The 1910s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers

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The 1910s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers

Bernard M. Baruch
Howard E. Coffin
William "Billy" C. Durant
Frank B. Gilbreth
Samuel Gompers
John Mitchell
Edward Alsworth Ross

Bernard M. Baruch (1870–1965) Bernard M. Baruch began his financial career as a Wall Street stock market speculator whose risky investments proved very profitable. Always a student of business methods, in later years he often gave advice about global trade issues to U.S. presidents. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson named him chairman of the War Industries Board, and he advised Franklin Roosevelt during World War II (1939–45). During the administration of Harry Truman, Baruch was the American delegate to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission where he proposed the "Baruch Plan" for regulating atomic energy worldwide.

Howard E. Coffin (1873–1937) Howard E. Coffin was the most prominent member of an elite group of American engineers who advocated industrial readiness for the country's entrance into World War I. His work for the U.S. government's Naval Consulting Board in 1915 laid the foundations for the later activities of the War Industries Board, which mobilized American industries to produce the supplies needed for war. Coffin emphasized the importance of standardization in the manufacturing industry, the creation of an inventory of natural resources, and the coordinated efforts of labor and business with the government.

William "Billy" C. Durant (1861–1947) William "Billy" C. Durant was a dreamer and empire builder whose focus was on the automobile industry. On September 16, 1908, Durant incorporated an entity that he called General Motors with only two thousand dollars in capital. He acquired the Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland (later Pontiac) companies under the new corporate name. During the 1910s, he bought five more automobile companies, including Chevrolet, for which he personally oversaw the design and building of the early models. He was fired from General Motors in 1920 and had to declare bankruptcy in 1936.

Frank B. Gilbreth (1868–1924) Engineer Frank B. Gilbreth and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth, also an engineer, pioneered concepts of measuring the efficiency of factory work that Lillian termed "The Quest for the One Best Way." Through time and motion studies, using a motion picture camera, the Gilbreths eliminated wasted movements from factory work. Frank began as a disciple of Philadelphia engineer Frederick W. Taylor (1856–1915), whose concept of "Taylorism" restructured the factory by measuring and extracting the maximum output for each worker. The Gilbreths later developed their own systems. Their studies of fatigue's impact on the mind and their motion study of sixteen hand movements called "Therbligs" contributed to the couple's larger concept of living all aspects of life in an efficient manner.

Samuel Gompers (1850–1924) London-born Samuel Gompers was the most influential labor leader in American history before the epic strikes of the 1930s. As president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1886 to 1924, he opposed militant political unionism and during the 1910s took a moderate course in developing relations between labor and the government. By doing so, Gompers helped trade unions gain the respect of the federal government and the general public. During his four-decade tenure, he became increasingly exclusive in his ideas about union membership, shunning immigrants, women, socialists, and unskilled laborers in favor of skilled male workers.

John Mitchell (1870–1919) John Mitchell was a forceful labor leader who worked to improve the working conditions of miners in the United States. A miner himself from the age of twelve, Mitchell understood the needs of this workforce and, as a labor leader, he won the miners higher wages, shorter workdays, and the right to form grievance committees. As president of the United Mine Workers of America (1899–1908) and vice president of the American Federation of Labor (1899–1914), Mitchell leaned towards conservatism and advocated cooperative relations between labor and big business, a stance that angered some labor factions.

Edward Alsworth Ross (1866–1951) Standing six feet, six inches in height, Edward Alsworth Ross was an impressive speaker on behalf of the Progressive movement, whose supporters worked to create economic, political, and social reform in the United States through increased government regulation. Author of Sin and Society (1907), an influential treatise on Progressivism, Ross taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from 1906 to 1937. He lectured across the country, criticizing the modern industrial system and expressing sympathy for the social conditions under which factory workers lived. A pioneer in economics, sociology, and social reform, Ross believed that democracy should elevate the average person above inherited social status.

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The 1910s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers

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The 1910s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers