Harvard Business School Baker Library Historical Collections
The Human Factor - Introducing the Industrial Life Photograph Collection at the Baker Library

Harvard Business School Baker Library Historical Collections

The Human Factor

Introducing the Industrial Life Photograph Collection at the Baker Library

The Worker: The Human Factor

The more you see of modern machines, the more
may you, too, respect the men who make and manipulate them.
Lewis Hine, 1932

The chain of industrial production ultimately rested upon the worker. Affirming the role of the employee, then, became part of a growing trend in management as a way to inspire collaboration and reduce alienation experienced in the repetitive nature of standardized working conditions. Elton Mayo, professor of industrial research at Harvard, concluded, in his analyses of worker behavior at the Western Electric Hawthorne Plant in the mid 1920s, that recognition and a sense of belonging played a critical role in influencing employees’ productivity and morale. The images students could study in the industrial photograph collection both brilliantly illustrated Elton’s ideology and addressed Davenport’s concern that business school students tended “to look upon labor as a commodity and to ignore the human relations involved.”

Among the collection’s holdings were the kinds of photographs publicity departments used to dispel the notion of the soulless corporation and at the same time encourage workers to view themselves as vital parts of a meaningful whole. Photographers like Lewis Hine shifted emphasis to heroic depictions of workers. “I thought I had done my share of negative documentation, and I wanted to do something positive,” he wrote. Individual portraits created by Hine and others illustrate employees handling tools and machinery with focused intensity and skill—classically composed photographs that projected a message of employee pride within a smoothly functioning corporate family.

© 2012 President and Fellows of Harvard College

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