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COPYRIGHT 1958 BY ONEIDA LTD.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INCLUDING THE RIGHT
TO REPRODUCE THIS BOOK OR PORTIONS
THEREOF IN ANY FORM
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Portrait of Pierrepont B. Noyes
painted at Kenwook, New York, in the
summer of 1947, by Leopold Seyffert
IN OBSERVING its first hundred years as a strong and growing enterprise, Oneida Ltd. is not, nor should it be, merely celebrating its past. For, though it has every right to take pride in its record of production, the the standards it has maintained, and still more for the way of life it has pioneered in the discord and social ferment of our own times, these things were not accomplished by people looking backward. Neither the men and women who created Oneida Community first as an experiment in communal living, dedicated to achieving perfection here on earth, nor the succeeding generation who after an interlude returned to build a new association with perhaps more practical ideals on the foundations of the old, could allow themselves the luxury of dreaming in the past. The better world they looked for lay in the future. But unlike most other people of good will the members of both associations proposed to work directly for it with their own minds and hands. Today, with accumulatmg experience, patience, and the ability to gauge their ideals within achievable limits, they are still at it.
At first glance, Oneida Ltd. may seem a far cry from the original Community begun here beside Oneida Creek a century ago. What was then a self-contained social unit, spiritually walled off from the world by the religious conviction of its members and public misconception of their aims, has been replaced by a modern industry with 4600 employees and a product that has earned a national reputation for its quality against the rough-and-tumble competition of fifty years. The fields once worked by the founders to raise a living are covered both by the company's home factories and the city of Sherrill, the smallest city in New York State, in which many of the factory workers live and which they govern for themselves. To the casual visitor the only tangible reminder of the old Com
munity is the Mansion House. The early members built the first section of it with their own hands, planning to work out within its red brick walls their pattern for a better society. Since then the trees around it have grown venerable and tall and it has acquired an air of almost detached tranquillity that contrasts strangely with the busy factories down the road.
Yet the great silvervare plant and the old house, with its dusky passages and sunny windows, and all its memories of a brave experiment, are integral parts of one fabric. Each has at its core a seed of belief in the right of every man to a measure of security. The builders of the original Community and their descendants who, having created the modern plant, still live in or near the Mansion House, have alike worked for this security, and while they may have worked in different terms, the impulses that moved them were the same.
No one could hope to tell the story of how Oneida Ltd. was born or explain why it has been so successful without some understanding of the original Oneida Community and the way its members lived. For like the old Community, Oneida Ltd. is an experiment in human relations, and in its own field it. too. is unique.
It operates on the very simple principle that every man and woman whose work contributes to the success of the company is entitled to an equitable share in the company's profits. But unlike a good many organizations that on occasion have given lip service to the principle of profit sharing, Oneida Ltd. means exactly what it says. In good years, the profit bonus to the employees, over and above their regular wages and overtime pay, has often amounted to fifty cents on every net dollar earned by the company. In leaner times, the percentage has been lower, but from year to year, the average increase in the individual employee's pay has been far higher than that of most other profit-sharing plans.
There is no catch in this, either The company's labor office has always subscribed to the modifying policy: "Before profit-sharing, pay good wages;' as axiomatic. Base wage rates at Oneida Ltd. are higher by a considerable margin than those paid at any other factory in their district, and checked against figures in the May 1947 report of the State of New York Department of Labor, the average hourly earnings of their workers are not only above those of all reporting districts except Buffalo and Rochester, their weekly take-home pay is highest in the State. You
can, of course, find a higher hourly average in Detroit; but they do not work a 39 or 36 week year at Oneida; there are no shut-downs or lay-offs; and for forty-nine years there has been no such thing as a strike. The strike they had then, in 1899, was the only one in the company's history. I shall come back to it in a moment.
Actually Oneida Ltd.'s operating policies carry it even farther in the interests of its workers. Tike 1946 as an example, a year of good earnings for the company, during which $340,000 in dividends was paid out to common and preferred stockholders. In the same year the profit bonus to the employees amounted to $415,000 and in addition the company contributed $433,000 to the employee pension fund-a total of $848,000 for the benefit of the employees on top of wages and overtime This may seem an undue weighing of the balance, but neither the management nor the stockholders would consider it so. The philosophy of partnership that has steadily illuminated employer-employee relations at Oneida Ltd. holds that the company's progress and prosperity must be built on the welfare of its industrial community as a whole; and conversely. no individual or element within its industrial organism can be allowed to profit at the expense of the rest.
There is no disposition to regard such undertakings in the workers' interest as "welfare" in the social worker's meaning of the word, but rather as an investment for the health and vigor of the company itself. Nor has there ever been the least inclination on the company's part to trade on any sense of obligation the employees might feel. Pierrepont Noyes, who all along has been the leading spirit of the modern company and its president since 1910. probably could not say how much of Oneida's development he foresaw when he became general manager fifty-three years ago. The company, then known as Oneida Community, Limited, was engaged in five separate enterprises of which its silver business was perhaps the least important, and Noyes himself was only twenty-four years old. But his thinking had already turned along lines that were to give his company a character unique in American industry. Not all of it was his doing, of course. The men who came back to Oneida to work with him saw things the same way. There were three especially - his cousin, George W. Noyes, Stephen R. Leonard, and Grosvenor N. Allen-who became with him a sort of top executive committee charting the company's course along experimental routes. Together they made a team whose solidarity could not be shaken. But it was his mind that led the way.
One day during Noyes' first year as general manager the superintendent of the company's factory at Niagara Falls said something he never
forgot: "I tell you, Mr. Noyes, the best kind of welfare work' is good wages'.' In those days many plants were making advertising capital out of the welfare work they did for their employees, and the superintendent, Fred Filby, who bad come up from the bench, must have retained the working man's distrust of such "welfare'.' A strike of bloody memory had occurred only the year before in ~e Middle West. In its ugly background was the so-called "model village" which the Western company had erected, with plenty of fanfare, for its employees. The company said nothing about the rents and gas and water rates it charged, which were a quarter as high again as those of neighboring communities, but when the owner autocratically cut wages 20 and 25 per cent, he did nothing about lowering his rents, with the result that the company. through its "model village;' was taking back from its employees nearly all the money it was paying them.
Naturally, not all employers were of that stripe, but the general effect of most company welfare was to add a psychological fetter to the economic ones already binding the worker, and invariably the employers who did most to publicize their generosity were loudest in denouncing incidents which they described as the "ingratitude" of their employees. Young Noyes, though his plans for a new kind of Oneida Community were then still in their first formative stage, made up his mind that he would never try to buy any man's gratitude What he wanted, in his relations with the men and women who worked in Oneida plants, was confidence.
Out of that early decision canie the basic philosophy of management at Oneida. Noyes himself, fifty years later, has stated it for us as follows:
"When your employees really believe that you take a practical interest in their welfare and that you mean what you say, you will have acquired an asset money alone could never buy" But there is also a corollary that perhaps offers the real key to the success of Oneida's labor relations. "Make no welfare moves from fear, but always and only because you believe that company success should add to the comfort and happiness of every member of the working group"
As far as I know the people at Oneida have never been particularly concerned to put their theory of management into writing. They will talk about it freely enough, but after all there is no blueprint for mutual trust It is what men do, not what they say, that counts. and certainly
Noyes and his colleagues were all far too busy to theorize during the difficult, beginning years when they were fighting the Connecticut silverware monopoly to win a national market for their infant Community Plate. But the record shows that they had already won the confidence of their employees. It had paid them off more than once in dividends of extra effort by the working shifts to help the company make a deadline. Those were exciting times. and the group of young men. launching their new product on the country, must have felt more than a premonition of success as they realued that their whole plant, from the front office right on down the factory line, was solidly behind them. They knew then that the first big step in bridging the gap between management and labor had been taken, but they were to have still more notable evidence of this a few years later when, with most of their competitors closed by strikes, their own production remained unaffected and their company was able in a single step to rise to its place in the forefront of the silverware industry For them it was a demonstration that the philosophy of partnership worked both ways.
That was 1915. They still believe it works both ways Their company has grown and now, besides the home factories at Sherrill, owns plants at Canastota, N.Y., Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada and Sheffield, England. But the company's basic labor policies have not changed. except as new and assured prosperity has allowed the directors to go ahead more rapidly with plans for furthering the welfare of the employees. They are as much concerned as they ever were about maintaining the spirit of confidence that has played such a vital part in the rise of their company, for they do not consider it the kind of commodity that can be safely kept in storage. Everything about Oneida Ltd. is an expression of this.
A visitor to Sherrill, which remains the heart and mainspring of the company, will find it hard at first to explain just why the place seems different from the average industrial community. The factories are clean and singularly dust-free for a process notorious for harmful dust; and they stand out in the country, under the open sky. There is an impression of light and clear air in the workrooms that modern ventilation alone cannot account for. The men and women at the benches and drops reflect this in their attitude. They are plainly interested in their jobs, and they have the air of independent people in control of their own lives.
Nor is the residential part of Sherrill like the ordinary factory town. The houses stand on individual lots and are well designed and well kept up. They wholly lack the soul-deadening uniformity that characterizes
so many of our industrial developments. The town was company-built to start with; but from the first the company encouraged and helped the men to buy and later, as the working group expanded, to build their own houses. As a result, most of the citizens of Sherrill today own their own homes, which may explain why the little city with its schools and playgrounds seems so solidly prosperous and self-respecting. Its wide, tree-lined streets merge almost imperceptibly into Kenwood where the Administration Building is located and the Mansion House stands on its quiet lawns.
These are surface indications. You must spend more time in Kenwood before you can begin to understand the clear thought and the kind of common sense humanity that underlie the place. For besides being a profit-making organization, Oneida Ltd. has become a way of life that affects everyone who works there from president to office boy.
No one makes big money out of Oneida Ltd. It was not designed to bring wealth and power to one man, or a few men. For it has been a tacitly accepted principle that no one family shall own more than three per cent of the stock, and the salaries of the top executives are far below the money they could expect to draw in corresponding posts in other industries. They know this well enough, but money for its own sake is not what they are interested in. All of them have come up through the ranks to reach their offices, for the company seldom brings in an outsider as head of a department. This policy perhaps as much as any other single factor has kept the management sensitive to the problems and ambitions of their employees. It is also probably their chief safeguard against any one man's gaining, or wishing to gain, personal control of Oneida Ltd. During the entire fifty years that Pierrepont Noyes has been head of the Company neither he nor his family have held enough Community stock to elect one Director. Having learned through their own experience what the Oneida Community system means for the working man, the officers, almost instinctively, assess the health of the company in terms of the prosperity and independence of the whole working group.
This is made easier by the fact that the majority of the common stockholders live in and around Kenwood and Sherrill. Most of them work for the company, or have worked for it in the past. A significant percentage are on the factory line. Therefore as a group they understand the problems, manufacturing processes, and labor policies of their plant
as few groups of stockholders can ever hope to understand the organization in which their money is invested Instead of absent owners, they are active participants in the life of the company.
This union of interests between stockholders, labor, and management is implicit in all American business, but it is too seldom allowed to materialize. The fact that when allowed to, it has produced a vigorous organization, can be attested by Oneida Ltd.'s business rivals. It could be called smart business. It is, but it also goes a good deal deeper. It took more than business sense to envision a community of interests that would join the three elements of industry in a united purpose for their common good. It took human understanding and a clear sense of jtistice to steer that community through the social stresses of fifty years and two world wars. On a larger scale it would be called statesmanship. To my mind it is just that. For esseutially, within its corporate limits, Oneida Ltd is a state whose governing body sees its responsibilities in their broadest social aspects.
To the man whose approach to industry is motivated solely by personal gain this ulay seem socialistic or even comniunistic. Actually it is not, for Oneida Ltd. recognizes that each man's ability varies from another's, and in partitioning both work and recompense it takes account of each nian's contribution to the common welfare. But in putting the common weltare first, it recognizes the dignity of work, the aspiration that raises mankind above the animals, and the right of every man to independence and security. If that is socialism or communism, so is the American dream.
It seems strange that the modern company should have had its beginning in a strike. It was the only strike in Oneida Ltd. history, and it came at a difficult time when the newly reorganized Oneida Community, Limited, was on the eve of its campaign to sell Community Plate on a national market. Pierrepont Noyes, then in his first year, officially, as general manager, was still but twenty-nine years old and the responsibility of handling the strike fell entirely on his shoulders. But if his dreams of a new and larger Oneida Community had up to then been merely in the outline stage, the strike served as a catalyst.
When he had returned to Oneida four years earlier it had been mainly with the idea of putting the company on a sound financial basis,
for the sake of the older people whose living depended on its success and to preserve the Mansion House which to him was always home. What thinking or planning he and his associates had done along social lines concerned mostly their own group -- the stockholders, directors, and executives of Oneida Community, Limited. It was not till Noyes was sent out to take charge of the silver factory at Niagara Falls that he began to think of his company in terms of workers' lives.
Closer contact with them opened his eyes to a different world. He saw how simple incidents became poignant and never-ending problems for people living on the tinder edge of poverty. The miserable home life of workmen who seemed self-respecting citizens on the factory line was deeply shocking to him. But at the same time he was impressed by the way the work people helped one another out in time of trouble. Here was "a simple but very practical spirit of communal living, without any fuss or theory" that meant for poor people the difference between survival and despair. Noyes, looking into the future of his own company, saw in it an opportunity of bringing independence into the lives of his employees, also without fuss or theory. Thereafter in discussions with his associates, labor relations became a major subject and by the turn of the century they had begun to see their company as a much more inclusive group that embraced the interests of everyone who worked for it and called for a fair distribution of its profits.
By the summer of 1899 a few forward moves had already been made. A general raise in wages at Niagara Falls in 1896 had unfortunately coincided with the business stagnation that followed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for the presidency. But the factory carried the company to a $36,000 net profit for the year and Noyes, who had made the raise entirely on his own responsibility, was forgiven by his directors. In i898 he had put through vacations with pay at Niagara Falls. The same year, also, the directors voted to pay full factory wages to employees who had enlisted in the Spanish American War. These moves were more significant at the time than they might seem today, and it was at this point, early in July i899, that the Metal Polishers and Buffers Union decided to move in on the silverware factories at Niagara Falls, confronting Noyes with the decision that was to influence his whole life and the lives of every other man who has worked for Oneida Community.
It was not an easy decision to make for he sincerely believed that unions had been good for the country. He told his employees that. A good deal of heat had been quickly generated, and the manager of the Niagara Silver Company factory down the street had stated publicly that
he would burn his factory to the ground before he would deal with the union Noyes made no public statement but called all the factory hands together in the buffing room and reiterated his belief in the value of unions to the working man But he told the men that he had other plans.
An old timer, recently recalling the scene, remembered the way Noyes' eyes sparkled as he said that. His plans for the company, he continued, would bring the employees more than any union could win for them. Unfortunately those plans could not be accomplished with a union shop, and for that reason he would not admit the union.
He did not tell them what his plans were. Perhaps they were not yet mature enough for that. More likely he remembered another word of advice from Fred Filby, the works superintendent, who once had cautioned him never to begin something he could not continue permanently, and never to promise anything he was not sure he could fulfill. All he could do was ask the men to believe in his word and stick with him.
