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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 8

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 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p199  Chapter IX

More about Scientific Management

At once I was ready to throw myself again into the task of improving my department. No routine work had piled up during my absence in San Francisco. I now had a top organization, with able assistants who could run the plant as well when I was away as if I had been present.

Shop by shop I was introducing scientific management into the construction department at Mare Island. I am not going to bore the reader with the sometimes almost miraculous results in all of them but merely give a few striking examples of improvement in shop efficiency.

A large, smoky, dirty blacksmith shop, with many forges, would scarcely seem to be a propitious place in which to revolutionize methods and obtain greatly improved results. Yet in our blacksmith shop the Taylor System scored such an outstanding success that the fame of it went beyond the confines of this country.

I suspected that our blacksmiths were not producing all the work they should. Yet how can one go into a blacksmith shop and tell by observation where time or effort is being wasted? With scientific management, the executive does not have to use his ordinary observation. The applied system discovers the faults for him almost automatically, afterward he has to use his ingenuity to correct them.

To explain how this is done, perhaps I had better tell how I proceeded in our blacksmith shop. First I instituted time-studies in the shop. A time-study is made by a competent observer with a stop-watch timing the various elements of an industrial operation.  p200 To obtain a fair average, he makes studies of several workmen of each class. In reading this average, the executive must remember that a worker under observation does better than when no official eye is on him.

All of the data collected by the observer are assembled in the form of a diagram which shows clearly the average time taken for each important element of the work. This diagram goes to the executive for study.

At once I noticed the inordinate time consumed in "waiting for heats." "Waiting for a heat" is the interval during which the blacksmith is not actively working but is standing by his fire waiting for the metal piece in the forge to reach the proper temperature for working. The diagram, therefore, showed me that "waiting for heats" must be my first point of attack. It was there where the most working time was being lost. To get any large increase in output, the waiting-for‑heats interval must be materially shortened.

What was the matter? Was the fuel right? It was a high-priced blacksmith coal from the East, but an investigation showed that it was not the best for our forges. We changed coal and brought about some improvement, but not nearly enough.

Then, were any of the blacksmiths soldiering on the job — killing time by nursing their fires? I suspected that some of them were, but I couldn't prove it. All I knew was that a large forge was an ideal place for unnecessarily nursing the fire and one's job, too.

Usually the solution for soldiering on the job is the piece-work system. But a blacksmith shop, in which each new job differs from the last, does not lend itself well to the piece-work plan. Besides, I was having trouble enough as it was introducing piece-work into other shops where the jobs were largely repetitious.

It was a tough nut to crack, until I began to think about fuel  p201 oil. Fuel oil was plenti­ful and cheap on the Pacific Coast. It was being used everywhere in closed furnaces. Could it also be used in open smithy fires? Nobody knew. It had never been tried anywhere.

I began an investigation, experimenting for weeks to determine the correct form of the forge, the best type of oil‑burner, the most advantageous air pressure, and a circulation system that would supply the oil hot to every forge. At length we set up a trial forge and put a good man to work at it. It was an instant success.

Thereupon I threw out all the coal forges and created the first oil‑burning blacksmith shop in the world. But it was more than that. It was changing a sooty, smoky cavern into a bright, clean, cheerful workroom, for the oil flames gave off little smoke. An oil forge could not be nursed, so that the heats required less time. At net result was that I increased output by 40 per cent while cutting the cost of fuel in two.

This installation at Mare Island attracted the attention of the industrial world. Our technical journals devoted much space to it. In England the London Financier printed a long article about it, urging British manufacturers to investigate fuel‑oil welding in the interest of the national economy.

While I was making this transformation I received an outside offer for my services so flattering that for a while I was sorely tempted to leave the Navy. John A. Macgregor, who had recently become president of the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, then thought he did not like California as a place of residence. With the approval of Mr. Schwab, he offered me a five-year contract to become vice president and general manager of the plant at a salary of $12,000 a year and bonuses, the understanding being that Mr. Macgregor would shortly resign and I would be made president. The offer included life insurance of  p202 $35,000 for five years in favor of my estate and a cash payment of $5,000 to cover my cost of moving and settling in San Francisco.

