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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
One Man's Fight
for a Better Navy

Holden A. Evans
[Former Naval Constructor, U. S. N.]

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part II
Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p179  Chapter VII

Something New in Shop Methods

To get back to my proper work in the Mare Island Navy Yard, I had told, before the interruption, of my plan for getting a line on the efficiency of the various master workmen, or foremen, in the construction department by giving them suggestions instead of orders.

Some of my superintendents responded well to my suggestion. Some others gave a partial response. Two, the foreman of the machine shop and the foreman of the foundry, were utterly indifferent to my suggestions. These two, I decided, must go, and the sooner the better. Their attitude was not only making improvement impossible in their shops but was retarding development in the other divisions of the plant.

To these two men, therefore, I stopped sending suggestions and gave them positive orders. These orders they failed to obey, thus allowing me to build up cases against them to bring about their discharge.

The two men were, of course, in the Civil Service, and to secure the discharge of a Civil Service employee is a tedious operation, involving the filing of charges, long-drawn‑out investigations, and endless correspondence before Washington gives its final approval. Meanwhile the employee remains on the job, knowing that you are after his scalp and demoralizing any division which he directs. This I wanted to avoid if possible.

I am a believer in the Civil Service, and I know that any energetic executive can rid his department of incompetents under Civil Service regulations, if he takes the trouble to do so. Many executives in the Navy will not take the trouble. Some years  p180 after this I took over several departments that had been in charge of line officers of high rank. I found certain men in these departments whom I regarded as incompetent and whom I deemed it my duty to discharge. It was not the fault of Civil Service regulations that this was so, but was due to laxity on the part of the officers.

Having completed my cases against the two men I wished to discharge, I called the first of them, the master machinist, to my office.

"I am forced to recommend your discharge," I said, "for failure to carry out my instructions. Here is your record, which I am going to forward to substantiate my charges."

Whereupon I read him the record in full. He listened in silence.

"Now, Mr. Jones," I said, when I had finished, "if you want to submit your resignation, it won't be necessary for me to file these charges in your Civil Service record."

He chewed this over for a few moments and then said, "All right. I'll resign."

I called the other man I wished to discharge, followed the same procedure, got the same result. Both men were out, without fuss or delay.

Two Vallejo newspapers that had been abusing me since I began my reforms, now had a real opportunity to fulminate. The two men I had discharged had served for many years under my predecessors, and no other constructor had found fault with them. By forcing such experienced men out, I had shown myself incompetent. Such is the criticism an officer is subjected to for his efforts for an efficient administration.

The resignation of these two men brought immediate results. There was now a general procession toward efficiency. Furthermore, some of the border-land bosses, those who had been giving me lip service without much performance, now buckled down to their jobs. They had seen that I would not hesitate to fire  p181 anyone, and they wondered if I had been compiling inefficiency records against them, too.

For some years I had been reading everything I could find on management in business, and industry. There now fell into my hands the printed text of a most revolutionary essay on shop management delivered before the American Society of Mechanical Engineers by an eastern engineer named Fred W. Taylor. I quote one paragraph from this paper:

Management is destined to become more of an art, and many of the elements which are now believed to be outside the field of exact knowledge will soon be standardized, tabulated, accepted and used, as are now many of the elements of engineering. Management will be studied as an art and will rest upon well-recognized, clearly defined and fixed principles, instead of depending upon more or less hazy ideas received from a limited observation of the few organizations with which the individual may have come in contact.

I refer, of course, to the celebrated Taylor System, now known to the world as scientific management. Since Mr. Taylor's day there has been great progress made in the science of industrial management. Efficiency engineering has become a recognized profession, and studies have extended to such things as the arrangement of machines, the height of benches and stools, and so on. Much of the development traces, however, to this great pioneer.

By analyzing a manufacturing operation into its elemental processes and physical movements and working for improvement there, the Taylor System accomplished miracles in the industrial shop. It demonstrated that the human race, with no greater physical effort, was capable of producing a far greater volume of manufactured goods than it had been turning out. The economic and sociological implications of this fact swept the country. Such a man as Louis D. Brandeis, the late Associate  p182 Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote and spoke in admiration of the Taylor System. By the turn of the first decade of this century, scientific management had become a household phrase, and the word efficiency was an American shibboleth.

Long before this wave of publicity swept the land, I had become a worshiper at the Taylor shrine. Mr. Taylor lived at Chestnut Hill, near Philadelphia, and I on an island in San Francisco Bay, but I wrote to him, and our correspondence started a friendship which not only influenced my life but brought about much improvement in various Government navy yards.

Thus I became one of the first industrial managers to take up scientific management and the first to apply it in a Government plant. Before I left Mare Island for other fields I had accumulated enough experience with the system for a book, Cost Keeping and Scientific Management, which I published in 1911. In it I gave in detail the methods I followed at Mare Island, citing examples of enormous reductions in costs.

