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THE LONG REACH OF HARVARD'S FATIGUE LABORATORY, 1926-1947 CARLETON B. CHAPMAN* The Fatigue Laboratory of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, born 1927, died 1947, was a unit of unique structure and design, committed to research in general physiology and, through its own work and that ofits second- and third-generation progeny, is still making impressive waves [1-6]. But in its time it was a magnificent anomaly, and, ironically, therein in some measure lie the secrets of its success and the reasons for its demise after 20 immensely productive years. Its successes and its demise, the irony and the anomaly, are intricately bound up in the story of its origins and its activities during the 2 decades of its existence. The precise beginning of the Fatigue Lab is difficult to pin down. There is, however, no doubt that it came about because of a meeting of the minds of three men: Wallace Brett Donham (1877-1954), dean of Harvard's Business School; George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), associate professor of industrial research from 1926 to 1947; and Lawrence J. Henderson (1878-1942), professor of biological chemistry in Harvard College (later Lawrence Professor of Chemistry) [7, pp. 124-128]. Donham, who had become dean of the Business School in 1919, was a lawyer-banker and academic visionary. Mayo, more sociologist than bioscientist , was recommended to Donham, almost certainly by L. J. Henderson , with the result that, in late 1926, Donham sought faculty appointment for Mayo at the Business School. President Lowell, dubious at first because of the lack of permanent funding for Mayo and his program, finally agreed to the appointment (March 30, 1926) [8]. This speech was delivered in part at the 36th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, June 1989. The author is indebted to the fine staff of Baker Library at Harvard Business School, especially to Ms. Elise Thall whose knowledge of the holdings of the library and patience puts him very much in her debt. *Visiting professor of the History of Medicine, TheJohns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Address: 2 Allen Lane, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755.© 1990 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 003 1-5982/91/3401-0706$01 .00. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 34, 1 ¦ Autumn 1990 \ 17 Within a year Mayo, in a letter to Dean Donham, was deploring the lack of "competent investigation of the physiological changes induced in the human organism by the conditions of . . . daily work" [9]. At the same time, he said that Henderson's experimental work had already begun to point in this direction and suggested that, in planning a laboratory for such purposes, Arlie Bock, clinical investigator at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and David Bruce Dill, research fellow then working with Bock, should be involved [9]. With Donham's meticulous cooperation, the laboratory was planned and constructed in the basement of Morgan Hall in 1927 and was immediately off and running. All five men (Henderson, Mayo, Donham, Bock, and Dill) were, each in his own way, indispensable in the planning and operation of the new laboratory . The Pacesetters It can hardly be doubted, however, that the two who, from the start, breathed life into the concept of a laboratory devoted to human physiological research that was holistic rather than systems- or organ-oriented, that was strongly interdisciplinary, and that focused on measurements both at rest and under stressful conditions, were Henderson and Mayo. In most ways, apart from their shared view of the proper approach to the study of human physiological function in the workplace and elsewhere , they were startlingly different. Mayo, Australian-born, partly trained in medicine, resident in the United States since 1923, physically diminutive, chain-smoking, politically liberal and visionary, imaginative but unsystematic and restless in his thinking, made his name principally by participation, along with Fritz Roethlisberger and others, in the now legendary Hawthorne Study in Industry. Beginning in 1927 in plants of the Western Electric Company, the study showed that worker participation in decision making and group dynamics were prime determinants ofworker productivity, more influential than such things as illumination and time out for coffee. Mayo's influence on labor relations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 17-34
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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