Mr. Macgregor had me to dinner with him one evening at the St. Francis Hotel and afterwards made me this remarkable proposition. I returned to Mare Island exuberant with joy, never dreaming that I would not accept this magnificent opportunity. And why should I not? The Navy was paying me $4,000 a year, with the use of a house. My prospects for advancement, either in rank or pay, were poor. As a young man, in my middle thirties, I had reached the top of my career, except for the remote contingency of appointment some day as chief constructor of the Navy. What was that against a high position and a bright future in a great industrial corporation?

But next day came sober second thought. I remembered my ambitious aims when I left Norfolk for Mare Island. I had come a long way toward the accomplishment of my mission, but there was still much to do. I was in the midst of important changes. If I left, who would carry them on? I knew of no one. Everything would slump back into the old welter of sloth, indifference, and waste. I could not bear to see my work, of which I was so proud, go for naught. Not even twelve thousand a year and bonuses could reconcile me to its loss, and I respectfully declined Mr. Macgregor's offer. Once more I was strong in my resolution to stay with the Navy until I had definitely blazed the path to efficiency and economy, the path which others could easily follow.

The San Francisco and Vallejo newspapers had been announcing my early resignation, the latter rather jubilantly, but now they found they had on their hands once more the obnoxious Mr. Evans. Before long I was confronted with a strike — the first navy yard strike in our history.​a My riveters "downed tools" and walked out.

 p203  The strike resulted from a head‑on collision between my efficiency policy and what I was calling the don't-give‑up-the‑ship policy of the navy yard labor unions. It seemed to me that Lawrence's dying words should not apply to a ship in a navy yard undergoing repairs.

In the drydock I had the large Army transport Sheridan.​b She had been badly damaged; the whole bottom of the vessel had to come out. I went after this job in competition with private shipyards. Their best estimate was that the work would require over one hundred days. I promised the Army completion within seventy days.

The first big operation was the removal of thousands upon thousands of rivets. I spent hours in the drydock with the workmen, trying to hurry the work along, but Don't-give‑up-the‑ship was too much for me. The men were on the pay-by‑the‑day basis. At our rate of progress I saw that not only would we not deliver the ship to the Army in the promised time, but we could not even meet the time guaranteed by the private yards.

From my time-studies I knew these rivets should be coming out four times as fast as they were. Therefore I established a liberal price that assured very high wages with proper output and threw the job into piece-work. The union was violently opposed to piece-work and called a strike.

It put me into a bad fix. In the dock was a now completely disabled ship. My men refused to work. If I yielded to them, it would give the yard a black eye and injure my prestige for securing any more Army work. If I didn't yield and the strike went on, there would be the same results.

It was now that the training I began under Matt Doughty served me in good stead. I knew how to handle men, and I knew these men. I knew that the good men in the union really wanted piece-work for the sake of the high pay. I knew it annoyed them to keep their output down to that of the poor men.

 p204  It was no shop committee for me then, no delegation of union leaders. I called a mass meeting of the strikers and met them face to face. I showed them how it was entirely to their advantage to go on piece-work — nobody would suffer and most would benefit. I preached pride in their yard. If we built up a fine reputation, it meant plenty of jobs and steady work for them. There was everything to be said for efficiency and nothing for Don't-give‑up-the‑ship. In spite of the arguments of the union officials, the strikers voted my way, and soon the pneumatic hammers were ringing and the pneumatic drills were singing.

The aftermath was an unexpected but very welcome surprise. Before, in my controversies with labor, I had made out my case and sent it to the Navy Department in Washington, but never got any reply. I didn't expect any. If the department replied, most likely it would be to express disapproval. Silence here was truly golden.

But now I received a letter from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Truman H. Newberry, commending me on the way I handled the riveters' strike. This was something new in my naval experience. And I was impressed by the phraseology, the straight-from-the‑shoulder language. I began to wonder about Mr. Truman H. Newberry.

There was more to come. Despite our slow start and the strike, we had the Sheridan in the water ready for deliver in 66 days. Another letter came from Mr. Newberry, commending this performance. I began to think that at last we had in the Washington front office a civilian who was not allergic to the soft persuasion of the gentlemen in gold braid.

A couple of other experiences in applying the science of management may indicate the opposition one encounters when trying to improve Navy methods. The crusader for efficiency was always rowing against wind and tide.