For a while they resisted the advances of the union; but little by little the picketing and threats and exhortation made themselves felt, and first one man and then another dropped away Then suddenly the manager of the Niagara Silver Company, in spite of his violent statement and with no warning to Noyes, gave way entirely, firing superintendents and other men marked out by the union. That precipitated the strike at the Community Niagara Falls plant, for the men naturally supposed that if the other company gave way, Noyes would have to also, and that if they stuck by him now, they would lose their jobs when the union won. For ten long weeks they had a combination strike and lockout.
In many ways it was a harder time for Noyes than for the workmen. His baby back home in Oneida was desperately ill. And at one stage, when the outlook was darkest, the directors telegraphed him that they thought he ought to give in. The message left him alone with his responsibility for the strike, a heavy burden especially on a young man. But he hung on, and in the end it was the union that gave in, and after it was over practically all the workmen came back to him.
It had been a trial of will and a testing of purpose. It was the first real evidence the men had had that Noyes, young as he was, meant what he said and would stick to his word even when the going got rough. They had another insight into his character that fall when a "Sick Benefit Association" was started for the employees, to be managed by them, with the company contributing on a fifty-fifty basis. To the men this was evidence that the ten bitter weeks of strike had not changed Noyes' purpose for the company. That, I think, was the real beginning of Oneida Ltd.
As one looks back one wonders what inner force held him so steadfast. During those ten weeks it is not too much to say that his will alone decided the future of the company. Neither the directors nor his young associates would have objected seriously if he had elected to throw in with the union. To have done so would have been merely to follow a growing trend. It would not have affected the prosperity of the company. The stockholders, in fact, might have been materially better off. But Pierrepont Noyes, like his father, having glimpsed the prospect of a better way of life, was willing to fight for it.
He was not at all like the ordinary run of young men under thirty In coming back to work for Oneida Community, Limited, on a starting salary of $1500 a year, he was giving up the chance of personal wealth. But the pursuit of wealth did not excite him. He was not alone in that, for the young men who returned with him mostly worked for lower pay than his. Yet though he had made up his mind that riches were not the source of happiness, he had in no sense renounced the world. The adventures of business fascinated him; his instincts in going after a deal were highly competitive, and nothing gave him greater stimulus than the feeling that he was caught up in the stream of life.
One cannot understand the motives behind his return to the quiet, upstate community without some understanding of the way in which he had been reared. Once in a moment of extreme annoyance an old aunt of his told him that he would not be a lawyer as he was planning to be at the time. The Lord, she said, had his own plans for Pierrepont, and he would do His work whether he liked it or not. She may have been right, but certainly the things Noyes did with his life were things that he believed in.
A SPIRITUAL YEAST was working in America when the founders of the original Community first came to Oneida Creek a hundred years ago to begin their unique experiment in communal living. It was a period of new causes and religious radicalism and what Emerson had called a fertility of projects for the salvation of the world. It had reached an emotional peak in the i830's when a great tide of revivalism swept the country, turning men's minds to a fresh scrutiny of established theological and social doctrines and germinating a whole crop of religious cults and co-operative communities. Among them was a little association of men and women who had been drawn together at Putney, Vermont, through the preaching of John Humphrey Noyes.
The communal philosophy of this association stemmed from Noyes' conviction, which the members accepted in the light of revelation, that the second coming of Christ had already occurred at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. Mankind had therefore already been redeemed and it was no longer permissible, or right, to follow in the old paths of alternate sinning and repentance; but men should strive consistently to win in their earthly lives the state of perfection that had been promised them. To accomplish this the little group round Noyes agreed to arrange their own lives as nearly in the pattern of the primitive Christian Church as they could, eliminating all the incentives that lead men to self-seeking.
They decided that the perfect life could exist only where there was complete spiritual equality. This meant that not only must personal property be sacrificed to the community interest, but the individual must also relinquish all claims and rights over the lives of others, even
those of marriage. For the ownership of women in marriage seemed to them as strong an incentive to selfishness as the possession of worldly riches. They believed that marriage by its emphasis on the family spirit fostered selfishness as a virtue. Noyes' solution was a society with a broader basic unit in which personal and emotional domination of the individual could find no play and where the interest of every member became the interest of all. Women equally with men should be free to choose the direction of their lives; the purpose of widening individual experience was to turn the development of character outward in the service of the community rather than inward on itself; and the process was in effect exactly what Noyes called it-the enlargement of the family.
They did not enter their compact lightly or in any spirit of impromptu enthusiasm. It was not till seven years after their first meeting as a simple Bible Class in 1839 that they felt themselves prepared to organize, in 1846, as the Putney Community. They were fully aware of what adoption of the communal form of life in all its phases would mean, not only in sacrifice of their personal property but in the unfavorable opinion of outside society. Yet they could hardly have been prepared for the intensity with which the righteous citizens of Putney reacted. Within two years the Putney Community had been broken up and Noyes, with twenty or thirty of his closest adherents, had moved away to central New York State where, on the old Indian lands along Oneida Creek, a start towards a new community was already under way.
This new group was the outgrowth of a small convention of converts to Perfectionism who had met at Lairdsville, a tiny backroads hamlet about eight miles from Oneida, in September 1847. Noyes had been invited to participate and there, for three days, in the little wooden church that was the settlement's sole distinguishing feature, he preached his doctrine, urging the communal form of life on his hearers as man 5 best recourse in the struggle against selfishness and in the end giving them a full description of the methods adopted by the association at Putney. He cannot have had an altogether easy time of it for he spoke afterwards of having wrestled with the spirit of unbelief; but two men in his audience had been deeply impressed. A few months later Jonathan Burt, the owner of a sawmill on Oneida Creek, and a neighboring farmer named Joseph Ackley agreed to unite their families in a communal association on the former's land.
They were joined soon by other families, but the little group was en tirely without money and they had a hard time getting through their first winter. Yet when news of the enforced dissolution of the Putney Community reached them, Burt at once wrote Noyes, offering him a home and, if he came, the leadership of the new community.
Noyes accepted, and the arrival of his contingent from Vermont marked the real beginning of the Oneida Community, for they had almost a hundred thousand dollars to contribute, and this with Noyes' forceful character combined to give the little enterprise a stability and sense of direction it had previously lacked. From the start it showed a vigorous growth. New land was added to the Burt holding and work started on new buildings; and as the place grew, so did the membership, increasing during the first three years to more than two hundred souls. By then the character of the Community, both within its family limits and as a factor in the neighborhood, was firmly established.
Its idealism was founded on a solid practicality. The early members for the most part were farmers and mechanics, and their immediate neighbors knew them as substantial people with an aptitude for getting things done. In this they provided a marked contrast to other visionary groups that in their own and other times set out to create a better life; their practicality was in fact almost their outstanding characteristic. Yet in speaking of their beginning years, older members of the Community liked to recall that when there was no money on hand to pay for a necessary project, they always resorted to prayer and then began the work in full confidence that God would provide the means. Apparently He never failed them; but how much of these memories was rationalization and how much of the Community's success depended on the ability of its members to do for themselves is not for an outsider to say. Cer-tainly the dividing line between their religious sense and their common sense was always very fine.
Whatever the moving force, they quickly made a home. They did all the work themselves, for labor in the Oneida valley, as in other back-country districts in those times, was still almost non-existent. Except for the few farms scattered here and there along the rough cart tracks that served for roads, there were only the log shanties of a few Oneida Indians who had refused to leave when the rest of their tribe was transported to a new reservation in the West and now eked out an almost ghostly existence
on the land where the Castle of their people once had been. They soon came to know the Community for a good neighbor, as their descendants know it yet; but as a reserve of useful labor they had little to offer, and the members of the Community had to rely entirely on their own resources.
They cut logs in the timber lots of their new farms and sawed out the lumber in Burt's mill. They found clay for brick and learned to make them. By the end of 1849 they had moved into their first communal home. This first house was a frame building, smaller and simpler than the Mansion House which, with its brick towers, numerous sitting rooms, and large communal meeting hall, was not begun till i86o, but life within its walls was much the same.
Everyone, even the children, bore a part in supporting the communal life. The Oneida Community employed no hired help during its first fifteen years, and all work on the farms and in the household, and later in the factories, was performed by the members themselves. As far as possible the men and women shared equally in the work of barns and fields and of pantries and kitchens One result was the characteristic dress of the women whose bobbed hair, short skirts, and pantalettes created so much comment in their day. Another was that men, confronted by a term of household chores, began to invent labor-saving devices, and forty years before such things came into general use the Community laundry and kitchen had been equipped with washing machines, dish washers, a machine for paring apples, and another for washing vegetables. There was, naturally, both a great amount and a great variety of work involved in the mere living process of a family of over two hundred people, and because they did regard themselves as a family, the Oneida Community at a very early date became deeply concerned with the problem of adjusting the individual to his job.
In assigning work they tried to eliminate possible feelings of discrimination by rotating jobs from year to year as widely as individual abilities permitted, and at one time or another practically everyone had to take his turn at the inevitable drudgery of the household. But while they observed a completely communal way of living, they never pretended to believe that this automatically made all members equally capable of filling the higher posts in the Community. They had learned early that men are not happy when pushed into work above their natural capacities. It was, of course, easier to make this plain in a close social unit than it would have been in society at large, for as Pierrepont Noyes pointed out in his account of his boyhood at Oneida, "In the world the multitude who have no chance to experiment with responsibility call
loudly for such a chance, but in the Oneida Community a few embarrassing failures furnished lessons for the over-ambitious."
But though they acknowledged variations in human capacity, the Oneida Community had a fundamental belief in the dignity of work; and in their system of living, all classes of work were made equally honorable A man who did his work well received the same recognition and respect, whether he was a kitchen assistant or a factory superintendent. This was not a sentimental attitude; on the contrary, it was entirely logical in a society whose members could see for themselves how directly the work of each individual affected the comfort and welfare of the whole. Out of it grew an active sense of participation that proved one of the strongest factors in the success and harmony of the old Community and later became a major element of the highly successful labor policy of the modern Company.
It is hard to determine whether the guiding spirits of the Oneida Community worked consciously from the beginning to achieve this feeling of participation or whether it was the spontaneous outgrowth of their scheme of living. But it does not really matter. They were quick to recognize its importance and the subsequent development of their communal life was designed to foster it.
The management of Community affairs was carried forward mainly through the work of committees. There was no rigid, over-all system of government, and regimentation was held to a minimum. Committees discussed the various problems of community life and assessed the work to be done and the people available to do it, and as far as possible they adapted their assignments to the inclination of the individual. They were great believers in the value of committees and had a great number of them, so that through serving on one or another nearly every member of the group had a chance to take part in directing some aspect of their communal life.
Inevitably among a group of two hundred men and women living and working together there were personnel problems. These were handled by the Oneida Community through its system of "mutual
criticism" which provided a dissatisfied member, or one whose tem-peramental qualities were proving an irritant to the general tenor of community life, with what is best described as an audit of his character by a committee of his associates. The criticisms were administered in a purely clinical spirit. The subject sat in complete silence while each member of the committee in turn assessed his good points as well as his bad. In cases of unusual seriousness, perhaps involving the violation of a fundamental tenet of their common philosophy, the committee would be expanded to include the entire Community. This, however, was an ordeal that very few were ever obliged to submit to and the effect must have been drastic and frankly disciplinary. Ordinarily, as I have said, the criticism was clinical in its approach and many members voluntarily submitted themselves at periodic intervals. Pierrepont Noyes has described its effect on the subject in a chapter of "My Father's House":
"The committees mixed praise with faultfinding. The essence of the system was frankness; its amelioration friendliness and affection. Yet it was always an ordeal. Without doubt, the human temptation to vent personal dislikes on a victim was not resisted by everyone, but I have heard old members say that the baring of secret faults by impartial criticizers called for more grace-as they used to say-than the occasional spiteful jab of an enemy. The same witnesses have testified that they were always happier and healthier after one of these spiritual baths; also that just because members had an opportunity to criticize each other openly, Community life was singularly free from backbiting and scandalmongering."
"Mutual criticism," as a regulating and unifying influence, was the nearest thing to an instrument of government the Oneida Community employed, but it was in no sense a police measure. Its purpose was to inculcate self-discipline, for John Humphrey Noyes and his associates were always keenly aware of the threat of disruption that loose-thinking and loose-living held for a communal society like theirs. In this purpose "mutual criticism" was successful. The members of the Oneida Community regarded themselves as equal partners in a high social enterprise; and while their personal loyalty to Noyes and their complete faith in the validity of his religious teaching held the Community's development as the model for a better and more spiritual way of life continually in the focus of their thought, they seem seldom to have lost sight of their
individual obligation to keep its daily routine workable. In spite of the statements of uninformed detractors, life in the Oneida Community was carried on in an atmosphere of discipline and self-restraint. There was truth as well as wit in the words of a woman member who, when a visitor from outside commented on "the sweet clean smell" of Kenwood, answered gently: "It is the odor of crushed selfishness."
This is not to say that life at Kenwood was austere, though in the early years, while they were still struggling to establish themselves, members found their living pretty lean and long afterwards recalled the excitement of their "special meals" when the housekeepers allowed them butter or an extra sweet. They did not believe in austerity and their life was by no means as solemn as it sounds, and both the Old Mansion House and its larger brick successor held their share of laughter. They liked work that brought the full group together, as when strawberries had to be picked or one of their manufacturing departments had to work overtime to meet an order. Then the whole Community would pitch in-men, women and children-with as much animation as any scattered country community rallying to a neighbor's "bee:' They seemed to draw strength as well as pleasure from these full communal activities, and in their leisure hours they enjoyed most the events that brought their entire family together-plays or operettas or concerts staged by their own orchestra of twenty-five pieces. And through all the years of the Community's life, the full membership assembled at the end of every day in the meeting hall for prayer and the discussion of their family affairs. For the Oneida Community never made a major move without the full agreement of its membership.
In the beginning, like most of the other sixty-odd communal groups of their time, they expected to make their living entirely from the land, but at the end of three or four years they found, in common with the other social communities, that agriculture alone would not support them. The capital of $100,000 with which they had begun had already shrunk by forty per cent; but instead of blindly continuing along their chosen course until poverty brought disillusionment and bitterness into their group as proved the case in so pitifully many of the rest, the Oneida
Community decided that they must find an industrial activity that would bring in real money.
They turned first, quite naturally, to the idea of packing and canning part of their own crops for sale. The thousand glass jars put up that first year seemed to them like a rash venture, but to their delighted surprise they found a ready market and the reputation of Oneida Community fruits and vegetables spread widely through the country and furnished the public with its first identification of the Oneida name with high and uniform quality. No better introductory medium to advertise it could have been found. The Oneida product was far better than any competing brand of its day and, significantly in the light of future events, it was a product that vitally concerned the housewife. Tradesmen have always understood the value of a yearly calendar bearing their own name on the kitchen wall. For seventy years the Oneida Community label on pantry and kitchen shelves offered both testimony and proof of its integrity.
