1960s, the company specialized in streamlining manufacturing processes at textile mills up and down the East Coast. The reports in ATHM’s Barnes collection, which span the years 1925 to 1971, are typed on onionskin paper and occupy 66 feet of shelf space. While they represent but a fraction of the firm’s production, they give a wealth of insight into the burgeoning field of management consulting.
The establishment of the field itself is credited to MIT graduate Arthur D. Little, who founded his still extant Boston firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., in 1886. With the rapid expansion of manufacturing capability in America during that time and over the several decades following, there came an increasing interest in techniques for maximizing worker efficiency (and with it, profits). In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is known as the father of the scientific management and efficiency movement, published his highly influential work The Principles of Scientific Management. His championing of such tools as the time study—essentially, a formalized way of tracking the movements of workers as they performed their tasks, with the intent of highlighting and eliminating any wasteful motions—led to their widespread use in manufacturing, and encouraged the mushrooming of companies like the Barnes Textile Associates.
ATHM’s Barnes reports contain a profusion of detailed time studies, payroll analyses, and cost comparisons, as well as extensive written recommendations for labor economies within the mills. Beyond advice for changes to workers’ movements or the layout of machinery, these include suggestions such as paying workers by the piece instead of by the hour, and instituting bonus systems to encourage even higher productivity.
Many scholars have explored the ramifications to American workers—and society as a whole—of Taylor’s legacy, asserting that the ideas he promoted resulted in skill reduction, disempowerment, and ultimately, alienation among workers. However, at least in the case of the American textile industry, the changes implemented at the direction of firms like Barnes most likely helped many mills survive longer than they would have otherwise.