The Efficiency Movement


There’s a fundamental tension between resilience and efficiency, between the scientific manager and the craftsperson.

The period from about 1890 to 1920 was a time of great optimism and change in the US. Huge leaps forward were made in industrialisation and agriculture, raising living standards for most of the population. Social reformers sought to eliminate poverty, to improve living conditions in the cities that a growing share of the population lived in, to promote health and well-being, to empower women into the workplace and the electorate, and generally to take the world by the scruff of the neck and drag it kicking and screaming into the modern era. It’s for all these reasons that this period is known as the “Progressive Era”.#

Businesses, and the belief that they could be made significantly more efficient, were a key focus of this optimistic, reforming mindset. The idea emerged that manufacturing activity and trades were capable of being analysed scientifically – measured, studied and improved continuously towards the goal of greater efficiency. “Efficiency” came to be seen as a universally good thing, an end in itself, and the basis of a whole societal campaign. The Efficiency Movement was born.

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