The packing of fruits and vegetables was always, for sentimental reasons, the favorite industry of the Community; but its chief support came from the manufacture of steel traps. When Noyes and his party moved from Putney to Oneida, they found a lank, long-jawed Vermonter named Sewell Newhouse established on the site of the old Indian Castle, two miles from Kenwood. Newhouse had a small blacksmith's shop in which every year he made a few traps and a rifle or two. The traps were bought mostly by the neighboring Indians. They cost sixty-two cents apiece, and in his most active years Newhouse might make between one and two thousand of them, but he generally interrupted his working season with at least one trip into the woods to do a little trapping on his own account. He was primarily a woodsman in manner and habits, and when he joined the Community a year after its start, though he was always a loyal member, he went pretty much his own way. No member, for instance, was supposed to keep a dog; but it was noticed that whenever Newhouse set off to get himself a rabbit, he would always be picked up by a pretty good hound at one or other of the neighboring farms. It was natural therefore for him to keep on with his small trap business which, after all, brought a few dollars into the Community every year.
But when in 1852 it was decided to turn the Community's energies into manufacturing, Noyes and his associates realized that in Newhouse's traps they had a product ready to hand. Newhouse was a superior me-
chanic and in the course of experimenting and through his own experience in the woods had worked out a design far superior to the average trap then on the market. His traps caught game and held it; and unlike many imported traps of that day, the springs were scientifically tempered and did not break in the extreme cold of the North American winters.
The first Oneida Community shop was in a room fifteen feet by twenty-five, outfitted with a common forge and bellows, hand-punch, swaging mould, anvil, hammer, and file. Here three men went to work under Newhouse's direction, doing the work entirely by hand. In the meantime, a Community member named Olds had taken a trunkful of the traps out to Chicago and shown them somewhat tentatively to the buyer for the big hardware firm of Hibbard & Spencer. After looking the traps over and listening to Mr. Olds' story, the buyer said, "I'll take all you've got."
The next year the trap shop was moved to a much larger room in the mill and several more men were assigned to work under Newhouse. Among them were Leonard F. Dunn and George W. Hamilton and other young machinists who soon worked out ways of using water power and mechanical processes for manufacturing the different parts of the trap. Production jumped enormously. In five years the Newhouse trap had become the standard in the United States and Canada, and before long they were in use all over the world-in Russia, in Australia, in South America. By i86o the business had risen to $100,000 a year, and it was never to fall below that figure.
In the meantime the Community was becoming interested in another industry. Some of the early members had been peddlers before they joined, and during the first lean years, when the group were pinched for money, they started going out on the road again, working through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. They soon found that the most salable items in their packs were sewing and embroidery silk. The sales grew to such an extent that within a few years the Community was engaged in the wholesale jobbing of silk and began to experience more and more difficulty in securing the requisite quality. This determined them in i86~ to begin silk manufacturing for themselves. Three young members, Charles Cragin, Elizabeth Hutchins, and Harriet Allen, were sent out to learn the business of silk spinning in a New England factory; and after working for several months as ordinary mill hands, they returned with enough knowledge of the process to start silk manufacturing at Oneida. The business developed rapidly, reaching the $300,000 mark by 1900; though it never proved as profitable as the Newhouse trap.
It was not till 1877 that the Oneida Community embarked on the manufacture of tableware and only then through a branch Community that had been started at Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1852 on thc farm of Henry Allen. The little Quinnipiack River, which ran through the farm, offered good possibilities for developing water power, and a dam was built to form the present Community Lake. In the mill powered by this dam, the Wallingford branch began the manufacture of ungraded, tinned, iron spoons in two patterns called "Lily" and "Oval:'
These two iron spoons are the direct ancestors of the whole long line of Community P1ate, but even in those days they must have seemed a small beginning. The next year, however, the mill started turning out steel spoon blanks which were sold for plating to the Meriden Britannia Company, eight miles up-river; and the business began to show a rising profit. When in i88o, two years later, the original Community broke up and formed a joint-stock company, giving up the Wallingford Community entirely, the silver business had become so valuable that the factory was moved out to Niagara Falls, where the water power was just beginning to be used.
Canning, traps, silk, and silver were the Oneida Community's four main industries; but at one time and another they turned their hands to half a dozen other manufactures. In the early days the largest of these was the making of bags in some two dozen varieties and patterns, from ladies' satchels and gentlemen's traveling bags and sacks to a patent lunch bag invented by John Humphrey Noyes himself. For many years they also ran a foundry, and the Community's home industries in sheds and buildings round about the Mansion House included a carpenter's and joiner's shop, the saw mill, a tin shop, and tailor, shoe, and harness shops. The Wallingford branch also had a printing plant, did some publishing on its own, and with the parent Community issued a weekly newspaper called the Oneida Circular. In all their work they showed an almost exuberant ability to make a success of any product they turned their hands to and a fruitful and inventive gift for adapting mechanical processes to its manufacture.
As the scope of their commercial enterprises widened, it became necessary to reach outside the Community for shop and factory labor, and as
early as 1870 over two hundred people were on the Oneida payroll. There was no difficulty in finding workers, for the Community paid liberal wages and quickly gained a reputation through the surrounding country for being a pleasant place to work. But hiring labor did not alter the working habits of the members, who continued at their jobs in the same shops and often at the same benches as their employees Noyes himself, for instance, in 1871 divided his day between the bag factory and the trap shop, where he tended a common forge. The whole Community still turned out when a deadline on an order had to be met, and the children continued to do their share by working for at least an hour every day at making trap chains. In household matters, too, their life was unchanged. They kept on doing all their own work both in the new and more comfortable Mansion House and on their farms. They never developed the conventional psychology of factory owners or industrialists. Even in later years when as members of a joint-stock company they became stockholders and were individually affected by the company's success, their attitude showed no material change. Work-manual labor-was as much a piece of the fabric of their lives as their religion, and the memory of their own lean years as well as their close association with their employees on the actual factory line kept them sympathetic to the workers' problems. Financial success did not weaken their conviction that all kinds of work were honorable.
In this tradition the children of the Community were brought up. Newborn babies stayed in their mothers' care till they were able to walk, but from then on they became charges of the whole Community and were put into what was called The Children's House. This was a section of the great, rambling Mansion House given over entirely to the rearing of children and run by the men and women whom the Community judged best qualified for the work.
It was in reality a combination of nursery and school divided into three departments: a nursery in which the children stayed till they were four; a kindergarten, and the larger "South Room" to which they graduated at about six and in which they remained through all their early schooling. Here, as often as not, instead of sitting through the ordinary formalities of instruction, their teacher would take them into the fields and woods for a morning or a day and through plants and trees, or the
animals encountered on their walks, or a fossil picked up in the bed of one of the limestoned creeks, teach them about the earth they lived on and how it came to be. He must have been an inspired teacher for some of these "walking school" days stayed fresh in the memory of his pupils long after he was dead.
In these formative years, the children were imbued with the idea of the Community that surrounded them as a family. They still visited their parents individually once or twice a week, but it was the "family" life of the group as a whole that they accepted as the focus of their own existence, and in their own immediate generation they developed a sense of solidarity, as of a class within a school, that they carried with them into later life.
This was fostered in several ways - one, for instance, being a paper, crudely printed on long galley sheets from type borrowed from the printing office and produced at intervals to the immense satisfaction of the contributors and. no doubt, the edification of their elders. For the Community as a whole were passionately interested in education, or 'improvement'' as they called it; and with growing prosperity many of the older members, whose early schooling had been more or less neglected, organized study classes of their own that ranged from the most elementary reading or writing courses to foreign languages or higher mathematics. It may seem strange that, even in the isolation engendered by their religious beliefs and the social practices of their communal life, they should have retained such a lively interest in the world at large, but it was so, and as a group they were undoubtedly better informed than most other social units of their size.
Strangely enough, also, in spite of their communal theories of complete equality of property, they profoundly believed in the value of competition and the children were encouraged to participate in competitive games and spelling bees and other means of stimulating personal rivalry. Apparently Noyes himself never tried to rationalize this practice, but with his understanding of human nature must have accepted it as inevitable and urged its use as a means towards education, relying on maturity to discipline it and turn it to the service of the family as a whole. Or he may have foreseen the ultimate dissolution of the Community as a social experiment and realized that one of the prime tools in the struggle for life in the world outside should not be taken from the Community's children.
As the older children reached the appropriate age, many of them were sent to college. There, naturally, they were exposed to teaching
and ideas hostile to the principles under which they had been raised, and a few must have returned with the first seeds of doubt in the infallibility of Noyes' religious beliefs But the younger children, who were born in the high tide of the Community's prosperity and spiritual growth and who entered the South Room in the middle seventies, were never forced to make this adjustment in quite the same way, for when they went out into the world the Community had already changed its character and become a joint-stock company.
This was particularly true of a class of ten boys and seven girls who graduated to the South Room in 1876, one of whose leading spirits was Pierrepont Noyes. They were of the right age to meet the change when it came without undue scars, and they were able, when the joint-stock company was in danger of dying out from sheer loss of vigor among its directing body to bring back not only the competitive spirit that would enable it to survive the struggles of the growing national industrialism of the closing 19th century, but some of the old principles of sharing and equality with which their childhood had been imbued and which could give life both point and comfort in a materialistic world.
THE STORY of the Oneida Community's conversion from a communal society to a joint-stock company has been told in detail by Pierrepont Noyes in "My Father's House." It involved social and emotional adjustments that must have been painful for many of the members, but the property settlement was accomplished in a spirit of such fairness and unanimity that no voice was ever raised against it, in or out of court.
The new company, Oneida Community, Limited, included five manufacturing enterprises - canned fruit, traps, sewing silk, silverware, and chains, the last being a new venture embarked on by the Community shortly before the break-up-and it had a capital of S6oo,ooo. The stock was apportioned among the members according to the number of years each had spent in the service of the Community and half the amount of property he or she had brought in at the time of joining; as in all their affairs, the women shared equally with the men. Direction of the company was entrusted to a board of nine men. Seven of them had been among John Humphrey Noyes' closest and most trusted associates and, though Noyes had moved to Canada in 1879, they kept in close touch with him and were governed by his advice on all matters of broad policy. He never returned to Oneida, but the force of his character continued to hold the group together and helped steer it through the first difficult years of adjustment.
After Noyes' death in i886. however. the group seemed to go adrift. A Spiritualist group that had lain more or less dormant in the old Community now came out into the open and began to attract adherents, particularly among the older members who, having lost their shepherd of so many years, felt the need of new spiritual guidance. As it gained
strength, this faction was turned into a political party and in less than three years its membership had increased to a point at which, collectively, they owned a majority of the stock. In the election of 1889 they won five of the nine directorships and took over control of the company.
The career of Oneida Community, Limited, had, until then, been a reassuring, if moderate, success. The company had earned an average annual dividend of six per cent, but the top executives, who with almost no exceptions had been elders of the old Community, found it more difficult each year to make money with a full payroll to meet than in the old days when a large proportion of the company labor came free They were honest, hard working, and capable, but they belonged to a manufacturing generation that was already being outpaced by the growing rush of industrialization, and the company's promotional efforts became proportionately more handicapped each year by the very habits of frugality that had been the basis of the Community's success.
These characteristics of age and economy were accentuated under the new regime. If that regime had been allowed to remain in power for an indefinite period, Oneida Community, Limited, would undoubtedly have followed the course of so many small, country industries of its era, either being swallowed by some larger corporation or suffering a slow strangulation. In either case the unity of feeling and truly liberal traditions that were its inherent strength would never have been realized; and Oneida Ltd. would not exist today.
The history of its rescue and rebuilding belongs to the young men -and the young women who, seeing the issues with them, encouraged them. All of them had been raised in the Children's House. They came back to Oneida bringing not only their vigor of mind but a belief in their objectives as remarkable as their parents' had been. The main directing force of this youthful group came from the four men, already mentioned, who formed a kind of executive committee - Pierrepont Noyes; his cousin, George W. Noyes, Stephen R. Leonard: and Grosvenor N Allen. All of them were independent in their thinking, but they had complete unanimity of purpose. In the development of their company they were the top team, and when there is cause to write of one particularly, the other three should always be remembered.
It was, however, Pierrepont who first pointed the way.
John Humphrey Noyes had a profound belief in what he would call "special providences," and from the point of view of his followers who came to depend on Oneida Community, Limited, for their livelihood, it was a special providence that Pierrepont Noyes had inherited his father's toughness of mind and ability to judge life for himself and draw his own conclusions. Human nature being what it is, it is not surprising that John Humphrey Noyes, whose reactions were intensely human, never seems to have regarded this quality in his son as providential. It appears, in fact, to have troubled him more than once. But there can be no doubt that heredity made the pattern of Pierrepont Noyes' life a strange echo of his father's, and as the elder Noyes suddenly abandoned his study of law for the sake of his religion, so the son was to give up the assured prospect of personal wealth for the sake of the place and people he regarded as his home and family. Each man in his generation responded to a challenge of the mind with the same completeness and intensity of purpose.
Pierrepont Noyes had spent two years at Colgate University and was preparing to finish his college education at Harvard, when the serious illness of his mother caused him to drop his studies entirely and devote all his time to caring for her. She died in the autumn of 1891, and in the following January, Noyes went to work in the company's Niagara Falls plant.
He was not especially happy there, and he did not stay long. The atmosphere under what may be called the Spiritualist regime was not friendly to young and ambitious men. When Pierrepont Noyes' half brother, Holton, one day remonstrated that the executive group were driving the younger generation from the company, he was told that, "We don't need young men:' As a result, the two decided to leave the Community.
They naturally chose New York as the place to try their fortune. Not that they had any fortune of their own. But they entered the city with high hearts, seeing it first in one of the best of all its aspects, from the bow of a Hudson River ferry. Noyes recalls that it was April Fools' day, and that he and Holton had determined to begin by giving Wall Street a whirl.
Their career there followed a brief and predictable course, and in a very little time they had turned to selling silverware on their own. It was hard going. During their Wall Street adventure their small capital had shrivelled almost to the vanishing point, so at first they had to confine their selling operations entirely to the city, where competition was
both established and tough. Moreover, the sales resistance of the average Third and Second Avenue lunch room proprietor verged on the Homeric. It would have been hard to find anywhere in America a more rigorous school of salesmanship. When Pierrepont Noyes actually began to make sales, though he may not have realized it at the time, his future and the future of NOYES BROTHERS, Wholesalers of Silverware & Novelties, 56-58 Warren Street, was assured.
By January 1893 the firm had prospered sufficiently to extend its operations beyond the city limits, and Pierrepont Noyes began traveling through New York State and Pennsylvania. He was making a net profit of $25 a day. He did practically all the traveling for the firm. Holton had much less inclination for selling, and to satisfy him they had gone into the restaurant business, buying a small place on 9th Avenue. The two businesses had now turned into a real Community affair. A sister, Stella, had become office manager at ~6-~8 Warren Street; a second sister, Gertrude, was helping in the restaurant; Holton's bride, another Community girl, had taken over the chef's duties; Holton worked there full time; and when he was in the city, Pierrepont Noyes did the buying for it in the market every morning before setting out to sell silver.