In this volume I elaborated Mr. Taylor's definition of management into a five-point formula which, to give the reader an idea of what I was trying to accomplish in the navy yard, I brief here as follows:

1. Determine by careful analysis before work is undertaken exactly what is to be accomplished.

2. Determine the best way to accomplish the work in the quickest time at the lowest cost.

3. Employ the best machines, the best facilities and the best men available.

4. Encourage cordial co‑operation between management and employees in order that both may put forth the best efforts to secure low production costs.

5. Keep an accurate record of the cost of the work in such detail that the various elements of cost may be quickly determined.

 p183  In applying some of the important methods of the Taylor System in the Mare Island Navy Yard, I had the advantage of the services of an energetic young man from the East, Loring V. Estes, who held the position of master machinist. Mr. Estes already knew a great deal about scientific management, having worked in a Philadelphia shop operating under the Taylor System. Because of this fact, I selected the machine shop for the first installation. Thanks largely to Mr. Estes, the improvement in the shop exceeded even my expectations. I planned to move Mr. Estes to other shops to install the system there, but I could not hold him in a job in which there was no future. He resigned and later became a prominent efficiency engineer in Chicago.

More or less the yard labor unions had been opposing all my innovations; but when I introduced scientific management into the machine shop, the opposition became very active. I have only to open my scrapbook to bring back the vivid recollection of those hectic days. Here are some ample headlines from the two Vallejo newspapers that took up the unions' cause: Evans' poor judgment; Evans' peculiar methods; Unions answer constructor Evans; Vallejo mechanics and citizens rise in protest against Evans. One Vallejo paper, the Evening Chronicle, supported me.

At length one change I made brought what I had always expected — a protest from Washington. From the beginning I had adhered to my original resolution never to make a change until I was prepared to defend it. I was prepared this time. In fact, I made a careful advance preparation, building an unanswerable record, before I ordered the change.

When I came to the construction department at Mare Island I found highly paid mechanics doing work that could and ought to have been done by helpers or unskilled laborers. This was general navy yard practice in those days, and I am told it is still the practice in certain eastern yards.

 p184  For example, I found first-class machinists running Jones & Lamson turret lathes on repetition work. This is all wrong, for any helper or even unskilled laborer can do the work, when the machine has been set up by the tool-maker. Estes and I decided to replace the first-class machinists with helpers.

But I moved warily. First, I checked the work of one machinist, told him his output was low, and asked him to improve it. The request brought no result. I took him off the machine and replaced him with another first-class machinist. His output proved to be exactly the same as the first man's, and a request for improvement brought no result. A third machinist went on the lathe, and once more it was the same story.

Now in every shop there are young men who have not served apprenticeships but who are ambitious and anxious to learn. We selected one of this class and had a reliable man instruct him in the operation of the lathe. The result was much better than I expected. In three days the helper was equaling the output of a first-class machinist. In ten days he was exceeding it by fifty per cent. We replaced all the first-hand machinists with helpers at the lathes.

The unions sent a strong protest to Washington. I replied with the record. It was not skilled machine work, otherwise no unskilled helper could learn it in three days. The helper's output was half again as much as the machinist's. Cost of repetition lathe work had been cut in two. The Navy Department approved my action. It could do nothing else. I may add that before my term of service at Mare Island was over, I inaugurated many drastic changes that brought protests, but never once did the construction bureau or the department itself fail to sustain me.

Blocked in this attempt, the local unions tried a new tack. They appealed to the unions and central bodies in San Francisco and other Bay cities. These in turn besought the San Francisco, Oakland, and other business associations to assist in having  p185 me removed. They charged that I was ruining the navy yard, reducing employment, damaging Pacific Coast business interests.

This was touching a sensitive nerve. Anything tending to injure the "Coast" got serious attention. A joint committee of the business associations sent me a summary of the charges and invited me to appear before the committee, with the labor leaders, for a hearing. The normal naval officer, the line officer, would spurn a request to appear for trial before a body of civilians. But I wanted to get these important men interested in the yard and its affairs, I wanted their support. I accepted the invitation.

We met one evening in San Francisco. Five representatives of the commercial interests were present, three labor leaders, and myself. The labor leaders presented the charges. As each complaint was put forward, I was allowed to answer. The jury — the business representatives — asked many questions both of the labor leaders and me. By midnight it was clear even to the labor men that they had failed to make out a case.

The labor men then tried the appeal to emotion. The leader, Mr. Sweeney, president of the Iron Trades Council, made a speech in which he referred to me as having been "reared in the lap of luxury, educated at Government expense, and with no knowledge of hard work." I replied that the "lap of luxury" in which I was reared was a sawmill in which I had put in years of hard work, eleven hours a day, at a dollar a day.

The business men, after conferring, said they could find no grounds for the complaint but were willing to send a competent committee to Mare Island to investigate at first hand, and they invited the unions to send a representative with the committee. The unions declined. The business committee came, and the members were amazed and delighted at the progress which had been made and at the high efficiency of the construction department. As will be seen later, I had won a strong support for my efforts.

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