Timeline

 

1921-1940:
Research Takes Root

1921
Wharton establishes a graduate division for its new Master of Business Administration degree program. Instead of relying heavily on learning via case method, Wharton's MBA cultivated specialization, with students conducting original research and writing a thesis in their major field of study.

1921  
Joseph Willits Professor Joseph Willits founds the Industrial Research Unit, the first business school research center, with research professor Ann Bezanson. Creation of the IRU marks the School's shift toward a strong interdisciplinary approach to research and closer engagement with the business community.

  
From the Gazette
Acting provost Josiah Penniman advised students to "maintain a proper self-respect, but try to keep yourselves free at all times from ideas of your own importance," and added the warning that "the University is a place of opportunity, but it is no place for the intellectual loafer, no matter how charming his personality may be."

 

1923
Old Franklin Field stands are torn down, and the first tier of today's stadium is built.

1924
Solomon S. Huebner Professor Solomon Huebner helps shape the future of insurance education with his keynote address on the value of human life as a nation's greatest resource.

1929
Irvine Auditorium A crowd of 1,200 attend the dedication of Irvine Auditorium. That October, just days before the stock market crash that brings on the Great Depression, the Gazette runs an article on Europe that begins "An American observer … could not fail to be impressed with a revival of optimism."

“ The spirit of inquiry and the method of approach and realization… does more than anything else to make of us creative individuals in thought and action – leaders if you please – instead of floaters on the dead line of routine. ”

— Solomon S. Huebner, Wharton professor, writing in 1926

 
1930
Thomas Sovereign Gates, W'1893, L'1896, Hon'31, Gr'46, becomes Penn's first president (previously, the provost was both the chief executive and academic officer). A year later, the "Gates Plan" is enacted, reorganizing provisions for student health, physical education, and intercollegiate athletics, replacing the alumni-dominated University Council on Athletics and banning special treatment for football players.

1931
George W. Taylor Professor George W. Taylor, called the "father of American arbitration," plays a crucial role in ending a bloody strike at the Aberle Hosiery Mills. Taylor had written his Wharton PhD dissertation on labor relations in the hosiery industry before becoming one of the most influential members of the Industrial Research Department. When the Aberle Hosiery Mills strike erupted, the industry appointed him "impartial chairperson," allowing him to put his IRD research on collective bargaining into practice. The strike was the first of 2,000 he would settle. Taylor, later the chairman of Wharton's Geography and Industry department, was appointed to serve under five presidents and inducted into the U.S. Labor Hall of Fame in 1995.

1931
At its June Commencement, the University awards a Master of Business Administration degree to Alma Katherine Ledig, who also held a B.S. in education from Penn. Ledig was the first woman to earn a Wharton MBA.

1933
Frances Perkins Frances Perkins is appointed Secretary of Labor by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, becoming the first woman cabinet member and the longest-serving Secretary of Labor when her term ended in 1945. Trained in social work, Perkins had studied Economics and Finance at Wharton from 1907 to 1910 while serving as secretary of the Philadelphia Research and Protective Association, a philanthropic group devoted to help female workers of all races and national origins find work and safe lodging.

  
From the Gazette
We assembled again Saturday noon at the "Class of '33 Mall" and marched down Spruce Street to Franklin Field with our Chinese dragon costumes, representing "Depression" and "War," along with an appropriate array of picket signs depicting the history of the class and problems of our times since leaving the University. A few typical mottoes recalled: "Liquor $1.00 a Fifth," "O.P.A.," "Bootleg Booze," "C.C.C.," "Draft 1A," "Draft 2A," "Atom Bomb," "Orbit," "Jet Planes," "T.V. Commercials," "Price Ceilings," "Rent Control," "Red Stamps," "Green Stamps," "We Can Take It," "We Had To," and "Freedom 7."

 

On to “Settling In” >>


“ At the end of the day, it's not just the big ideas. It's also the thoughtful, rigorous approaches that make a difference in who succeeds… who wins, and who fails.”
— David S. Pottruck, WG'72, co-CEO, Charles Schwab

What happened at the turn of the century?
Daniel Raff:
In the first decade of 1900s, scientific management and related shop-floor initiatives began to flourish. At the corporate level, investment banking and the work of investment bankers flourished too. The climax of the 1890s reorganizations actually took place in 1904 with an immensely large transaction creating the U.S. Steel Corp. The first piece of antitrust legislation had been passed in the 1890s and the second one not long thereafter; but these were written by politicians and the courts took some years figuring out how to interpret them. Teddy Roosevelt acceded to the presidency at the turn of the century and was in effect a reformer in search of results. He was eager to enforce these laws as he understood them. The federal government began prosecuting firms and forcing reorganization, for example breaking up Rockefeller's old Standard Oil monopoly into smaller separate companies.

How does this change in the teens?
DR:
The shop-floor initiatives came to the fore. There was much more displacement of skilled workers in manufacturing work by semi-skilled workers operating machines and assembling interchangeable parts. The most famous example was Ford Motor Company's assembly lines. This is famous because one consequence of shifting auto manufacturing from highly skilled hand work to highly routinized assembly was that the cost dropped radically and automobiles went from being rich men's playthings to a product that a huge faction of American households could afford. One early advertising slogan was, "One day one dollar, one year one Ford." Part of the significance of this had to do with labor markets and what it was like to manage a factory, and part had to do with scale of operations - the Ford Motor Company mother plant was thought by knowledgeable observers at one point to be the largest single manufacturing establishment in the Western world. All cheap output represented a rise in the standard of living of the population.

The other important development in the teens was the devotion of employers' attention to non-wage compensation and other means of commanding loyalty of the work force. This movement started closer to the beginning of the century; but it flowered in the teens and was called welfare capitalism. That is, it was capitalism that showed concern for the broader welfare of workers. The initiatives ranged from after-hours classes to prepare immigrants for naturalization exams to company provision of housing and goods and services of various sorts. It was generally a paternalistic impulse.

What was the business scene like in the 1920s?
DR:
There were three important developments. The first was the widespread diffusion of the use of electricity in manufacturing settings. This enabled factories to run free-standing tools which could be sequenced in any way that made sense given the steps in the underlying production process. The older system had grouped all machines of a given type together. This was in itself a significant source of productivity improvement.

The second development concerned firm's organizational structures. The 1920s were the period in which the modern form of firms' internal organization emerges: the multidivisional organization. These divisions are run by general managers who have profit-and-loss responsibilities for a product line and control over procurement, manufacturing, marketing, and sales of the division's output and (with an executive committee) watch over divisional performance and overall investment budgets and allocations. This model was developed first at Dupont and then substantially perfected at General Motors over the course of a decade, and it's probably still the dominant form of organization we know today.

The third was the big stock market boom over the second two-thirds of the decade. Prices on securities seemed to go up and up. Also, a broader and broader fraction of the population began investing in stocks. This unfortunately came to a climax in 1929 when stock prices collapsed for roughly four years and when the real economy came close to collapsing.

What events defined the 1930s?
DR:
The main event of the 1930s was the Great Depression with all markets slack, firms going out of business, employees being laid off, managers desperately trying to keep firms alive, and the rise of an activist government policy relative to the economy. Proactive policies for a while tried to raise the level of prices. We saw labor legislation that made it easier for unions to organize. But the voting population seemed to sense that Wall Street was putting something over on them. The Glass Steagall Act enforced a sharp separation between ordinary banking and the securities business.

 

 

© 2007 The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.