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COLLECTION Identifier: Arch GA 54

Elton Mayo papers

Psychologist Elton Mayo was a professor and Head of the Department of Industrial Research at Harvard Business School. Types of materials included in this collection are professional and personal correspondence, research and teaching materials from HBS and abroad, writings and speeches.

Dates

  • 1909-1960

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored offsite; access requires advance notice. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edu for more information.

Restrictions on Access:

Interviews conducted by Elton Mayo and assistants during fieldwork on various research projects, including the Western Electric Company Hawthorne Study, were obtained following guarantees of confidentiality. Material includes correspondence, charts, and medical tests containing personally identifiable information. Access is restricted until the year 2028. The folder list of this sub-series has been redacted. See Archivist for more information.

Extent

10 linear feet (16 boxes, 2 cartons, 10 reels of microfilm)

Researchers interested in Elton Mayo’s personal life will want to concentrate on the first sub-series in Series I, containing personal correspondence concerned largely with family matters. Autobiographical insights can also be gained from examining his articles and speeches in Series VI. His concerns and interests as a young man are reflected in notebooks from his student days at the University of Adelaide in Series III.

Mayo’s work at Harvard Business School is documented in Series II, which includes teaching notes and committee records. Information about Mayo’s role as Head of the Department of Industrial Research is contained in his file of correspondence with Dean Wallace Donham. Additional information about Mayo’s Harvard Business School activities can be found in Series I, Correspondence, and in Series VI, Writings and Speeches.

Much of Mayo’s research and consultation regarding the research of others is found in Series IV, which contains interviews and reports regarding industrial relations and efficiency studies conducted at various locations. Correspondence in Series I and articles and speeches in Series VI supplement the information in Series IV. Series IV also documents Mayo’s World War II activities as an advisor and committee chairman with responsibilities for overseeing research about re-entry of veterans into the American work force (see folders pertaining to the National Research Council). Mayo’s research concerning the Hawthorne Study at the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne, Illinois plant is concentrated in Series V and is supplemented by writings in Series VI and correspondence in Series I.

Mayo’s interests in sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and psychology are documented in Series I, Correspondence; Series III, Australian Study and Teaching; and Series V, Writings and Speeches. Generalizations about psychiatry can be found in Mayo’s published articles (Series VI).

Mayo’s teaching activities are documented in two places in the collection. Lectures given at the University of Queensland are found in Series III. Teaching notes used at Harvard Business School are found in Series II.

Biographical Note:

Elton Mayo, son of George and Hetty Mary (Donaldson) Mayo, was born in Adelaide, Australia on December 26, 1880. Mayo’s family encouraged him to become a physician, but his attempts to study medicine at the University of Adelaide and at St. George's Hospital in London proved to be desultory. He read extensively in psychology and abandoned the study of medicine in 1903. In 1904 he taught briefly at the Working Men's College in London and from 1905-1910 he worked for a printing firm in Adelaide. In 1911 he received a B.A. in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Adelaide. He was a lecturer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia from 1911 to 1918, and was Professor of Psychology at the same school from 1918 to 1922. Between 1914 and 1922 he conducted psycho-pathological research on World War I shell shock patients in Australia. While in Australia he developed the view that psychological research would reveal the mental disorders that were an underlying cause of industrial unrest. His ideas were similar to those being concurrently promoted in the United States by psychiatrist E.E. Southard.

When Elton Mayo moved to the United States in 1923 he found a climate receptive to the type of industrial research he was interested in doing. He became a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Commerce and Finance where he at the studied the interplay of physical and psychological factors in employee turnover at Continental Mills. In 1926 he moved to Harvard Business School to become Head of the new Department of Industrial Research. He was Associate Professor at Harvard Business School from 1926-1929, Professor from 1929-1947, and Professor Emeritus from 1947-1949. The Rockefeller Foundation’s Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund supported much of his research at Harvard Business School.

Between 1928 and 1933 Mayo was closely associated with the Hawthorne Study, an industrial research project conducted at the Western Electric Company's plant in Hawthorne, Illinois. Phase One of the study involved careful test room observations of employees who were subjected to variations in their working conditions for the purpose of learning how change affected productivity. Phase Two of the study produced confidential interviews with 20,000 workers. Mayo later studied workers at other plants and became the principal exponent of the human relations school of management theory. This approach to management, which commanded a great deal of attention in the 1930s and which became very influential, focused on the feelings of individuals working in organizations, and argued that management theory should be concerned primarily with interpersonal relations. Integration of individuals and of informal groups of workers into the larger working environment was a paramount goal. The movement suggested that an organization that recognized human needs and listened to ideas and complaints from its employees would see an increase in productivity and morale. Among the many researchers who were heavily influenced by Mayo were William Dickson, George Homans, George Lombard, Fritz Roethlisberger and Jerome Scott.

Elton Mayo practiced psychotherapy on many patients and attempted to apply psychological insights to his work in industrial research. He published many articles and several books regarding human factors in industry.

Mayo married Dorothea McConnell on April 18, 1913; the couple had two daughters. He died in Guilford, England on December 9, 1949.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1913-1960
  2. ___Subseries A. Personal and Family Correspondence, 1913-1960
  3. ___Subseries B. Professional Correspondence, 1922-1947
  4. Series II. HBS Teaching Materials, 1925-1947
  5. ___Subseries A. HBS General Materials, 1925-1947
  6. ___Subseries B. HBS Teaching Materials, 1941-1946
  7. Series III. Australian Study and Teaching, 1909-1922
  8. ___Subseries A. Student Notes, University of Adelaide, 1909
  9. ___Subseries B. Teaching Materials, University of Queensland, 1914-1922
  10. Series IV. Research-Related Activities, 1911-1948
  11. ___Subseries A. National Research Council, 1937-1948
  12. ___Subseries B. Research Records, 1911-1948
  13. Series V. Western Electric Company Hawthorne Study, 1924-1945
  14. Series VI. Writings and Speeches, 1909-1947
  15. Series VII. Restricted Materials, 1913-1943

Microfilm

Portions of Series III. Australian Study and Teaching are available on microfilm.

Portions of Series VII. Restricted Materials are reproduced on microfilm.

Processing Information

Processed: March 1998

By: Jeffrey Mifflin
Processing Note: Elton Mayo’s biographer, Richard Trahair had originally inventoried this collection using a numbering scheme based on file drawers in Mayo’s Harvard Business School office. This obsolete finding aid is in the control file for the Elton Mayo Papers at the Historical Collections Department, Baker Library. The current arrangement is a substantial reorganization of materials into logical series. Related materials have been brought together and are arranged and listed in alphabetical order. Approximately two cubic feet of materials have been removed from portions of the collection and transferred to Series VII, Restricted Materials, located in Cartons 6 and 7. The collection has been augmented by the additions of writings, teaching files, and other materials created by Mayo and stored in other locations in Historical Collections.
Link to catalog
Title
Mayo, Elton, 1880-1949. Elton Mayo Papers, 1909-1960: A Finding Aid
Author
Baker Library
EAD ID
bak00038

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

Contact:
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