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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 13

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 15
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p251  Chapter XIV

Stiffening of a Secretarial Spine

It didn't occur to me that the Navy Department would not jump at this opportunity to place an officer, free of cost, for instruction under such an eminent engineer as Fred W. Taylor. It happened that the railroad-rate cases, on which public attention was focused, had recently been heard before the Interstate Commerce Commission, and in those hearings a great deal had been said about scientific management. All of the experts who upheld scientific management there gave Fred W. Taylor credit for developing it. It was the public's first real introduction to the science. Newspapers and magazines were full of articles on scientific management, and the nation was charmed by some of its miraculous results.

Furthermore, the War Department, under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Crozier, Chief of Ordnance, had installed the Taylor system of shop management in the Watertown Arsenal, and the whole country knew of that. It was unthinkable that the Navy Department would reject the public-spirited offer of Mr. Taylor to train a selected officer so that he might introduce scientific shop efficiency into the great navy yards, where so many millions of Government dollars were spent. To make it certain that the Navy would get the benefit of my course, in my application for the leave I bound myself to remain in the service for at least two years after finishing with Mr. Taylor, and longer, if the department requested it.

My answer was a curt note from Secretary Meyer refusing my request on the ground that it was "not the practice of the department to grant extended leave of absence to officers."

 p252  I was not going to let it drop with that. Obtaining a short leave, I went East and consulted with Mr. Taylor. Meanwhile, I had formally appealed to President Taft from the decision of the Secretary of the Navy. Mr. Taylor said he would intercede for me with the President. He obtained an appointment, and I went with him to the interview. The engineer explained to Mr. Taft my qualifications and showed him the advantages that would accrue to the Navy, if I were granted the leave. The President was noncommittal.

My appeal to the President is too long a document to reprint here, but anyone interested can find it at the end of this book as Appendix B. One point in my argument which I have not touched heretofore was that scientific management could save $12,000,000 a year in the operation of the navy yards, which was then about the cost of a first‑class battle­ship. In other words, with no increase in the appropriations, the Navy could have an additional battle­ship every year.

Nearly a month elapsed before I received the President's decision. It was No. Addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, it read as follows:

"The appeal of Naval Constructor Evans from your decision refusing to grant him a year's leave of absence to enable him to study scientific shop management with Mr. Fred W. Taylor has been received and considered. I am strongly in favor of the improvement of business methods in the Government, but I am familiar with the efforts you have made in this direction, and I must concur with you in your judgment as to the proper method of securing these improvements. Were you to yield to the personal predilections of every Naval Constructor as to the best method to be pursued and studied, you would find yourself very much embarrassed by diverse counsel and theories. For this reason I concur in your refusal to grant the leave requested."

 p253  The whole affair of Mr. Taylor's offer and its refusal by the Government broke into the newspapers and occasioned a good deal of sarcastic editorial comment. The Seattle Times said in part:

"This is bureaucracy and officialism raised to its highest power. They have no use for people who know too much in the Departments. Here was a man offered an opportunity to study executive methods in the conduct of shops according to modern scientific practice, but the Department has no use for such upsetting ideas. They almost smack of insubordination. Mr. Bumble appears to find his way into high places. No wonder the Navy Yards cannot compete."

Mr. Taylor had had every confidence that President Taft would grant my leave, and when refusal came instead, his surprise was utter. He wrote me an indignant letter, with words of disapproval for Mr. Meyer and also for Mr. Taft.

Secretary Meyer's next step was an astonishing one. Securing an appointment to see Mr. Taylor at his home at Chestnut Hill, the Secretary called with his aide, Captain Andrews, and made a most unexpected proposal, preposterous and in audacity verging on the insulting. Whether he was becoming genuinely interested in scientific management or was answering the criticism which had been leveled at his department, he now proposed to send not one but three officers — line officers — to the engineer for his instruction. Moreover, the Secretary did not propose to burden Mr. Taylor with the expense of such instruction. He would order the officers to this duty, the Navy Department paying for everything.