Accurate cost-accounting was a basic stone in the scientific- p205 management arch. The navy yard cost system was archaic. What was called a cost system was only a large number of clerks compiling records which did not give actual costs and were therefore of little use to the manager.

One of my best assistants, Naval Constructor Sidney Henry, devised a simple cost system meeting the requirements of scientific management. The Bureau of Construction and Repair approved it, and we put it into operation. Under this system, if the head of department and assistants were to keep close watch on costs, the job‑order cards must be delivered promptly. I directed that all cards must be in at four o'clock each afternoon, showing the charges for the preceding day.

At once the suggestion came that two additional clerks would be required — that the existing force could not get out the work so promptly. At Mare Island we took nothing for granted. Mr. Henry went into the clerical department and made a study. He sat beside each clerk for several hours, then excused him for the following day when Mr. Henry did the clerk's work himself. There wasn't one desk he couldn't clear at least one hour before quitting time. After that we heard no more about additional clerks, and our job‑order cards came in on time.

Wood-calking is such a simple operation nobody would suppose the navy yard calkers had for years been doing a ridiculously small amount of work in a day without detection. The system of employment of calkers had a good deal to do with their soldiering. Calking jobs came into the yard only intermittently. As a result we did not employ a permanent force of wood-calkers. Instead, whenever we had calking to do, we sent out a call to calkers of Vallejo and other Bay ports and put twenty to thirty to work at once, discharging them when the job was finished.

It was human nature to make those jobs last as long as possible. As a result, of all the classes of workmen in the yard, the wood-calkers most enthusiastically endorsed the motto, "Don't  p206 give up the ship!"

When we began to study calking we found that the equivalent of 80 to 100 feet of three-thread work was recognized as "a fair day's work." But what is a fair day's work? Our own eyes and common sense told us that the accepted calker's "fair day's work" was much too little.

Keeping the same employment system and still paying by the day, we managed to spur on our wood-calkers until they had increased the day's output to 250 feet. This was a great improvement, but it had only gone to convince me that still greater speed was easily possible, though we could not raise the mark on the pay-by‑the‑day plan. The next step must be piece-work.

I selected the four best men in the force and suggested to them that they might do all the calking of the yard, it they were willing to do it on a piece-work basis. Furthermore, if the work ran out at times, I would furlough, not discharge, them between jobs. Then I gave them the piece-work rate, which was based on 250 feet a day. If they continued to work as they had, they would draw just the wages they had been receiving. If they could increase their output, they would find the benefit in their pay envelopes.

The men accepted, all incentive for soldiering now removed. At once they jumped up their output to 380 and 400 feet a day. This with a little different from the 80‑to‑100‑feet "fair day's work" we found at the beginning — an efficiency increase of 400 to 500 per cent. Our calkers now earned high wages, were satisfied, and never gave the management the slightest trouble.

Scientific management teaches that in many manual processes in the factory there is a correct form that is just as effective in its results as is "form" and swinging a golf club or a baseball bat. I can best give the reader an idea of the form developed for our wood-calkers by relating an anecdote.

The battle­ship fleet, on the cruise around the world, arrived  p207 in San Francisco for a short stay. Washington telegraphed that the main deck of one of the ships — the Alabama, if my memory is correct — was leaking and to send men to San Francisco to recalk the decks. I dispatched our crack quartette.

Presently the commandant rang me up. He had a message from the Alabama complaining of my ridiculous action in sending only four men to do twenty men's work. I was to send additional calkers at once, as the ship would not be long in port. I told the commandant that I was just leaving for the fleet and would satisfy the commanding officer of the Alabama.

When I boarded that ship I found my four calkers at work and a group of officers watching them with amazement and admiration. They had never seen calkers work like this before. The men arranged the work so that the breeze would not retard laying out the oakum. They sat on stools with rollers, in order to move their positions quickly and easily. They worked in pairs, so that they could shift the muscular movement from right arm over right shoulder, when "tucking in," to a two‑arm movement over right or left shoulder when "making down." Punctually at the end of each hour they stopped work, sat or lay on the deck, and completely relaxed and rested for just ten minutes. Then they were at it again.

That was scientific management.