In spite of this community of effort, they could not make the place pay, and after a few months were compelled to sell out. Holton, however, feeling that they had struck an unfortunate location. persisted in keeping on in the restaurant business. Noyes Brothers' partnership was therefore dissolved and, taking his share, Holton bought another restaurant in Pearl Street which was to prove successful.
Pierrepont Noyes now had full control of the silverware business. He was selling everything he was able to buy, his operations being limited solely by his capital. But at this time he had a fortunate break. The panic of 1893 had caused the head of Oneida Community, Limited's New York office, George N. Miller, to get rid of his outside salesmen, and he asked Noyes to take over his Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and New England area, with the understanding that Noyes could sell his own line on the side. This work brought in a little additional capital, but what was more significant, it introduced Noyes to many of the company's more important customers. Shortly afterwards, James Herrick, who had headed the company's Chicago office, was demoted by
the Oneida Management and came to New York to join Miller. He had considerable private capital, which he turned over to Noyes Brothers on an income basis.
This gave Noyes what he needed. Sales boomed, and by the beginning of 1894 he realized not only that he had established a solid business, but that he was on the road to real personal wealth. It must have been a heady sensation. He was not yet twenty-four, he and Holton had arrived in New York with little more than their wits and energy, and as much strangers as though they had arrived from a different world. And so in a way they had, for in the Children's House at Kenwood there had always been two worlds: Oneida Community and the Outside, the mysterious and sometimes hostile land that lay beyond its boundaries. It had taken him less than three years to prove his ability not only to play the Outside's game but to win at it; and now there was nothing to prevent his rising to the top.
It seems a curious circumstance therefore, perhaps with implications of his father's "special providence;' or of the old aunt's reminder that God, also, has plans, that at this juncture he should have been elected a director of Oneida Community, Limited. It happened suddenly and quite unexpectedly. His uncle Abram, leaving for California, had suggested that Pierrepont Noyes replace him on the board. At the moment, though, his election did nothing to change his attitude about worldly success, and though it meant that he returned more frequently to Oneida, his chief reaction was satisfaction over the opportunities it gave him to further his courtship of his future wife, Corinna Kinsley, who lived there.
But it was impossible for him to attend many board meetings without realizing that the company's position was no longer sound. The minority directors, of whom of course he became one, were given no voice in management and had little actual information beyond their awareness of one or two obviously incompetent appointments. Noyes, through his contacts with Oneida customers, was in a position to learn a good deal about the company's business, and as he looked around he began to be genuinely alarmed about the future of the company. For while there were a few cases of obvious delinquency and of such shortsighted policies as granting special discounts to one or two buyers, which had already meant the loss of other old and valuable customers, it seemed to him that the root of trouble reached far deeper. For the management
had wholly failed to understand the changing character of the business world and were still content to hitch along by the same old manufacturing and selling methods they had found adequate in the days when industry and thrift were the two recognized ingredients of any business success.
But while Noyes was outspoken in his criticism at board meetings and brought new life to the opposition by documenting his attacks with facts that sometimes proved as surprising to the management as to the other minority directors, he continued to be engrossed by his own affairs. He was married in June of that year and took his bride back to New York where they shared a small uptown housekeeping apartment with his sister Stella and allowed themselves a $100 monthly budget for all living expenses. He could see the career of a typical, successful businessman opening before him, with a house in town and life among other men who spent their own lives making money.
And then, walking home through Central Park one evening, he realized that he did not really want to be a rich man, and that for all his previous absorption in making money, the mere possession of wealth could never bring him happiness. He did not understand this change in himself; but the fact that it had occurred was inescapable. There were days afterwards when the force of this conviction wavered, but with each return it seemed to gain strength and clarity. The whole prospect of material success had suddenly gone flat.
What brought this revulsion of feeling about in a young man of twenty-three is something that still puzzles Noyes. Perhaps the more frequent visits to Kenwood, by reviving happy memories and associations of childhood, stirred impulses toward the simple, old Community life. Perhaps he was reacting to hereditary instincts. He began to think of the company's future less in terms of its success than in terms of what its failure would mean to older Community members, who had been his father's followers and were now dependent on the company's earnings. As the feeling grew more compelling he began to think of it as an impulse "to cover his father's rear:' By the end of the year it had reached so compulsive a stage that he and his wife, with whom he had discussed it from the beginning, together decided that their lives belonged in Kenwood.
Before then, however, outside events had drawn him into much more active participation in company affairs. Late in the summer, on a trip to Niagara Falls, he had discovered that the son of the plant manager was quietly getting himself customers at company expense by offering double the authorized discounts. This on top of other evidence of mismanagement convinced him that the majority party could be defeated. He talked it over with his older half-brother, Dr Theodore Noyes, and Miller and Herrick, and all agreed that he should return to Oneida and start a political campaign for control of the company.
That was in November 1894. At Oneida he rallied opponents of the majority party, William Hinds, the Kinsley brothers, and others, and for a month they conducted a very thorough canvass, writing or visiting every last one of the stockholders. It was an exciting contest. On election day, which came early in January 1895, it was agreed to count the ballots next morning, and that evening each side went to bed in the belief that it had lost. But in the middle of the night, Pierrepont Noyes came cold awake with the realization of an error he had made in his own tally of the shares. He had given one block of unvoted stock entirely to the other side when he should have counted half for each. This meant that instead of losing, the minority party had won by i6 shares out of the 24,000 voted. Sleep was out of the question, and he woke his father-in-law, Martin Kinsley, with the news. The counting of the ballots next day confirmed him; but for Noyes it was in the dark hours of that January night, when he hammered on the stove pipe that led up from his father-in-law's room through his own, that the present Oneida Ltd. was born.
In the reorganization that followed the election, Dr. Theodore Noyes became president of Oneida Community, Limited. But more significant was the appointment of Pierrepont Noyes as superintendent of the company's three departments at Niagara Falls. He was frantically opposed by the deposed party, who were horrified at the idea of a "boy of twentyfour" being given a post of such importance; but Mr. Hinds, who had proposed him, pointed out that silverware was a new and developing business and Pierrepont Noyes was the only member of their own team
competent to handle it and the other departments together. He was finally confirmed in the job with a starting salary of $1500
It meant a drastic change in the pattern of his life and before accepting he consulted his wife. But she seemed to have no doubts; and both Miller and Herrick, whose opinion he respected, were equally sure that he was right in going back to work for the Community. As soon, therefore, as he found a buyer for his Noyes Brothers' business, he sold out and joined his future without reservations to that of Oneida Community, Limited.
When he left to take charge at Niagara Falls, George Noyes went with him as his lieutenant. But from the beginning the contribution George Noyes made to the building of their new form of industrialism amounted to a great deal more than merely being a good assistant. Almost every man with creative ability is likely at some point in his life to meet another mind with a capacity for feeding and stimulating his own and serving as an anvil on which he can hammer out his ideas. George Noyes served Pierrepont Noyes in this capacity; btit so close was their relationship and so nearly did their objectives and personal ideals coincide that it would be hard to say at times in which mind the creative process began.
George Noyes had led his class at Cornell, but he returned to a small job in Oneida Community, Limited, confirmed in his belief that the underlying principles of the old Community life were right and good. He had never shown any particular inclination or ability for a business career, but his enthusiasm for their campaign turned him into a first-class businessman. He was the first to join Pierrepont Noyes' team.
Both of them were young men when they took over the grimy brick factories at Niagara Falls, and they realized that they were being closely watched and felt themselves on trial. Nevertheless, Pierrepont Noyes' first action was to drop the wholesale firm that had been profiting at the company's expense through the special discounts with which the former manager had been favoring them. It took nerve, for the wholesale firm was handling $70,000 worth of Oneida goods a year, and some older advisers felt that the company, which had almost no selling organization of its own, could not afford to let the account go.
But Pierrepont Noyes refused to be shaken in his purpose. First quality and upright dealing had always been taken for granted in the old Community's business relations and, until then, in those of Oneida Community, Limited. He knew that no company could ever build up sales on a national scale if some of its buyers were allowed to profit at
the expense of the others. In a case like this one, outright surgery seemed to him the best cure, and the account was dropped.
He was fortunate in the first two selections he made of factory helpers -Amos Reeve who became first assistant and adviser and Fred Filby, the works superintendent. With these men and George Noyes taking over for him, Pierrepont Noyes was able to give most of his time to selling.
As I have said, the company had almost no sales organization. Noyes had to find a man for the New York City and New England area, but he went West himself. In that first year the factory's main product was small orange spoons with gilded bowls which a man in Chicago named Levinson, who had been a former representative of the company, sold as "left over from the World's Fair." Most of their sales then were on the same scratch basis, but they kept the factory running; and Levinson became a good customer. From him Noyes learned too that a man named Rosenwald, with plenty of capital, had gone into Sears Roebuck and that Oneida Community, Limited, could therefore afford to extend their credit.
All in all, their first year at Niagara Falls was successful and the satisfaction of the directors was reflected in the $300 salary raise they voted him at the directors' meeting in January 1896. At the same time he was asked to take over the trap department which was still the company's most profitable business.
His first job in this department was the building of a new factory in Canada. Oneida Community had been importing all the traps for the Canadian market, but now a rival concern had already started a Canadian factory with the idea of underselling Oneida traps on which, of course, duties must be paid Noyes began construction on his factory. completed it, and was selling Canadian made traps before the rival factory had even been finished.
During those years he spent most of his time traveling in his effort to build up sales. He worked at a killing pace, but for all his slight build he had unbounded physical and mental vitality. One is reminded in contemporary descriptions of him of the good old up-state phrase, "tougher than whit-leather:' A woman who lived next door to him at Niagara Falls remembers that he never started on a trip without taking along the sort of reading-philosophy and history-that he had missed by having to give up college. But as his plans for a new sort of company
began to take shape, he started reading less and less and became progressively more absorbed in his own ideas.
At home the factories ran smoothly for he had already developed his unusual gift for finding the right men for the right jobs and making it easy for them to work with him, whatever their rating in the company.
He had a faculty for inspiring confidence not only in himself, but through working with him men gained confidence in their own ability. He had already embarked on his plan of bringing back the younger men who had been boys with him in the Children's House, and on every return to Oneida he worked continuously to get them into the key positions in the company.
It is interesting to call the roll of what might be called the older generation of the Children's House in these first two years. In 1896 Humphrey Noyes was already in charge of the silk department sales and was about to become assistant manager. Holton had sold his restaurant in New York to come back as assistant in the fruit department, which he ultimately took over. Within the year Stephen Leonard had been made assistant superintendent of the trap department, though really doing the work of superintendent, and began to cut costs and raise wages to a point which raised protesting howls from neighboring manufacturers. George Noyes, of course, continued as first assistant at Niagara Falls, and Pierrepont Noyes' right-hand man.
Grosvenor Allen, who was to show such an extraordinary gift as a designer of silverware, and B. L. Dunn, who became advertising manager, were still in college. The three Wayland-Smith brothers were with their father in New York, running an agency for a steel company; but two of them were to come back before long - Louis as treasurer of the company and Gerard to be sales manager. Of the younger generation of the Children's House, only one, Herbert Freeman, in the Niagara Falls factory, was working for Oneida Community, Limited, at this time.
These were the men Pierrepont Noyes wanted for his new company, and each according to his capacity was to play a part in building it. They may have varied in the degree of their belief in his ideals, but all of them had been imbued with the same idea of sharing and without their understanding and support, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to create and implement successfully the labor policies that became a decisive factor in the company's success.
In 1898, though he had not been officially appointed General Manager. Pierrepont Noyes in effect became so when he took over the Fruit Department. He was now 27 years old and carrying full responsibility for all departments of Oneida Community, Limited. But in 1897 and 1898 the company was riding a sharply rising tide of prosperity with a net profit for each year of nearly $60,000. They had $100,000 more in sales in 1898, but this had been absorbed by increased selling expenses as Noyes built up his sales department.
All branches of the company were doing well. Oneida Community chains had gained ground enough to make the New England manufacturers anxious, and towards the end of the year the company had a chance to strengthen the department when the Garland chain business was offered them for $32,000 and a ten year royalty of 3% per cent. Traps continued to be the mainstay, but the company was making progress in the silverware trade, and it was in 1898 that Noyes also got the Wrigley chewing gum premium business for Oneida Community, Limited. Until Wrigley's death, Oneida Community, Limited, had all his silverware business, sometimes amounting to carload lots on a single order.
But even more important to the future of Oneida Community, Limited, though it is hardly likely that anyone at the time realized its true significance, was the return at the end of the year of Grosvenor Allen, who went to work for the company on a starting salary of $18 a week.
In 1899 Noyes was officially made General Manager, drawing the same salary of $2500 he had received the year before, but being allowed $250 for expenses. The company bought the Garland chain business and further expanded its sales force, and that year also Myron Kinsley was put in charge of the Chicago office. The year seemed to be following the pattern of the previous two, though it promised even better, till the strike broke at Niagara Falls and Noyes was faced with the decision he would have to make for the future of the company and all the men who worked in it.
We have already seen how he made his choice and the promise he gave the workmen of better working conditions and a better life. From now on all his energies and force of character were directed specifically to making his word good.
That also is the history of Oneida Ltd.
IF PIERREPONT NOYES had had any lingering doubts about the wisdom of his decision to come back to Oneida, the strike and his reaction to it dispelled them finally and forever. He now knew himself to be committed; and as if to underline the knowledge, when another firm - early in 1900 offered him a starting salary six times the size of the one he was receiving from Oneida Community, Limited, if he would go with them, he turned them down without hesitation or regret. Instead, with the other three members of his "team," he undertook a critical appraisal of the company's position.
The turn of the century climaxed the whole long Victorian era with its confusion of materialism for progress and its presumptuous assumption of mankind's ability, through its discoveries in science, to reshape the world in its own image. The terrible irony of its success is apparent now in our moment after war; but in the early nineteen hundreds there were no revelations. A man's wisdom was too often judged by the amount of wealth he had amassed, to be powerful was to be right, and to be comfortable was to be civilized. All over the world the cartoon figure of the capitalist, silk-hatted and with a fat cigar; had grown a waistline; and in America a harsh new kind of highly-geared, commercialized industrialism had come into being with the close of the old century. It was to have a startling and rapacious growth in the first years of the new in the shape of the Great Trusts. Small, independent industry was being crowded out of the picture by mass-production and highpressure selling methods; and the country factory beside its own millstream, whose owners came to work on the same whistle as their employees, was fast becoming an anachronism. This was the world that Noyes and his youthful advisers looked out on as they laid their plans for their new Oneida Community, Limited.
They realized that their company would have small chance of security, or perhaps even of survival, unless it had a product capable of earning a national reputation and selling on a nationwide scale. They had already seen the need of an integrated sales policy, but it was obvious that launching such a product would require also an extensive advertising campaign, and as they surveyed the five separate businesses that made up Oneida Community, Limited, only one seemed capable of development along the lines they wanted-silverware.