Such inconsistency would be incredible in a Cabinet officer, if there were not a simple explanation of it. I couldn't get leave without pay, because it was not the policy of the department "to give officers extended leave of absence." Yet Mr. Meyer was willing to detail line officers — three of them — at full pay to receive  p254 the same instruction. My "personal predilections" for the Taylor system had now evidently become the Secretary's, and before the ink was fairly dry on my letter of refusal. My "diverse counsel" by which the Secretary would find himself so embarrassed, had now been adopted by him.

Of course, the answer was that certain busybodies among the Sea Lords had led the Secretary to believe that I was not the proper one to have the Taylor instruction. They didn't want me back in the Construction Corps with the prestige that Fred W. Taylor would give me. If the Secretary were bound to introduce efficiency into the navy yards, at least they did not want the Mare Island trouble-maker cracking the reorganization whip over their heads.

Mr. Taylor kept me fully informed about his conferences with Secretary Meyer, sending me long and detailed letters. In telling about these interchanges, I shall be quoting Mr. Taylor's words as he wrote them to me.

In his first indignation the efficiency engineer proceeded to read Secretary Meyer a lecture in industrial management.

"The officers you propose to send to me, Mr. Secretary, are not qualified to receive my instruction," he said. "When an officer has aptitude for management, and has spent at least ten years continuously in active management, and during that time has studied Scientific Management and has applied the general principles to his work, he is then ready to take the post-graduate course that I am able to give him.

"It would be a waste of my time and theirs for me to attempt to instruct the line officers which you wish to send me. Mr. Evans has gone much further than I have indicated. He has not only studied Scientific Management, but he has at Mare Island, without any assistance and under the greatest difficulties, given a practical demonstration of what can be accomplished in the Navy Yards. He has already made a notable success in this field.  p255 It is for these reasons I made the offer to take him and give him a short course in a wider field than he is able to have in the Government service."

Secretary Meyer did not give up. With Captain Andrews, he made several subsequent visits to the house in Chestnut Hill, trying to persuade Mr. Taylor to accept officers of their own choosing as students. Both the Secretary and his aide repeatedly assured Taylor of their great interest in scientific management and their determination to introduce it in the navy yards.

"If you are really interested in good management," Mr. Taylor would reply, "then why do you keep Evans at Seattle doing nothing?"

The Secretary's answer was to the effect that I was a trouble-maker.

Gradually, though, the influence of Mr. Taylor on Secretary Meyer, and the engineer's persistent endorsement of me as the man to introduce scientific efficiency into the navy yards, began to tell. Mr. Meyer gained the reputation of being an able executive as Postmaster General under Theodore Roosevelt, and he quit the Navy Department with that reputation unimpaired. In many ways he was a good Secretary. By now he was getting firmly seated in his Secretarial chair and was less dependent on the advice of those by whom he was surrounded. Especially when he got away from Washington he was disposed to think for himself. I think he sincerely meant to put the navy yards on an efficient organization plan. But in the end he found that the opposition was so strong and determined that he could not prevail against it.

My first intimation of change came in a letter from Mr. Taylor, who wrote me, "The great powers have relented. You will soon be ordered East. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me I see signs that they are getting disturbed about the mess they are making with the Navy Yards."

 p256  A few days later he wrote me that I would be ordered as superintending constructor at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Me., where several destroyers were building. He wrote, "Don't worry about the new duty. You will not spend much time at Bath. The idea is to get you East, where you can be called on as needed. I can tell you no more, but I believe there are better times ahead for efficiency."

Official confirmation soon came, and in May, 1911, I went to Bath. I had been there about a month, when I received telegraphic orders for temporary duty at Watertown Arsenal to observe the Taylor methods being introduced there by General Crozier.

For many years I assumed that the good offices of Mr. Taylor were responsible for these surprising assignments. Recently, in recovering and going over my Navy record, I found there two telegrams from Mr. Meyer. The first, dated June 26, 1911, was addressed to his private secretary and read:

"Tell Navigation order Constructor Evans Watertown temporary duty scientific management stop issue telegraphic orders."

