Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:583 1924-1961 W526

Western Electric Company Hawthorne Studies collection

Reports, research papers, and interviews, relating to studies in industrial and employee relations carried out at Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works near Chicago, Illinois.

Dates

  • 1924-1961

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact specialcollectionsref@hbs.edu for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Due to their fragility, Boxes 4 to 15 and Volumes 19 to 27 are unavailable for research use.

Extent

8.6 linear feet (14 boxes, 12 flat boxes, 9 volumes)

The collection contains correspondence, research materials, reports and other documentation. Most of the information in the collection is on microfiche or microfilm (see Series III) and to some extent duplicates the paper records in other series. The microforms contain general records as well as employee interviews and documents on particular test groups. Both paper-based and microform records should be used in conjunction with one another.

Researchers interested in the overall organization and methodology of the Hawthorne Study should consult Series I, General records, and Series III, Hawthorne Study microfiche and microfilm. Researchers interested in specific test groups or controlled experiments should consult Series II, Group studies, as well as Series III, Hawthorne Study microfiche and microfilm. Materials in both series are arranged by name of group or test room. Information about employee attitudes, personalities, and job performances will be found in each of the first three series. Series I contains interview summaries and progress reports not specific to any one group. Series II and III contain interview transcripts and substance analyses as well as performance logs and other records pertaining directly to a specific test room or group, arranged under the name of that group.

Historical Note:

The Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company in Hawthorne, Illinois (near Chicago), manufactured electrical components, such as relays for telephones.

Western Electric and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences began the Hawthorne Study in 1924. Dugald C. Jackson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supervised the first phase, known as the Illumination Experiments, from 1924 to1927. These experiments attempted to determine the relationship between light levels and worker efficiency. The data compiled by the Illumination Experiments indicated only a minor correlation between light levels and worker productivity. The National Research Council researchers concluded that a variety of factors must affect industrial output. They also suggested that, as too many variables were involved, it was not possible to draw meaningful conclusions from studies conducted in regular shop settings or with large groups. The National Research Council withdrew from the study in 1927, but researchers from the Harvard Business School (then the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration) soon became Western Electric's new collaborators in the study.

Led by Elton Mayo of the Department of Industrial Research, the Harvard Business School team expanded the scope of the investigation at Hawthorne. The studies would attempt to discover relationships between physical working conditions, industrial productivity, and such additional variables as worker morale, home life, upbringing, diet, and other habits.

With Western Electric, the Harvard Business School team established the Relay Assembly Test Room (RATR). The RATR consisted of a small group of female employees isolated from other workers in a separate room with an observer and a tape-punching device set up to measure the number of relays each operator put together in a given period of time. The operators (assembly workers) were offered wage incentives to encourage them to produce at a high level. The daily output of each operator was recorded on 120 inches of tape. The uniform speed at which the tape advanced allowed for the measurement of variations in daily output. Each operator was assigned a number to preserve confidentiality, but the researchers inconsistently assigned the numbers. Other records produced in the RATR included Log Sheets (daily chronological records maintained by the observer, regarding an operator's activities, the type of relays assembled, etc.) and Daily History Records (recording changes introduced, remarks made, and questions that investigators asked themselves about observations or developments). Records of physical examinations and of eating habits were also produced. The RATR study lasted from 1927 to 1932 and was divided into thirteen periods. During each period, major changes in working conditions were introduced and the resulting behaviors and performance were observed and measured.

In addition to the RATR, investigators briefly organized a second Relay Assembly Group to test the effects of introducing wage incentives without any other changes. A Mica Splitting Test Room was also established to study the effect of changing working conditions without adding wage incentives.

The Interviewing Program at Hawthorne collected information about employee attitudes. Its goal was identifying the right conditions for improved productivity. Between 1928 and 1930, the research team interviewed about 21,000 employees of the Hawthorne Plant under guarantees of confidentiality. Interviewing methodology changed in the middle of the program, after interviewers discovered that interviewees gave more useful information about themselves and their jobs when allowed to speak about whatever came to mind (instead of being directed in their responses by prepared questions).

The Bank Wiring Observation Room was established to supplement information derived from the interviewing program with observations about interviewees' behavior on the job. The test group was separated from the regular work force, but otherwise worked under standard conditions. An observer stayed in the test room with the workers while they worked, and an interviewer recorded their attitudes, thoughts, and feelings when they were off the job.

The Western Electric Company discontinued the study in 1933. The research suggested to management that previous assumptions about improving productivity through changes in wage incentives, hours of work, lighting, or other easily identifiable factors were naïve and unfounded. To improve productivity, Western Electric’s management began to look at the total situation. The study clearly revealed to management that workers’ latent energy and productivity could be tapped under the right conditions. The researchers who helped design and implement the experiment, as well as many later scholars, however, continued to analyze the data and reconsider the study’s findings.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Series I. General records, 1924-1955
  2. Series II. Group studies, 1927-1961
  3. Series III. Hawthorne Study microfiche, 1924-1932, and microfilm, 1924-1961

Physical Location

MANU

Provenance:

Gift of Western Electric Company, 1977

Existence and Location of Copies

Boxes 16 and 28 contain microfiche of original material held by Western Electric. Box 17 contains microfilm reels of original material held by Western Electric. Copy microfilm (Order No.84-3350) of Box 17 is available of in the Historical Collections Reading Room.

Portions of the collection are available as digital objects.

Part of this material is available digitally through the University Libraries at the University of Oklahoma website.

Processing Information

Processed: January 1998

By: Jeffrey Mifflin
Link to catalog
Title
Western Electric Company. Hawthorne Studies Collection, 1924-1961 (inclusive): A Finding Aid
Author
Baker Library
EAD ID
bak00047

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:
Baker Library | Bloomberg Center
Soldiers Field Road
Boston MA 01263 USA
(617) 495-6411