There was one drawback that had to he considered: they would have to buck a virtual monopoly. Practically all the high grade plated silver sold in America in those days carried the "Rogers" name and was made by the Meriden Britannia Company and six or eight other Connecticut firms. They knew at Oneida that several companies had tried to break into the field without success, and they knew that the reason for their failure was implicit in the product itself. For the average customer had no way of judging the quality of silverware as he had, for instance, of judging cloth or food. He was forced to rely entirely on the reputation of the maker. The manufacturers of the Rogers lines had always kept their quality up to a standard, and the Rogers trade-mark had become solidly established in the public mind.
For that reason the Oneida silver plant at Niagara Falls had for years been turning out only the cheaper grades of silverware; and the one or two experiments they had made with higher quality silver simply had not sold. The company had never been happy about this situation; for in all its other lines the Oneida Community name had a]ways stood for the best in its field. But the directors had been unable to work out a method of beating the Connecticut monopoly which had become so firmly established in the quality silver plate game that nobody else could play.
Noyes' little steering committee thought they saw a way through this difficulty. Instead of trying to beat the Connecticut manufacturers' game according to their already established rules, Oneida would play a game of its own by returning to the old Community's first principles of making only the best product in the field. They knew, in other words, that the Connecticut companies were not producing the highest possible quality of plated ware but had been coasting for years on the manufacture of medium quality merchandise and a very assertive brand of advertising. They planned to turn out a better plate at Oneida than had ever been made before.
They based their campaign on four basic points, all of which involved ideas new in the silverware business: quality, design, established "resale prices," and a reorganized selling organization including what was then a large advertising campaign.
It was decided that Oneida was going to produce its patterns in a heavier than six ounce plate which they would call "triple plus'.' The great bulk of high grade silverware business at that time was in the so-called extra plate, which meant 2% ounces of silver per gross of teaspoons. The Connecticut firms had concentrated on this plate because it offered the greatest margin of profit and for years they had been making the most of it and had had little success with their six ounce plate, which was known as triple, mainly because they had made little effort to push it. From early lectures by Amos Reeve, Pierrepont Noyes knew that the real cost of making plated ware came in the shaping and polishing. The manufacturing process of standard plate and triple plate involved exactly the same operations in each case, except that triple plate had to be left in the plating bath enough longer to allow for the heavier accretion of silver. The main difference in manufacturing cost, therefore, was the price of the silver itself. This meant that Oneida would be able to offer its triple-plus plate for only a very little more money than the Connecticut people had been hauling down for their Rogers standard plate. It was a direct reversal of the line of attack that other makers had used against the monopoly in the past. offering a standard plate "as good as Rogers but a lot cheaper." That invariably made people wonder how they could afford to do it; buyers became suspicious and decided to stick with the known brand. But the Oneida argument that while their Community Plate did cost a little more, the customer was getting triple value in silver and hence three times the wearing quality, proved so appealing that within five years the makers of the Rogers brands had to follow the Oneida lead.
Noyes' second point was the matter of design. The Connecticut people paid very little attention to the designing of their triple plate, because they said that people with money to pay for triple plate preferred to buy sterling anyway. Therefore they generally offered their triple plate in the
same designs as the standard. A girl clerk in a jewelry store had once pointed out to Pierrepont Noyes the fundamental weakness of such a policy. No woman, she said, wanted to pay good money for silver that her hired girl might buy at a fraction of the price. The clerk may have used snobbish terms to make her point, but she was voicing an elemental instinct. To most people, whatever their means, silverware represents a permanent investment. and they naturally wish to feel that they are getting the best their money can buy. Oneida's steering committee decided that their patterns would be made in one grade, and one grade only - the triple-plus that was to be synonymous with Community Plate.
The third basic point in their campaign was to establish firm resale prices for both jobber and retailer. In the complete security of their position, the Connecticut manufacturers were careless of their dealers' profits. They knew that every first-class jeweler was obliged to stock Rogers silverware because there was no substitute. But around 1900 the great department stores and the rising mail order houses began to make huge inroads into the retail silver field; and as their sales mounted, the Connecticut manufacturers, with ruthless disregard of the interests of their old customers and concerned only in making the largest possible direct sales, made special prices for these big buyers, so that in many cases the big stores were offering Rogers silverware at lower prices than the jeweler could buy it for. Oneida Community, Limited's selling line of a better quality at little extra cost, with a guarantee of a fair and established profit for both retailer and jobber, was to have inevitable pulling power and within a few years jewelers. who in the past would not have considered stocking any make but Rogers, became eager to give Community Plate a try.
But this situation did not develop immediately, for as yet Oneida Community, Limited, as makers of high grade silver, had no accepted standing in the public mind. It was obvious that that would take time, effort, and advertising. The first step was a reorganization and enlargement of their sales force, the key move in which sent Grosvenor Allen out to Chicago. This proved one of the most fortunate moves in the company's history, for it was directly through his abilities as a salesman that Allen's wholly unsuspected gifts as a designer were uncovered.
Allen, however, did not design the first pattern in which Community Plate appeared. That was entirely the doing of Pierrepont Noyes, who
likes to say that it was not designed at all, but "constructed" by himself out of three or four other spoons with the aid of two of the company's die sinkers, Mr. Burns and Mr. Schultz. The bowl was suggested by one spoon, the top came from another, the side ornaments were adapted from a third, and the whole ensemble was fitted to the contour of a fourth. But Noyes' eye seems to have worked more creatively than he will allow, for the finished product was a good example of the rococo style that was especially fashionable at the time.
They called it Avalon.
Avalon was exhibited at the end of 1901 in the Buffalo Exposition. But they were in no rush to put it on the market; and it was not till the spring of 1902 that they made their first experimental ventures with it. Instead, most of their energies in 1901 went into providing more facilities for making silverware in the Niagara Falls plant. To this end the chain business, which was becoming very profitable, was moved to Oneida, where it took over the space previously occupied by the silk department and was combined with the trap department. The silk business in its turn had grown to a point that made bigger quarters imperative, so it was moved into a new $30,000 factory building of its own.
Everything was now ready for the introduction of Community Plate, and in January 1902 the directors made a $5000 appropriation to advertise their new product. It was, of course, wholly inadequate; but the conservative senior members of the board had no conception of the amount of money that would be required to put the new line over, and Noyes did not enlighten them at this time. In this first year he was content to go slow.
The appearance of Community Plate was greeted with a good deal of jeering among the established silver makers, who said that the Oneida people were all right as blacksmiths and turned out a good enough line of traps and chains, but you couldn't expect them to know anything about making good silverware. The triple-plus plate was ridiculed as a "mush plate," and one rival president openly predicted that Noyes would soon get sick of his announced policy of fixing resale prices.
Noyes was not disturbed. He did not expect Community Plate to make big headway at the start, for jewelers weren't likely to stock a new line until it had been widely advertised. Most of their sales in this first year and for several years to come were to hardware dealers who had
been buying Oneida traps and chains for years and understood the background of integrity that belonged to all Community products. Many of these dealers, especially through the Middle West, also had house furnishing departments and were in a position to push the new silverware, and their success soon began to be noticed by jewelers.
Noyes and his key salesmen regarded this first year as a training period in which they were able to familiarize themselves with the finer points of their new sales field. They soon saw that they could not put their line over by offering Community Plate in only a single pattern, and when they learned in the course of the summer that rival makers were about to come out with a "floral" design, they decided they must have one too. Fortunately by then they had found in Grosvenor Allen a man to handle their problems of design.
As a salesman Allen had a faculty for presenting his case in such a logical, thought-out manner that a prospect with every intention of saying "No" would still be induced to hear him through. But he had two other qualities that counted even more. Like Noyes and the other young, key salesmen, he wanted not only to make sales, but believed in the larger objectives his sales were helping to achieve. And he also had a sensitive perception of the reactions of other people that allowed him to share his prospect's point of view almost as keenly as his own.
In 1901 he and Pierrepont Noyes had been working together to put over a very large premium deal with the American Cereal Company, makers of Quaker Oats, and had interested them in the idea of a special cereal spoon. This in itself was a triumph. as the Quaker Oats people had followed a no-premium policy for years. Mr. Crowell, the president. was immensely proud of his product and would not consider selling anything with it that wasn't first-class. Allen had immediately felt this and it was largely his emphasis on the development of real art in silver-making that sold Crowell the premium idea. Even then it took them six months to get a contract, which was subject to the factory's producing a satisfactory design. This was to be patterned with a full blown iris motif that had very much taken Mr. Crowell's fancy.
As a matter of course a sketch was sent to the factory at Niagara Falls, but those first sketches were not at all what the Quaker Oats people wanted. A second set of sketches turned out even worse and Allen himself saw that the third set was hopeless. He could feel Mr.
Crowell's interest in the whole idea fading with each rejection, but instead of asking the factory for a fourth set of sketches, he decided to find an artist who could give him a fresh design, based on the iris motif. The elderly silverware buyer for Marshall Field to whom he took his problem, put him in touch with a young woman named Julia Bracken who worked out a clay model with a motif that pleased the Quaker Oats people and was developed at the factory into the Cereta pattern. Quaker Oats used it for years; the total orders amounted to somewhere between two and three hundred thousand dollars, and as the quality was identical with Community Plate the factory gained invaluable experience while the regular line was still moving slowly.
It was natural, therefore, when the need for a floral design became apparent that the matter should be turned over to Allen. With the aid of Miss Bracken he worked out the Flower de Luce pattern, which was to prove very successful, and which, thanks to a factory force willing to go down the line for the company. was ready for sale late in 1904 when the campaign to put over Community Plate had finally hit full stride. From then on Oneida patterns were always worked out by Allen with the aid of professional artists; before long there were artists on the regular payroll. the chief of whom for years was paid a larger salary than the president of the company.
In the meantime Pierrepont Noyes and his associates had worked themselves to the limit to make a good showing in the other departments. They knew that they would need profits to persuade the directors to commit themselves to the silverware campaign which was bound to show losses at first, and as a matter of fact it was seven years before Community Plate began making money for the company. But the other departments came up with a better than $100,000 net income in 1902, and the next January, Noyes told the directors that the advertising appropriation for Community Plate would have to be $30,000.
They were interested hut wanted to know where the money was to come from. He told them that he had it in his pocket. For years he had played a lone hand in the trap business, refusing to talk prices with his competitors. But in i903, with one of his hunches that the market for traps was due for a sudden rise, he agreed to raise prices. The paper in his pocket was the agreement to a general 15 per cent raise in the price of traps. It made up the $30,000 needed to advertise Community Plate.
The first Community Plate advertising had been along conventional lines for those days, when the idea of getting one's money's worth consisted of buying a small space in a lot of magazines and cramming it with as much of the manufacturer's message as it could hold in small type. Generally the buying public never saw it at all, and the maker himself sometimes had a hard time finding his own advertisement.
Neither Noyes nor any of his steering committee felt that this type of advertising was effective, and one day in Chicago he and Allen took some late examples round to the advertising manager of the American Cereal Company, a young man like themselves, named Brampton, with whom they had become on very good terms during the negotiations for the Cereta spoon, and asked his advice. Brampton had been working out some revolutionary advertising theories of his own in connection with the Quaker Oats program and had become interested also in Oneida's problems. After one glance at the Community Plate cut, which showed a middle aged woman looking admiringly at a spoon, he told them that it was no good, but he also told them why.
They were trying to advertise silverware, he pointed out, and not old women. Silver was a beautiful product and should be shown as near life size and as realistically and attractively as possible. He was also convinced that spreading your advertising appropriation thin-over a large number of magazines-was practically throwing money away. You should use fewer advertisements, but when you did buy space it should be the largest you could afford in a high-priced, large circulation magazine, and if possible you ought to take a full page.
This was a brand new approach to advertising silverware, but Oneida adopted it and found it enormously effective. Their rivals for some years went on in the old way, spending a good deal more money than Oneida, but not getting the results; and in the end they had to adopt the same advertising methods, and in addition, so effective had the Community Plate campaign proved, they changed their leading lines to triple plate.
Oneida followed this advertising line for some time, and when B. L. Dunn first became advertising manager, he continued it, though with a happy embellishment of his own, the use of lace backgrounds for the silver. Unlike most of the young men who came back to work for
Oneida, Dunn had had no previous business experience but had left a flourishing practice as an oculist to throw in his lot with Noyes at a typically low starting salary. He had an unorthodox and inquiring mind, and it was during his managership that the whole approach to advertising silverware was revolutionized. Till then the message of Community Plate advertising, as of all other leading makes, had been directed almost entirely to the middle-aged group. Manufacturers naturally inclined to the type of advertising that appealed to themselves, and it was natural for Oneida, though all its key men were young, to follow Suit. Dunn pointed out what everyone had always known, that the real buyers of silverware were young people.
The result was the series of advertisements, beginning in i9io, that were built round the illustrations of Coles Phillips, whose work at that time had gained striking popularity among young people. The "Coles Phillips Girl" was not only remarkably attractive to men, but because of the care Phillips took in the styling of her clothes, hair, and accessories, she also appealed to women. The emphasis in these advertisements was not so much on the silver as the association in the reader's mind of Community Plate with smart and attractive young people. It was, in fact, the first "pretty girl" advertising in America and as such profoundly affected the whole advertising business. Its effect on the sales of Community Plate was extraordinary: nothing like it has ever occurred again in the history of Oneida.
Overlapping the Coles Phillips' series and supplementing it, Dunn ran two others which through the use of photographs developed endorsements by Irene Castle, then at the height of her fame and popularity as a dancer, and by Mrs. Belmont and other leading socialites. The latter, probably as much as any other single factor, helped to establish Community Plate in the mind of the buying public as America's leading plated silverware.
By then the first World War was over. At Oneida a great deal more had been going on than just the creation of a great silver business. Noyes had been made president on the death of Mr. Hinds in 1910; he was now holding down that office and until 1917 acted as his own general manager. Yet even in the excitement of Community Plate's first appearance, in the years while they were struggling to lift the sales level of their product to that of their leading rivals, neither Noyes nor his associates had lost sight of their larger objectives.
THE RISE of Community Plate to recognized leadership in the silverplated ware business and the growth of Oneida Community, Limited, into an enterprise larger than its original directors had ever dreamed of, went hand in hand with the development of the plans that Noyes and his steering committee of three had been making for their employees. The result was a sense of participation rare in industry. As the workers watched the growth of the new product and sensed the growing security of the company's position, they could also see the benefits accruing to themselves and became aware of their direct contribution both to the company and to their own welfare as a whole.
Another executive group might well have waited for a more completely secure position for their company before making the welfare moves that Noyes embarked on; but both he and his team, perhaps intuitively, felt that they were an integral factor of their new product and that a sound and reasonably happy way of life for their employees had as great an effect on the quality of Community Plate as good materials and honest craftsmanship. If this industrial pattern did not conform to the accepted "sound" business methods of those times, it fitted the simple needs of human nature, and in 1903, as we have seen, it had already begun to repay the company by the extra effort their factory force had made in getting out the new pattern, Flower de Luce, on schedule.
By then the general level of wages in Oneida Community, Limited, had been raised 30 to 40 per cent. In the previous year the Niagara Falls plant had gone on a 9 hour day with 10 hours' pay. This had proved so successful that in 1903 the policy was adopted in all depart-
ments of the company and that same year Oneida Community, Limited, Relief Associations organized by the employees were made effective by the company. But the real heart of Noyes' interests lay in the life of the community that had begun to grow up round Kenwood.