We often sent our output records to the Construction Bureau in Washington, which sent copies of them to other navy yards. Some of these did not relish our calking figures. One naval constructor rather more than insinuated that we cheated a bit to get such figures.

He stated that the number of feet calked was no measure of a man's work. It was easy to skimp in the amount of oakum put in and make a great footage record. The pounds of oakum put in the seams in a day was the true measure. By such a measure, he said, his calkers at Norfolk would be found the equal of any in  p208 the country.

I showed letter to my shop superintendent, Naval Constructor Fisher, a mild, quiet, tactful sort of chap but a demon on facts. He read the letter and smiled.

"We won't have any trouble answering that," he said. "I always keep a record of the pounds of oakum used by each man every day."

We sent on our poundage figures. By his own yardstick our calkers showed up those of Norfolk worse than before. We heard no more from our naval constructor-critic on the subject of wood-calking.

At Mare Island we halved the former cost of building small Navy boats. It had cost $1,100 for labor in retubing a destroyer boiler. We were able to retube three at $400 each in direct labor cost. It once took 120 hours to make a standard Navy hammock. We reduced the time to 72 hours. It had taken 12 hours to make an 800‑pound coaling bag. We cut this to 2⅔ hours. I give such details so that the reader may understand important developments which followed.

Our sheer efficiency at Mare Island now scored its supreme triumph. The Navy ordered two large fleet colliers — one, the Vestal, to be built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; the other, the Prometheus, to be built at Mare Island. For many reasons Brooklyn should have cut deeply under our cost. At Mare Island we were paying wages 25 per cent higher than those in the Brooklyn Yard. Our costs of many materials were much higher, due to heavy transportation charges across the country. Brooklyn had much experience in building big ships, having even built the battle­ship Connecticut. Mare Island had built only one small training ship. Finally, Brooklyn had ample ship-building facilities, whereas we were deficient in them at Mare Island, in particular lacking a plate shop.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these handicaps, our  p209 ships cost the Government materially less tension did the Brooklyn shape. The figures were — and I quote from page 365 of the House Naval Committee Hearings, Year 1911:

Vestal, Brooklyn Navy Yard; total cost, $1,623,664.

Prometheus, Mare Island Navy Yard; total cost, $1,512,828.

This record brought more opposition than commendation to those of us who accomplished it. Deductions from these experiences, if applied to the complete organization, might have resulted in certain high-ranking line officers losing their soft cushions on shore.

But in my own department I could regard my first goal as attained. No other navy yard in the country could produce a department that even approached mine in efficiency. But, for reasons which I will set forth in the next chapter, the efficiency of a single yard department was often frustrated or even wasted, unless it could co‑operate with other departments equally efficient.

That must be my next big step, the really important step, the one that would save my country millions of dollars — the complete reorganization of all the navy yards of the United States.

Thayer's Notes:

a Before this strike (May 1 to June 17, 1907) there had been at least one other strike at the Mare Island Navy Yard, declared on Sep. 15, 1899 and still going in November. The following brief article in the San Francisco Call of Sept. 16, 1899 makes it clear, however, that it was not against the government:

Strike at Mare Island
Shipwrights Refuse to Work on an Outside Job

Vallejo, Sept. 15. — Following the recent cut in wages at Mare Island the shipwrights refused to‑day to work on the San Francisco Bridge Company's dredger, which is now in the dock.

Permission was secured from the authorities by the bridge company, but the mechanics say that while they are willing to work for the Government at their present wage until the matter is settled they do not think any outside firm should be allowed to have work done at a less rate than they would have to pay in San Francisco.

[decorative delimiter]

b Commander Evans' memory might just possibly be playing tricks on him here. The Annual Report of the Navy Department for the Fiscal Year 1907, p757, gives the dates of the 1907 strike as May 1 to June 17, and Evans seems very much to be saying that work had already been started on the Sheridan before the strike was declared: but in the entry for Henry P. Kingsbury in the 1910 Supplement to Gen. George W. Cullum's Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, and again in the 1920 Supplement, it is stated that the Sheridan arrived in Oakland, Cal. — apparently from the Philippines — on May 15, 1907.

I have not discovered the correct date; a priori though, the presumption is that the error lies with Cullum's Register, where the ship is incidental and an earlier date of arrival in California wouldn't conflict with the summary it gives of Kingsbury's career.

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