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Managing the Human Factor

The Early Years of Human Resource Management in American Industry

Bruce E. Kaufman

Publication Year: 2008

Human resource departments are key components in the people management system of nearly every medium-to-large organization in the industrial world. They provide a wide range of essential services relating to employees, including recruitment, compensation, benefits, training, and labor relations. A century ago, however, before the concept of human resource management had been invented, the supervision and care of employees at even the largest companies were conducted without written policies or formal planning, and often in harsh, arbitrary, and counterproductive ways.

How did companies such as United States Steel manage a workforce of 160,000 employees at dozens of plants without a specialized personnel or industrial relations department? What led some of these organizations to introduce human resources practices at the end of the nineteenth century? How were the earliest personnel departments structured and what were their responsibilities? And how did the theory and implementation of human resources management evolve, both within industry and as an academic field of research and teaching?

In Managing the Human Factor, Bruce E. Kaufman chronicles the origins and early development of human resource management (HRM) in the United States from the 1870s, when the Labor Problem emerged as the nation's primary domestic policy concern, to 1933 and the start of the New Deal. Through new archival research, an extensive review and synthesis of the historical and contemporary literatures, and case studies illustrating best (and worst) practices during this period, Kaufman identifies the fourteen ideas, events, and movements that led to the creation of specialized HRM departments in the late 1910s, as well as their further growth and development into strategic business units in the welfare capitalism period of the 1920s.

The research presented in this book not only uncovers many new aspects of the early development of personnel and industrial relations but also challenges central parts of the contemporary interpretation of the concept and evolution of HRM. Rich with insights on both the present and past of human resource management, Managing the Human Factor will be widely regarded as the definitive account of the early history of employee management in American companies and a must-read for all those interested in the indispensable function of managing people in organizations.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-10

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pp. ix-xii

I started my academic career in the late 1970s as a more-or-less traditional labor economist, but then a decade later started to become interested in the historical side of the subject. A major impetus came in 1989 when I was asked to teach a new course entitled “Evolution of Thought and Practice in Personnel and Employment...

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1. Early Human Resource Management: Issues and Themes

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pp. 1-35

This book chronicles the birth and early development of what was originally called personnel management (PM) and industrial relations (IR), but which today is widely known as human resource management (HRM). HRM and its predecessors have an intellectual and vocational side: in the former case...

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2. Early Human Resource Management: Literature Review

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pp. 36-54

A brief review of the existing literature on the birth and early development of HRM helps put this study in context and highlights important issues and contributions. Well-regarded works by historians are considered first since they are the most substantive and in-depth on the subject. Following next are...

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3. The Roots of the Human Resource Management Function

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pp. 55-135

The birth, emergence, and early development of a formalized, autonomous human resource management function in American industry occurred over a roughly half-century period, beginning in the early to mid-1880s and extending through the mid to late 1920s. Since the story is complex and lengthy, I split it...

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4. The Emergence of the Human Resource Management Function

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pp. 136-198

Chapter 3 described the early roots of the HRM function, including the Labor Problem and ten other developments or movements emanating from it that in various ways sought to bring greater order, rationality, and fairness to the management of labor. This chapter resumes the story, starting in about...

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5. Human Resource Management in Prosperity and Depression

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pp. 199-279

From 1918 to 1920 several hundred American companies created a personnel/industrial relations department to administer and coordinate labor management. These departments were a new and untried innovation, born in the hot house political and economic conditions of World War I and its immediate...

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Conclusion: Insights and Implications

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pp. 280-306

Having surveyed a half-century of development in early human resource management, it is now time to conclude with a brief summary of insights and implications. Many of these findings and implications are of interest to both academic and nonacademic readers; several, however, are specifically addressed...


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pp. 307-364


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pp. 365-376

About the Author

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pp. 377-393

E-ISBN-13: 9780801461668
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801442278

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1