In the early days, when the old Community first began employing outside labor, workers came 10 work from neighboring towns or settled into a more or less ramshackle community along the east-west highway known as Turkey Street. As the business enterprises increased, so did Turkey Street, but it still retained something of its original transitory atmosphere Noyes even at that early stage wanted to see his workmen secure in homes of their own.
In 1903 the company started its policy of encouraging its employees to build or buy for themselves. Toease the housing problem a small number of houses were built and others converted into flats to rent to workers, but that never became a permanent policy in Oneida, for Noyes had never liked the idea of taking back any of his employees' pay, no matter how fairly or with what good intention. From the start the company did everything possible to make it easy for employees to establish themselves in independent homes. Land was sold at low farm rates -in special instances even given away-and a bonus of $200 was paid every employee who built a house for himself. A separate school district was created, the company buying out formerly participating districts and erecting a modern building for the grades, and some time later a high school building as well. It also assumed half the cost of teachers' salaries.
These things were all accomplished on the eve of their campaign to launch Community Plate on the national market, and it must have been apparent to all their employees that the management was staking the company's future not only on the quality of their product and their own ability to sell it, but on the performance and fair dealing of their labor force. It resulted in what I can only describe as an enlightened loyalty on both sides.
One may wonder how the older directors accepted these moves. It is proper to say that their inclinations went with Noyes; and as they saw the company developing under his hand, they put more and more trust in his judgment and that of his three close advisers. The latter all came
to be members of the board, forming with Noyes a young minority, but it became almost a custom for the older directors to say, "Well, if you four are for this, so are we"
Dr. Theodore Noyes died in the spring of 1903. As president he had been one of Pierrepont Noyes' most sympathetic and steadfast backers. William Hinds succeeded him, but before his election, he assured Noyes in a frank and private conference that he had no wish to interfere with his work as general manager but approved his policies and would support them. This left Noyes and his three team mates in uninterrupted control of the developing company.
It continued to prosper. The first tentative explorations into foreign markets for Community Plate were made in 1905 and 1906 when Francis Wayland-Smith was sent first to the Argentine and then to Australia. The same years saw the introduction at Niagara Falls of such technical improvements in the manufacturing process of plated ware as buffing without polishing and the use of the cyanide process in die tempering. At the same time the old wheel pit power was supplanted by electric motors. A sense of adventure filled the company in these years and a growing confidence in their own competence. New men, with names that did not belong to the roster of the Children's House, were also appearing in the administrative offices and working towards the top, for Noyes had realized that he could never fill all the jobs in a larger company with direct descendants of the old Community. But these also were young men. They went through the initiation of working for little pay and stayed because they believed in the company and what it stood for.
In 1906 the Animal Trap Company, Lititz, Pennsylvania, was bought up and its entire stock taken over. This was the last major expansion in any department outside of silverware. More and more as the drive to make Community Plate a national product gained headway, the energies and enthusiasm of the company were being centered in the silverware department In 1912 the chain business was sold to the American Chain Company and a year later the silk business went to the M. Hemingway
& Sons Silk Company of Watertown, Connecticut - the two sales together bringing in over half a million dollars. Ii) the old timers their going, especially the silk business after 47 years, must have roused nostalgic recollections of the past, but to Noyes and his young associates it meant the first step in clearing their field for the main game. For they had just begun to move their whole silverware plant from Niagara Falls.
The Quarter Finish Department arrived first. in 1912. to move into a brand new factory building, powered by an equally new power plant. It was two years more before everything was ready for the reception of the rest of the plant. Then in July 1914 a special train pulled Out of Niagara Falls, loaded with the plant machinery, the factory workers, their families, and all their possessions. A week after the factory closed at Niagara Falls, the Sherrill plant was in full operation with all the familiar faces down along the line. The move had cost the company $220,000, but they regarded it as worth while, and also as a tribute on the part of the factory workers who had shown a rare confidence in their management by pulling up roots and moving over two hundred miles to a totally strange community.
The move, so nearly coinciding with the outbreak of war in Europe, was followed immediately by a sharp decline in business and in October the factories had to cut to tour days a week and salaries were dropped 10 per cent The employees stuck with the company, however, and in its turn the company went ahead with plans for factory and club rooms for the workers and early in 1915 put the Welfare Department on its first definite budget -- of $28,300 Business continued slow, and though the first order for war supplies, from the Remington Arms Company, came in that March, it did not amount to enough to take up the slack.
The pay cuts were still in effect in 1916 when, for the second time, the New York State organizer for the silver workers' union (Metal Polishers, Buffers, Platers, Brass and Silver Workers' Union of North America, to give it its full title) was instructed to organize Oneida Community, Limited.
When this man reached Sherrill, the International Silver Company was out on strike and Wallace & Company faced the same prospect, and the pressure to bring the Oneida employees into the fold was very heavy. The organizer made a thorough and unimpeded survey before sending
back his report. This report, which was read at a mass meeting of strikers and reported in the Meriden Daily Journal for November 3rd, gives such a straightforward picture of what the company had accomplished that it is worth quoting part of it here:
"I have investigated the Oneida Community, Limited, Silverware factory with the following results: I find this company is perfectly independent of any affiliation with any of the manufacturers' organizations either in their own line or any other. They work their men short hours, give them good pay, and treat them like human beings. Consequently there is the best of good will between employer and employee .
"The employees seem to be perfectly satisfied with things as they are in the factory. Therefore, I do not believe that any successful organization could be formed among them .
"In fact, the company makes a study of its employees in order to give them every opportunity of having good, clean amusements and all kinds of athletics, picture shows, lectures, bowling, baseball, football, and, in fact, all kinds of outside and inside athletics and amusements that are good for any normal person.
"These are a few of the reasons for the contentment of the employees of this company. I could go on and enumerate many more, but I believe enough has been said to convince you that this company is different from any company you have ever heard of in their treatment of their employees. It is not done for advertising purposes, as a great many of our corporations do, but is simply a business policy carried out by men who put the man and woman ahead of the dollar."
The attempt to organize the Oneida factories was abandoned, but the strike at International continued into the following spring. Jewelers who had always bought from International began to find their stocks running out, and many of them turned to Community Plate. By the time the strike was settled. Oneida Community, Limited, had forged so far ahead that it was doing business on an equal footing with International, and since then it has maintained its standing. Between them the two companies today have the greater part of the silverplated ware business of America.
The business policy that ''put the man and woman ahead of the dollar" had paid off in dollars too, but now that they were on top of the game, the Oneida management had no intention of altering their philosophy. A five per cent pay raise was announced in the middle of the year and the company continued its building and welfare programs in the interest of the employees.
Two items must be interjected here for the sake of the record In April 1916, Sherrill was incorporated as a city by a special act of the State Legislature, becoming the smallest city in New York State and making it possible for its citizens, largely employees of the Company, to organize their municipal government on a city management basis. The organization was accomplished with the backing of the company, but with no interference, for neither then nor later has the company tried to influence the employees' management of their own affairs.
In the same year the canning business was discontinued. This had been the first of the original Community's enterprises, and of all their industries, because of the associations it held with the simple happy life of the beginning years at Kenwood, it had meant most to the older members. Its going marked another step in the passage of a generation.
Shortly before this country's entry into World War I, Oneida began a series of wage changes that were to lead directly to the present profitsharing policy, and once again the company and its employees provided a heartening example of the way management and labor can work together for their common good. Noyes and his associates had early become concerned over the effect of rising prices on the lives of their employees. Perhaps it was because of the low salaries they drew themselves, but it seems to me more likely to have come from the same awareness of lives and problems beyond their own that made them the first company in the country to offer the use of their plant to the government.
At any rate, on January 2, 1917, the management announced a new "High-Cost-of-Living" Wage Plan based on a wage rate that included the last five per cent general raise plus an extra percentage to correspond to Bradstreet's Index, sixteen per cent being the first used. Thereafter for every twenty points advance that Bradstreet showed, the employee would receive a one per cent addition to his weekly wage. This High-Cost-of Living Wage was given out in a separate envelope At the same time
three-year employees were paid seven and one-half per cent on their 1916 earnings and two-year employees five per cent as restitution for their short-time losses
The High-Cost-of-Living Wage carried through the war years for all employees working at Oneida. But the company felt a genuine concern for workers called into the services. Remembering the action of the directors in the Spanish American War, the Board voted on April 7 to pay a War Service Wage that would give men with dependents their full factory wages minus their government pay, while a man without dependents received half his factory wage less government pay. This War Service Wage was turned over regularly to the employee's assigned dependents or banked in his name, and he knew that on his return he could have his job back if he wanted it The "Honor Roll" for World War I shows 269 Men in the Service and seven names with Gold Stars.
Immediately after our declaration of war, Noyes left Kenwood to volunteer his services to the Government. He was away for three years, serving for the first year and a half as Assistant Fuel Administrator in Washington and then, after peace came, as the American member of the Rhineland Commission, which had entire responsibility for the Occupation of Germany, a job that kept him abroad for a year and a half more. His absence had been made possible by the appointment of Albert M. Kinsley as General Manager to succeed him. When he first returned to active work in the company in 1920, it was as president, but in 1922, in a period of great financial stress, and only after repeated urging by the directors, he resumed the General Managership and served again in a double capacity.
Kinsley had been appointed in January 1917. For years Noyes had preached what he called his "shingles on a roof" theory of business sue-cession. That meant that he did not believe that a successful leader could hand over management as successfully if he hung on to the bitter end, allowing a third generation to take its place in the ranks under him and passed his authority over a gap - it was like a carpenter who left out a row while he was shingling a roof. Before the end of 1916 he had made up his mind to hand over the Oneida management and it was with the full approval of the directors that he selected Kinsley for the post.
Kinsley was one of the men who, all through his life, believed in the company and even more in what it stood for. By the time he was eleven he became interested in the work the company was trying to do, and before he was sixteen he had developed a consuming ambition to take part in building it. He refused to go on to college and instead went to work for the company at the age of seventeen as a "salesman in training." His enthusiasm and ability carried him forward so rapidly that in 1903, when he was only twenty, Noyes appointed him superintendent of the Chain Factory He made a brilliant record there, doubling the business in three years, and later, when the silverware plant was moved to Sherrill, he was appointed Works Manager of all the factories.
Few people in the company ever showed Kinsley's gift for interesting himself in and understanding the personal problems of other people, and none wakened a stronger response of personal loyalty among the workmen, to whom he was universally known as "Ah." It was during his administration that a dozen young men from Oneida and its vicinity were added to the Sales Force and Executive Organization. Most of them have moved upward and are still with the company. But his greatest interest was always centered on the welfare of the factory force. When the Niagara Falls factory made its move to Sherrill, it was Kinsley who was on hand to help the families get settled. He would back every suggestion for improvement of living or working conditions in Sherrill, no matter what it cost; and a great many of those that were realized represented long hours of work on his part.
One of his particular interests was the formation by the company of the Community Associated Clubs, the C.A.C., a social, recreational, and welfare organization through which group insurance, hospitalization, and visiting nursing service were to be made available to all employees and their families and brought within their reach. It conformed in many ways to the company's belief in strengthening the worker's sense of independence. The company helped start the project, provided the facilities, and underwrote it, but the running of the club was left entirely in the hands of the members. The plan applied to all Oneida factories, and membership, of course, was voluntary; but practically every Oneida employee joined -which was a striking testimonial of their complete faith in Kinsley.
It was this preoccupation with the interests of the men who worked for Oneida that, as much as any other single factor, induced him to lead the company into not only a real business expansion through 1919 and 1920 but a general improvement of facilities for the comfort and benefit
of the workers both inside of the factories and out, just on the eve of the crash of 1921. But in the long run his contribution to the real understanding between the employees and management played a vital part in carrying the company through even harder years to its present great prosperity.
In the meantime Oneida factories were engaged in war work that ranged from plating shells to making trench knives, Bob knife handles, cartridge cases, magazine tubes, periscopes, Browning gun parts, and surgical instruments. In the first World War, the industrial conversion was nothing like as complete as in the second, and in May 1918 the factories were only on a fifty per cent war basis and were still making silverware; but they were working at top capacity and the end of the war found them in such a good financial position that they were able to resume the company bonus to employees building their own homes. Though the High-Cost-of-Living Wage was still in effect, the management in July 1919 announced a forty-five hour week with an eleven per cent advance in wages to all employees, to become effective in September.
It was a period of hopeful expansion. The advertising appropriation for the year had been raised to $125,000; the company was opening an office in Sydney, Australia, and Community Plate advertising appeared for the first time in England. Orders for silverware were coming in faster than they could be filled, though the factories were running full speed and round the clock, with 1500 day and 360 night workers. But for all the seriousness of the back-order situation, there were pleasant interludes to interrupt the rush of work. In June the company opened a golf course at Sherrill for the employees, and later in the summer the employees, who had already made Noyes the gift of a Cadillac car on his leaving the managership in 1917, again showed their appreciation by presenting Kinsley with a Stutz roadster ... unimportant incidents, perhaps, against the pattern of a hundred years in the company's growth, but indications that the sense of solidarity and mutual confidence which were the keys to its success had not been buried by expansion and prosperity.
1920 promised to be an even bigger year, for the inrush of orders was still at flood stage. It rolled on into the summer. By August the back-order situation had become the worst in the company's history. At a special stockholders' meeting called that month $200,000 was voted for immediate factory enlargement, with another $400,000 to be available by February if it were needed. By October the domestic advertising appropriation alone had swelled to $193,000, and the future prosperity of the company seemed almost without a horizon.
At this point, when prices had reached their peak, the management decided to abandon the High-Cost-of-Living Wage. This separate bonus envelope, handed out with the weekly pay envelope, had worked smoothly through the more than two years of rising prices and would have provided a simple and easy means of lowering wages in case of a recession; but the management chose to make the benefits, which had accrued to their employees, permanent by adding the bonus, which by then amounted to fifty per cent, to their regular pay.
The announcement came just before the market broke. On October 28, 360 temporary employees taken in during the war had to be laid off; and this figure was to reach a total of 500. The fixed, high, basic wage, on top of shrinking orders, became a terrific burden and in 1921 the management faced the prospect of having to shut down. As Noyes later described their situation,
"We worked four days a week early in the year, finally, three days a week with a four weeks' shut-down. The shut-down was not all at one time, but was sandwiched in so as to keep some wages going to the men. In other words, we stuck by the employees; didn't fire them; and made more goods than we sold, all at a loss, for, in my opinion, unemployment' is the greatest factor in labor unrest. Necessity forced many concerns to let some even of the older employees walk the streets. Necessity dictated the same course for us, but we stood it off."
The cost at which they stood it off mounted to three quarters of a million dollars. By the end of the summer it was obvious that the company could not long survive if it persisted in its present course Noyes decided to take his problem directly to the workers.