The second came from Canada and was dated the following July 14th:

"Order Constructor Evans continue Watertown until the end of the month."

What a change! Only a short time before I had been rusticating in a trivial job at Seattle, considered by the Secretary as a fit subject for court martial. Now the Secretary himself was giving his personal attention to see that I had suitable and agreeable duties.

Temporary duty at Watertown Arsenal was a memorable experience. Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wheeler and Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Williams, skilled managers  p257 both of them, had made wonder­ful progress in installing scientific management, and the efficiency of the plant was very high and all the more conspicuous in contrast with those institutions of the Navy which still clung to old‑time methods.

Warmed by this first sunshine of official favor, I made bold to write to Captain Andrews, Mr. Meyer's aide, saying that I would like the opportunity to place before the Secretary a plan for the organization of navy yards. His reply came that I should soon have an opportunity to state my views where they would have official weight. The Secretary had just set up the Vreeland Board to work out a reorganization plan, and he was making me a member.

In April I had been the redheaded stepchild of the department. In July I was on one of the most important Navy boards of Mr. Meyer's administration.

Captain Andrews must have sent on my letter to the Secretary, for at Watertown I received an invitation from Mr. Meyer to visit him at his home in Hamilton, Mass., near Boston. I went there, and he greeted me cordially, saying he was anxious to get my views on navy yard organization. I had my plan fully written out. As I handed distant to him, I told him there was a "joker" in it.

"What is the joker?" he asked.

I said, "I would prefer to tell you that when you have read it."

He carefully went through the typewritten pages. When he had finished reading, he said, "I don't find any joker here. It seems perfectly clear."

"The joker is, Mr. Secretary," I said, "that I leave the commandant in nominal control, but actually I have provided a manager. At the yard where the plan is first put into effect there will be an officer assisted by a civilian expert who, outside of the military organization, will actually be in control of the industrial yard and will direct all industrial activities."

Why did I make such an arrangement? he wanted to know. I told him I felt sure he would not approve a real manager.

 p258  "You are mistaken about my views," he replied. "I have no objection to a real manager. What you have proposed appears to me to be good. It will be up to you to convince Admiral Vreeland's board."

"That's a big order," I said. "It's perfectly useless for me to try to convince the board. All the members know what's been happening in the navy yards, and they are satisfied you will not allow a competent manager. The Vreeland Board will never make a report distasteful to you."

"Then what do you suggest?" he asked.

I replied, "You might write a letter to the board telling it what you desire."

Secretary Meyer said that he didn't like to dictate to the board. I concealed my smile. I knew Navy boards, and Mr. Meyer after two years in office surely must have known them, too. But I played make-believe with him.

"Of course not," I said. "You don't have to dictate. Suppose you just write to Admiral Vreeland something like this: 'If the board of which you are senior member finds it advantageous to introduce into the navy yard organization a mechanical superintendent, who, under the control of the commandant, will direct the operation of the shops, drydocks, wharves, storehouses, etc., I have no objection.' "

"I like that," he exclaimed. "Write it out for me."

I did so, and he told me he would have it copied into a letter which he would send to Admiral Vreeland.

It is difficult for me to describe my feelings as I left the home of the Secretary in Hamilton. From the very bottom of the technical side of the Navy I had suddenly been elevated to a position in influence very near the top.

Secretary Meyer's change of attitude toward me was so marked that the service papers gossiped about it. I have never  p259 known what caused his change, but I have my guesses. In the beginning he had received an unfavorable impression of me from the bureaucrats in his office. Eventually he realized that in yielding to their pleas to upset the Newberry organization of the yards, he had made a mistake. In his attempt to rectify it, he consulted the leading efficiency engineers — not only Mr. Taylor, but Mr. Gant, Mr. Day, and Mr. Emerson. He became a convert to their science. But these same men, the leaders in the science he wished to adopt, all spoke to him of me as the officer in the Navy most likely to succeed in an efficient reorganization of the yards.

Thus the Secretary, at least temporarily, came over to my side.

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