At a general meeting he told the employees that the company was losing serious money and that it could not indefinitely go on paying them their present wages. Adding the High-Cost-of-Living bonus to their regular pay, he explained, had been a mistake, for it meant that in effect the company was sharing profits before they had been earned. Their jobs at Oneida depended on the financial soundness of the company just as much as his did. He had cut his own salary to $5000, and all management salaries would be cut proportionately. What he wanted to know was whether the employees would agree to a thirty-three per cent
cut in their pay if the company promised to share profits with them after they had been earned.
It was a strange echo of his talk to the workers twenty-two years before in the buffing room at Niagara Falls, and there must have been the same gleam in his eyes as he asked the men for a second time to take his word But there was a difference: for the men knew him now, and they knew the company they worked with, and there was no need at all to poll the meeting, which rose to give Noyes the greatest demonstration of applause and confidence in company history.
That was the beginning of formal profit sharing at Oneida. The method they worked out then is still in effect, with only a very minor change or two. today. They called it a "contingent wage." It consisted of half the earnings of the company after all obligations had been met - including taxes, dividends, and seven per cent on the common stock and surplus. One quarter of this sum was figured on their regular pay. The other three quarters was figured on their service wages. The service wage, which had been instituted in 1918, was an automatic increase in pay that began when an employee completed three months' work with the company. He then had one per cent extra in his pay envelope. After a year this increase had grown to five per cent, and it then rose steadily until an employee who had worked with the company for twenty years or more received an added twelve per cent.
The contingent wage was a success from the beginning. The first payment was announced at the end of 1922 and amounted to $300,000. From 1922 through 1925 the total bonus payments to the employees reached $1,175,000 This, added to his service wage, meant a yearly increase over regular pay of seventeen percent for the average worker, and for older men it meant as much as twenty two per cent, a very high return compared to most other profit sharing plans.
The sense of partnership between the management and employees was strengthened and showed itself in a new interest among the workers to increase production and cut down the proportion of rejected goods, for they could see both the quality of their work and the smooth running of the plant mirrored in their year-end bonus. The annual announcement of its payment- or, as in the grim years of depression so soon to follow, its non-payment has been used by the management to report
to the employees on the financial situation of the company. In these reports, which are given to the employees before they are given to the stockholders, the operating and financial figures are broken down in a way that laymen can understand, but they are wholly frank and more complete even than the financial statement.
As far as I know there is no parallel to this Oneida practice anywhere in American industry, and it is impossible to read one of these reports without realizing the actuality of the employees' partnership in the enterprise
In January 1926, Pierrepont Noyes stepped out as General Manager and
Miles E. Robertson was appointed in his place. Except for his three years
of service with the government, Noyes had had complete charge of the company
for twenty-seven years. It had been a period of steadily mounting prosperity.
For twenty-five years the company had paid seven percent on the common
stock and substantial stock dividends. In Noyes' last year as General Manager,
the company's net profit was greater than the capital and surplus in 1894,
when lie went out to take charge of the Niagara Falls plant. Capital had
risen from $600,000 to $6,356,000; and the surplus from $99,745.43 to $2,278,834.68.
But impressive as these figures were, Noyes must have been thinking of
the buffing room at Niagara Falls as he turned over the General Manager's
desk to Robertson, and the promise he had given the workmen of doing more
for them than they could get through a union. They had come a long way
together, but there was no doubt that he had made good his word. What they
had here at Oneida was not something that could be told in figures, important
and gratifying as the story told by the figures was. Very likely he remembered
the report of the union organizer who said that they put the man and woman
ahead of the dollar. They had always done that at Oneida.
THE VALIDITY of almost any social organization, and the ideas behind it, can be best judged by its powers of survival. The key to Oneida's development, as we have seen, has been the sense of participation, or partnership, that acknowledged the contribution made by every individual to the welfare of the whole group. It has been carried out in the company's unchanging policy of "paying less at the top so there will be more at the bottom;" and while the actual monetary effect of this has real significance in a company of Oneida Ltd.'s size, it is less significant than the ideal that it expresses. If that seems a modified form of socialism, it is also solidly in the tradition of the early American country industries on which, in my opinion, the real prosperity of this country was founded, and on which its ultimate salvation may well depend.
It is man's work that gives point to human existence, and the whole man cannot work just for the sake of making money, but needs to find some significance in his labor. At Oneida they have always been aware of this To them an employee is not merely a cipher on a time sheet, but a recognized factor in the life of their manufacturing community. Therefore in filling administrative posts, especially those involving contact with the factory workers, the management takes great pains to find the kind of man who shows a capacity for seeing outside of his own immediate and personal concerns and understanding those of other people. The driving type of foreman with no interest beyond the production record of his particular department has had few prototypes at Oneida. Instead, on all levels of the organization, there are men whose cast of mind holds them in sympathy with the company's philosophy.
That is where its strength lies, for it has the power of finding or
attracting the right man for the job in hand. It seems to me a vital element in the company 5 continuing vigor and the best argument for its survival. Because they are interested in their employees as people does not mean that they are not good business men and effective factory managers. Men who know what they are fighting for have always fought better than mercenaries, and the same holds true for working men. At Oneida there is a kind of defense in depth against both the cynicism of labor politics and the outright commercialism of high pressure business that has twice carried the company through severe reversals and brought it back stronger than it was before and with a resilience to which the factory force contributed as well as management.
Miles E. Robertson, who succeeded Pierrepont Noyes as General Manager, in the phrase of the old Community, was an "Outsider;" hut there is one curious parallel between the experience of his early years and Noyes'. For both men began their careers with the determination to be rich, and both decided later, that for them money was not the whole game. The manner in which each reached his decision was, however, entirely different, and entirely characteristic With Noyes it came all at once, in a single flash, as he walked home in the evening through the park. Robertson's way was harder.
He was born into a prosperous farming family of Scotch and English ancestry who during his early childhood had come upon hard times. It was a matter of pride for the sons to share the family burden, and from his twelfth year onward Robertson never owed his parents a penny for his support. He put himself through Syracuse University, where he played football and captained the track team, and went on to study law, possibly because an older brother was making a success in it. After finishing his course he was admitted to the bar, but he did not find the practice of law to his taste and in 1913, after two or three months, he dropped it to take a job with Oneida Ltd. at a starting salary of $9 a week.
The desire to make money was at this time practically an obsession. People who knew him in his first year with the company remember with almost equal vividness his gauntness, his intensity, and his ability to get work done. He was soon marked as a man to watch and his progress up through the company was both steady and rapid. Within two years he was recognized as one of the best salesmen Oneida Ltd. had.
In 1917 he left for army service with the Motor Transport Corps -both army and navy had rejected him because of a bad eye. After the war he became Export Sales Manager, taking over the company's export business and, with his wife, making a trip round the world to visit all Oneida foreign agencies. When Noyes reiterated his intention to give up the general managership in 1926, Robertson had become the unanimous choice to succeed him.
Then, hardly a year later, and much as Noyes had been, Robertson was approached by another company with an offer that promised the real personal wealth that had been his goal since childhood. The man who brought the offer was a personal friend who announced that he would stay for his answer It is probable that Robertson had never realized till then how deeply he had become imbued with the Oneida philosophy. He took his time in making his decision; in this, a~ in company problems, he did not want to make his move until he was certain that he had considered every angle, but when at the end of a week he made up his mind to stay at Oneida, it was without a shred of doubt about the rightness of his choice.
The year before Robertson took over as General Manager, the company had let the last of the old Community's original enterprises go when, on February 28, 1925, they sold the steel trap business. From now on they had no interest except silverware; and with Community Plate firmly established with the buying public, and their export trade increasing-in 1926 they opened a plant in Sheffield, England- the future must have seemed bright. Robertson, however, realized that the company's strength was concentrated almost wholly in the top level of the silverware field; they did make one intermediate grade at that time-the old "Reliance" plate; but they were a little like the levitated man - riding on a vacuum; and if they expected to maintain their position, they would have to meet their competitors on the levels that Community Plate did not reach.
To sell effectively through the channels that reached these other markets. they needed separate trade-marks The name of Community Plate had already been developed very broadly and to spread it wider would have meant a dangerous dilution of its advertising value Since it was cheaper to buy good will on an established trade-mark than to build it on a new one, Oneida started a quiet survey of the field and when in 1929 they found that the Wm A. Rogers, Limited, which
made the 1881 Rogers line, was available, they bought it for just under $3,000,000.
Out of this deal, besides the main Wm. A Rogers, Limited plant at Niagara Falls, they acquired four other factories - at Hartford and Wallingford, Connecticut, at Northampton, Massachusetts; and at Toronto, Canada-and the four brands of silverware they needed to prevent trade complications: Wm. A. Rogers, 1881 Rogers, Simeon L. and George H. Rogers Company and Heirloom. The business was badly run down, due mainly to old-fashioned and inadequate promotion; the company had been dealing on the fringes of the silverware field. It was necessary to completely rehabilitate all three lines with new quality, new patterns, and new packaging, but before they could get their program fairly started, the depression broke upon them.
It must have seemed as if the company was fated never to make a major move towards expansion or to commit itself to a higher wage policy except on the eve of disaster. But they had never had to go through years as bitterly disheartening as those from the end of 1929 through 1932. The company itself lost over two million dollars during those three years, but, for the management, they were made almost harder by the attitude of the employees as, piece by piece, the whole profit sharing plan, the wage standards, and in the end even the service wage had to be scrapped. The employees made it hard because they made it easy. They accepted their own wage losses as if they, the management, and the company were all in the jam together. There were, of course, exceptions, as there inevitably must be in a group as large as theirs; but at Oneida there were remarkably few of them.
The management, who, it goes without saying, took their cuts along with the workers, held off action as long as they could. They first began reducing wages in the latter part of 1930; but after that the cuts kept coming, through 1931, and i932, and into i933. They held on to the service wage till that last year. It was. perhaps, pride that made them cling to this last evidence of their wage program, but the service wage, small as its actual value had become, also had a psychological value. The little something extra in the pay envelope brought men a feeling that not everything was turning backwards. But in i933, when they were confronted with the prospect of still another cut, it seemed fairer to let the
service wage go and hold the basic pay level where it was if they could.
During these three years. with their sales dropping down around the $5,000,000 mark, they laid off employees with extreme reluctance and only as a last resort. The comparative newcomers, of under two years' service with the company, were the first to be let go. Then the management made a careful check of all the employees to find the people who seemed least likely to suffer in losing work. Where a couple were both on the company payroll, one or the other was laid off, except in rare cases where both husband and wife filled key positions. Altogether, they managed to keep on eighty per cent of their employees, and they avoided shutting down the plant. They did have some short time-down to thirty-two hours-but not much.
Though Robertson, through all their difficulties, carried the heaviest load, the fact that the company came through as strongly as it did and with its essential ideals still intact was due to the very able executive team that seconded him on every move. They worked out the company's course together as a group, bringing the departments they represented into an active teamwork and integrating all phases of the business more closely than they ever had been. All of them were keen business men, but as they saw all the various benefits that made Oneida Ltd.'s labor policy a real philosophy dropping away, they must have realized with new keenness how much it had contributed to the strength of their company. But they also understood how much its life depended on a really sound financial structure and in the years immediately following the depression and during the Second World War, the restoration of the Oneida Ltd 's labor policy in all its aspects and the strengthening of the company's position in every possible way against the effects of another recession became for them a single and synonymous objective.
There were six of them. Martin Keller, Works Manager; Harley Noyes, Manager of Community Plate Sales Division; Robert Bolles. Manager of the Rogers Division, and Richard Bloom, who succeeded Bolles after the latter's death in 1943; Joseph Bliss, General Manager of the Canadian plants, who was responsible for both sales and factory operations at Niagara Falls and Toronto; and Louis Wayland-Smith, Treasurer of the Company. In their various capacities these men organized and reorganized factory operations through all the disheartening downward adjustments and then brought them back in the war years to a new peak, meeting all the Government's frequent and sudden demands for new products, in spite of reduced sales forces and heavily cut salaries, they kept their road salesmen active and loyal to the company
and, with Wayland-Smith coolly directing, found a safe course through all the difficult financial problems of those chaotic years. And at the end they still kept the essential relation between management anti workers that had been the key to the company's growth.
For during all these changes and stresses, Robertson never allowed a pay reduction or any drastic action to go through without first calling a general meeting of the employees and giving them the full reasons behind the company's action. He didn't believe in management by fiat any more than he believed in political dictatorship. If an executive could not give a common sense reason for making a request, he had no business in making it. No one at Oneida was to be told to do a thing without understanding why it was necessary.
Shortly alter his appointment as General Manager, he started holding regular foremen's meetings, usually at sixty day intervals. He wanted to get the highest possible grade of foreman at Oneida, and at first these meetings were largely for the purpose of getting to know the men. But the meetings soon became sessions in which Robertson reported on the company's situation, exactly as if it were a directors' meeting, discussing general business, sales conditions, prospects, advertising problems-whatever happened to be on management's mind at the time. Often at the end, though by no means always, they explored methods by which the factory might help meet special problems. But the most important function lay in keeping the factory informed of the business as a whole, a new and exceedingly practical tie had been added to the working partnership; and the meetings, valuable as they proved while the last depression years ground to an end, were to be particularly helpful in rebuilding the company's prosperity.
They made an extraordinary recovery. Oneida was the first silverware company to start making money after the depression. In 1933 it made $405,922 net profit. In 1947 the company's net profit was $1,676,756, and starting with no earned surplus on January 31, 1933, the earned surplus had grown to $4,897,066 by January 31, 1948 As much as any one man could be responsible in a company like Oneida Ltd., the responsibility for this showing is Robertson's. His was the guiding force that steered the company out of the depression, and since 1932 the part he has played in the company's success has been as personal, as vital, and in a slightly different way as creative as the part Noyes played during the birth and
growth of Community Plate from 1899 to 1926. Noyes created the company out of an idealism that was strangely teamed with a vivid business sense. Robertson has almost entirely rebuilt it in a period of even greater and more complicated social stresses, until now it is stronger and on a sounder basis than it has ever been, but at the same time he has preserved the essential idea of partnership and sharing that formed the heart of Noyes' business philosophy. Under his management this has, if anything, gained fresh vitality.
The fact that Oneida Ltd. was able to show a profit in 1933, when their competitors were still losing money, was due mainly to his keeping wages down. They still paid up to the general standard of the industry, but that was well below what both Oneida Ltd. employees and management were accustomed to accept as a sound pay standard. The employees, however, not only accepted Robertson's argument that what they sacrificed then to give the company a head start in the race for post-depression business would help them in the end, they also accepted it with a cheerfulness that resulted in a first-rate production year. And in the end, of course, it paid off for them just as it did for the company. The service wage was restored; wages came back; and in January 1936 the company was able to pay a small profit bonus on the earnings of 1935.
With the gradual return of normal conditions, the company began to close the factories it had picked up in the Wm. A. Rogers, Limited deal. By 1934 they had disposed of the plants at Niagara Falls and Wallingford and they closed down the knife plant at Northampton a little later, and the business of all three was transferred to Sherrill. The only Rogers factory they kept in operation was the Canadian Wm. A. Rogers plant at Toronto.
On March 1, 1935, the company name was changed to Oneida Ltd. There was some sadness among the older members over dropping the "Community." but the change had become necessary to prevent confusion in retail dealer advertising. The development of the three Rogers lines had been for the purpose not only of covering the lower marketing levels of the silverware field but of protecting and clarifying the position of Community Plate at the top. Instead, it turned out that many retailers who handled only one of the cheaper grades were using the fact that their line was made by "Oneida Community" to trade on the advertising value
of the latter. The simple solution was to drop the "Community" from the company name It proved to be effective. and it was as Oneida Ltd. that the company went ahead into its second period of war work and the prosperity that has followed it.
The second World War, with its fabulous demands on industry, meant that for more than three years Oneida Ltd. factories worked at top speed on war supplies. Their record earned them four Army-Navy "E" Awards, and it also brought the prosperity that, however justly it might reflect performance in the country's cause, also carried personal implications of unhappiness and unrest. For this war brought strains and difficulties that had been barely apprehended in the first.
Oneida Ltd. was to see almost every one of its young men go into the Services-742. Of them out of the American plants alone That made nearly twenty-eight per cent of all their personnel, and of them thirty-two lost their lives From the Canadian Plants ninety-five went into the Services and two were lost. It was an extraordinarily high proportion to have go, and these men were the generation who in ordinary times would have interpreted the Oneida tradition in terms that incoming employees might accept and understand. Their departure meant a gap in the chain of mutual support that company and employees had forged together through hard times and good since 1899 The men and women who took their places came in during the boom years and have still to learn that this chain of support means more by a great deal in the hard times than the good.
The fact that more than a quarter of all their employees went into the Services would in itself have made it impossible for the company to pay a War-Service Wage as it had through the two preceding wars; but they were faced with other difficulties as well. Conversion in the first World War had been only fifty per cent, they had been able to keep on making silverware throughout, and the transitions from peace to war and back again had been relatively simple In the second war they had done what they could to get ready and opened a surgical instrument department in 1941, but conversion, when it came after Pearl Harbor, was absolute and final. On March 31, 1942, though processing their inventories of raw goods would have carried the factories through the period of retooling that "'as to last into August, all manufacture of silver-
ware came to a dead stop by Government order. During those three months they kept on as many workers as they could, but they had to lay off almost a thousand, and they lost another 500 to other war industries. However, by September 1st, most were back and the factories were running at full capacity, though there were, of course, many new faces along the production line.
It is interesting to compare the list of war products with those turned out in 1918. There were two parallel lines surgical instruments and Government tableware. But the character of war had changed, and Oneida Ltd also made gasoline jelly bombs, bayonets, Springfield rifle sights, metal parachute parts, bomb-release shackles, aviator safety-belt parts, plane fuel tanks, carbine slide-mechanisms, parachute quick-release mechanisms, silverplated aircraft engine bearings and sub-assemblies for the Curtiss "Helldiver" plane.
At the same time, in near-by Canastota, the company was turning out huge photographic trailer bodies for the Army as well as essential civilian trailers. The photographic trailers were delivered fully fitted out and ready for use. They could be and often were used aboard ships without their chassis as complete dark room units.
This Canastota plant was a new departure for Oneida Ltd. and almost entirely due to Robertson's work. In 1941 he learned that the Rex Body Corporation was on the ragged edge of bankruptcy and was closing down, but that they had a big war contract. He wanted the war contract and offered, provided he could get it, to rent the factory. The Government was on the point of cancelling the contract, and neither the lawyer representing the company nor the judge representing the creditors showed much enthusiasm for Robertson's offer. However, after negotiations that took him from Utica to Watertown to Wright Field, he got the contract for Oneida Ltd. and leased the plant. Under able management it did a very successful job all through the war and made a profit for the company. The creditors of the old company were paid in full; the stockholders, instead of getting nothing, got twenty cents on the dollar; and the Government got its contract. In February 1946 it was organized separately as the Oneida Products Corporation to enter the automotive field. This first peacetime step into a new manufacturing activity leads one to speculate whether in the next few generations the
company may reverse the trend of fifty years towards a concentration on a single product and whether this instinct towards a diffusion of interests may not prove symptomatic of the years ahead.
Oneida Ltd.'s contracts through the war reached a total of $56,659,178, and it is a matter of pride in the company that every dollar of these contracts was subsequently approved in renegotiation by the Government.
The return to peace, from the point of view of factory management, came with as drastic suddenness as the plunge into war On V-J Day their plants were running all out on their war contracts Then, inside of two weeks, $12,000,000 worth of contracts had been cancelled and all war work ceased, and the company and employees together turned to the long job of reconversion. As Robertson said in his report to the employees for 1945, the mere mechanics of this operation took much longer than they had expected:
"Factories had to be cleared of war equipment and material. Peacetime machinery bad to be brought back. Old employees had to be transferred back on the old jobs or trained for different ones. New employees had to be hired and training started. Actually over 1000 people had to be trained to new jobs. It takes time to teach people silver-making skill and, let me say, that considerable skill was lost in the three and one-half year period that we were out of our regular business."
They paid a bonus for 1945, though the company income for the year was less than half of what it had been the year before and with the bonus paid the company's savings amounted to hardly more than $8o,ooo. But as the management saw it, they were ending a difficult chapter and they wanted to end it on a happy note.
But even in 1946 they found that the psychological after-effects of the war years were still with them. People were restless, working for the Government required less self-discipline than peacetime competition called for, and this applied to management and labor equally. For with Government as the only customer-and paymaster and tax collector as well-there were few incentives to thrifty and efficient operation. What mattered was to meet one's quota and the devil take the cost.
Robertson summed it up for all of them in a homely question: "Do you remember back in grade school the hell you used to raise when you had a substitute teacher?" And then he asked them to remember what happened when the regular teacher came back. Because for them competition had returned when the Government stepped out.
It took understanding and patience on both sides. Through the first eight months of i946, results were disappointing and they were unable to keep production up enough to make good on their promises to customers. Absenteeism was running close to three times as high as in the year before the war, and the company's labor turnover was the largest in its history. During that year the payroll of the Sherrill and Kenwood factories had risen from 2258 to 2830, an increase of 572 workers; yet in the same period these factories had hired 2451 new people. In other words out of every nine new employees, the time, effort, and beginners' bonus spent on seven were a loss to the company. Its inevitable effect showed in the percentage of rejects on first-run merchandise, which rose to an all-time high.
This was not peculiar to Oneida Ltd. but was symptomatic of the psychological postwar let-down that in various ways had affected the whole country. Not till September did a turn finally come; but then the last three months proved good enough to warrant the largest profit bonus ever paid the employees.
The improvement in factory performance continued slowly until August i947, when Robertson made an interim report to the employees and declared a mid-term profit bonus in lieu of a raise in pay. In giving his reasons for this action, he pointed out that Oneida base wages had risen 104 per cent since 1941, that Oneida take-home pay was highest in the State, and that at the same time the company had in 1946 borrowed $2,000,000 for factory expansion and must pay off the balance of its debt.
In his mind, undoubtedly, was the company's experience in 1921, when it committed itself too soon on future pay, and the whole tenor of his talk was to underscore management's obligation not only to pay well today but to provide well paid jobs with good working conditions in an increasingly uncertain tomorrow. The mid-term bonus was in effect a more sensitive version of the year-end bonus that could be justified only in times of real prosperity. In return he asked for a still better showing in the three fields vitally affecting their production: absenteeism, first run quality, and factory discipline.
The response was so good that 1947 became the greatest year the company has ever had. A second profit bonus was declared early in
December as the management's acknowledgment of this effort; and when the figures for the year had all come in, they were able to declare still a third Nothing to approach it has been known at Oneida; as far as I know there is no parallel for it anywhere in this country.
In his year-end reports Robertson gives the employees exact figures on the company's gross earnings and surplus, and on the amounts paid out in taxes, dividends, bonuses and pension fund, and to provide a clearer understanding of what these mean in the working of the company's business, he also breaks down the Oneida Ltd sales dollar so that they can see in terms of cents what proportion was paid out to them and what went into materials, taxes, selling expenses, pension fund, dividends and surplus.
Figures are generally cold, dull things, and incomprehensible to most people; but at Oneida they seem to me to have both life and meaning, and in the case of Robertson's 1947 Report, with its record bonus for the employees, there was a clear summation of the ideals that have gone into a hundred years of growth and a clear picture of what this company is today.
FOR YEARS the General Manager has appeared in person before a general meeting of the employees to deliver his year's end report (on the company, but since 1946 the number of employees has so increased that no single room exists either in Sherrill or Kenwood large enough to hold them all, and the reports must be given over the public address system in the factories. This can never quite replace the old general meeting and it is to be hoped that before too long a time adequate space can be provided for them.
The form of the talks, however, does not materially change and Robertson introduced his 1947 Report much as he had its predecessors:
"This annual business report is even more important to you and to me than it is to the stockholders. We work here every day. This is where we earn our living. This company's prosperity, success and security is our prosperity, success and security."
There had been years when he had had to report losses and to tell them there would be no bonus, for the meetings were always held, in bad times and good, because the company believed that the men and women who worked for it were entitled to know all the facts about the year's operations. The older employees, like Robertson, must have been thinking back to 1932 and the three grim depression years, as he announced the third profit bonus for the year. The total of the three together came to $859,209, or four weeks' extra pay for every man and woman who had one or more year's service with the company.
Pierrepont Noyes must also have thought back, farther than Robertson and most, though not all, of the workmen, hearing again the distant
sound of the Falls beyond the buffing room window, thinking of his promises to the men. recalling the eager talks in the Stone Cottage with the members of his ''team," and thinking the satisfaction Albert Kinsley would have taken in these figures. The year before Noyes went out to take over the Niagara Falls factory, 1894, the entire capital and surplus of Oneida Community, Limited, had been less by $150,000 than this profit bonus alone. And the pension fund was really a delayed bonus, so if you took the two together it meant over $1,2000,000 paid to the employees over and above their regular wages and overtime.
It was his idea that had started it all, and yet it also reached back to the old Community and John Humphrey Noyes, who once said in a meeting that he could never feel prosperous or happy unless people around him were prosperous and happy also. Robertson had another way of saying it when he told the men that management's job was to steer a course for the whole company and to maintain a fair balance between employees, stockholders. and customers. They were all in it together As long as there was a reasonably satisfactory balance between these factors, there was prosperity for all, when there was a serious lack of balance, there could be no prosperity.
Back in 1900, Pierrepont Noyes and his "team" of George Noyes, Stephen Leonard and Grosvenor Allen had begun to build a new kind of company that would try to give its employees not only good wages and good working conditions, but a chance to create a good community life of their own. They could hardly have foreseen the details by which it had readied actuality or foretold the degree of prosperity it had achieved. But they would have understood that this enormously successful company report meant a good deal more than the mere figures of what went into bonuses, and dividends, and surplus, and the contingent reserve designed to write off in these prosperous times the loss that would otherwise have to be charged against the year that saw their inventories priced down. Part of what this report meant showed in the company's contributions to civic activity. $42,000 to the hospital drive, $6o,ooo to the local school systems, $35,000 to the City of Sherrill for street development. Part of it showed in their Community Associated Clubs which for annual dues of $12 automatically brought employees life insurance, sick benefits and, at very little extra cost, added group life insurance and hospitalization. Part of it showed in the 835 employees with over twenty-five years' service in the company, who were listening to Robertson. They knew that he meant what he said, just as the management under Noyes and Kinsley had always meant it, when he told them that ''These bonuses
are not a gift from management and stockholders, they are extra money that has been truly earned by the men and women of this company."
On the books that bonus had been earned in 1947, but the old employees
knew that a piece of it had been earned in the hard years, and another
piece by men and women no longer drawing earthly bonuses, who had believed
in the company and spent the best part of their lives in working for it.
It was interesting to see how the old names were being repeated now in the young men who had come back to work for Oneida Ltd. - names that went back to the original Community and that now stood for a hundred years of service. You found them both in the top posts of the company, with men who had put in 10 or 15 years of work in responsible positions, and you found them in the younger generation. Allen, Ackley, Kinsley, Leonard, Noyes, Burnham, Cragin, Inslee, Wayland-Smith ... The real hope of continuance for Oneida Ltd. lay in the young men coming up, some with these old Community names, and some from the outside, who believed in the company and what it stood for.
They said that the first hundred years were the hardest. Maybe that was so, and they had had to scratch hard in those beginning years; but in a way everything had been simpler when the working force was small enough so that not only the management but the directors, and practically all the front office knew every man and woman in the company and where they lived and where they came from. In those years it had been an accepted fact that any office in the company was open to any man who had a problem, and it had worked that way In spirit it was true still, but with the increasing payroll and the large proportion of newcomers it included, it was hard to make this valid. The Employees' Advisory Board which had been set up in May was designed to help bridge the gap, for it would bring the employees, through their elected representatives. regular reports from management. or any company officer they chose to ask for. And it would offer employees the chance to bring forward suggestions for improving business operations and criticisms or personal problems not solvable through the usual factory channels.
It was the kind of organization that would have to create its own growth and function in the life of their community, and it would become as important as both employees and management chose to make it. It was part of the changing picture, but it belonged in the company philosophy. And after all the company was bound to change in its outward aspects It always had been changing. Noyes and his associates had pulled it up by
the roots a dozen times and planted it all over the lot. Sometimes it might have lost a few leaves, but it always replaced them and grew some new ones You couldn't stop it growing as long as you held to the belief that all kinds of work are honorable and that every man who contributes to the welfare of his group deserves to share in the benefits his work has helped to earn.
That was the philosophy that had brought Oneida through a hundred years as strong and alive as it had ever been - and there weren't many organizations in America that could say as much.
Let them hang on to it for another hundred years.
The photographs on the following pages are by
Samuel Chamberlain, famous artist-photographer of the
American scene. They were taken in the summer
of 1947 at Kenwood and Sherrill.
The communities of Sherrill and Kenwood are located in the rolling hills that fringe New York State's historic Mohawk Valley.
One of several churches in Sherrill.
The Sherrill shopping center.
The hardware store in Sherrill..
A pleasant street in the residential section of Sherrill.
A home in Kenwood.
The Community Associated Clubs Building houses twelve bowling alleys, pool and billiard tables, dance floor and auditorium for employees' use.
Grade School in Sherrill.
Sunset Lake, Kenwood.
Another view of Sunset Lake.
The Mansion House, home of the original "Oneida Community."
The Mansion House.
Mansion House flower garden and grounds.
The Mansion House Library: Within the Mansion House is an attractive library shown in the views above and below.
Preserved in an early wing of the Mansion House slumbers a little kitchen nostalgic of pioneer days.
The original galleried "Upper Sitting Room" preserved in the Mansion House of today.
Gently curving walks and roads lead up to the Mansion House.
Tree lined street in Kenwood.
Main entrance to the Administration Building which houses Executive and Sales Offices of Oneida Ltd.
The Administration Building of Oneida Ltd., located at Kenwood, Oneida, New York.
Lewis Point on Oneida Lake is operated by the Community Associated Clubs. Here employees enjoy bathing, boating, picnics, restaurant facilities and summer cottages.