Monday, September 21, 2015

Who is the link between Frederick W. Taylor and Batman?

by Scott Smith (

Of the thousands of items in the Samuel C. Williams Library’s Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, my hands-down favorite is the correspondence between Taylor and Scudder Klyce, whose 1921 book, Universe, influenced comic book writer Alan Grant’s creation of Anarky, an adversary of Batman.
Taylor and Klyce exchanged letters steadily between June 1911 and November 1914; however, the 65 pages of correspondence written between the two in June 1911, make for a fascinating look at both men’s views of scientific management as something more than a way of running a shop floor. Klyce’s first letter to Taylor, dated June 2, 1911, was written the same day that Klyce had attended a talk Taylor gave at the School of Marine Engineering in Philadelphia. Showing no lack of self-confidence, the 31-year-old Klyce, a Naval officer, began his letter, “Since hearing your talk this morning some comments have occurred to me which probably will be of interest to you, and which may be of value.” He then continued--for eight pages--to explain to Taylor why Taylor’s principles are correct and to outline his own theory of economics and the bonus system. The letter is a wonder of graphology: handwritten in ink, with words closely spaced; the lines slanting slightly up to the right. He concluded with, “This is all very condensed and I shall be glad to expand any of it which does not seem sufficiently proved,” followed by an offer to meet personally with Taylor to talk more. In short, it’s a letter that, not just by its content but also by its length, appearance, and the fact that it was written on the same day the writer had heard Taylor speak, hints at the personality behind the pen.
Taylor, because he had been traveling, didn’t receive the letter until June 6, when he promptly replied, “Your letter is intensely interesting to me, and I should especially appreciate the opportunity of making your acquaintance.” Klyce responded the same day, June 6, with a 12-page letter proclaiming scientific management as “the practical religion” that will, incidentally, “reform dogmatic science.” A few pages later, Klyce hints at his pursuit of the unifying philosophy that he will eventually describe in Universe:
I have been talking with a few scientists during the past week, as I have unified a few of their theories, and the narrowness of the scientist professor is pitiful; they define science as only that which can be put into a mathematical equation, and when I quoted experimental proof that the usual statement of the law of gravity was not absolutely accurate under any natural conditions and explained why, they could not controvert the proof but claimed that because the variation was so small that it could not be measured by science that it was not science.
And in a nine-page follow-up two days later to further outline his thinking on scientific management and religion, he writes:
Now, I have not written you the proof of this moral law; I have it poorly written down in about two hundred pages (emphasis mine), going at it from a scientific point of view. I haven’t found a scientist yet who would attack any part of this science, my statement of which is not conventional, and I have tried about a dozen.
Taylor’s subsequent responses to Klyce express appreciation for Klyce’s thinking about scientific management and encourage him to write up his ideas for publication in a national magazine, such as the Atlantic Monthly or the Century, with the suggestion that he “not go into such great detail that the ordinary readers will not have time to follow you.” In a 16-page letter written between June 14 and June 20, Klyce tells Taylor that he has started to write the article, and, in going over his ideas for the article he mentions his work on what will become Universe:
I know these various principles concerning scientific management because I have finished about the fourth or fifth revision of a book I am writing on handling men, which subject I have been studying systematically for some years…. This book first led me into a verbal statement of what all the vague mathematics of science really meant, and this led to a simple reduction of everything to terms of energy, whatever that may be--its nature is the unknown. I incidentally solved the Boyden problem--whether all rays of light travel with the same speed in space, the answer being no--for the Franklin Institute, and they are worrying over this solution; and I explained the mechanism of gravity, heat, light, and electricity, and the composition of matter, and eliminated the kinetic theory, and proved that the law of conservation of weight is wrong by experimentation and theoretical proof, and proved the total structure of the universe which I derived theoretically by the experimental evidence of star drift, and it can be understood by anyone; at least I think I have done this, and a number of scientists are trying to find out if I have….
He concludes this description with, “I am in a position to appreciate the value of your work, and I am very glad I can state some of the reasons fairly clearly. I can take the theory back just as far as anyone can follow, and then a little further--the limit is the unknown.”
Whether he was influenced by Klyce’s flattery--and Klyce claimed repeatedly that he didn’t intend to flatter--or whether he genuinely believed in Klyce’s work, Taylor encouraged Klyce. On June 26, he wrote a letter to Ray Stannard Baker, an influential journalist, in which he recommended Klyce as a writer, describing him as having, “remarkably sound ideas. He has analyzed our system in its philosophical relation much more thoroughly than anyone has done before. It seems to me that his analysis is sound.” That same day, he wrote to Klyce:
I have vaguely felt all along, when I was endeavoring to formulate the principles of scientific management, that I had not anywhere near “reached bottom,” and I feel now that your analytical mind and long years of honest thought in philosophical matters are just what is needed to tie up our practical results and the plain every-day formulae to the true fundamental theory.
There is room for any number of leaders in this movement, and after reading your letters with a great deal of care, it appears to me that you are just the man to lead in this more fundamental direction.
From this point, the correspondence between Klyce and Taylor focuses primarily on the article that Klyce is trying to write, with an eye on publishing it in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. In mid-July 1911, Klyce visited Taylor at Taylor’s mother-in-law’s home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The two worked on revising the article, which Taylor described in a July 25 letter to Baker as being, “too deep for the every day reader.”
Klyce’s article was turned down by the Atlantic Monthly. In August, he suffered a nervous breakdown, and his wife, Etheldreda, revised the article, which was published under her name in the November 18, 1911, issue of The Outlook, a popular weekly magazine. Despite taking a leave of absence from his job and traveling to England to recover, Klyce was forced to retire from the Navy in 1912. He settled in Winchester, Massachusetts, where he continued to work on Universe and corresponded with many notable writers and philosophers of his time, including John Dewey and Upton Sinclair. Although Klyce and Taylor never met again after July 1911, they continued to write one another through 1914. These letters depict Klyce working on his book and expressing his continued praise for scientific management. Taylor died in March 1915. Six years later, Klyce published Universe, a book, he noted in the preface, that “unifies or qualitatively solves science, religion, and philosophy--basing everything on experimental, verifiable evidence.” He hadn’t forgotten Taylor, of whom he wrote:
Taylor’s doctrine of scientific management… is perhaps the most explicit and extensive advance in ethics or the science of living that has been made since Christ…. Taylor was a supremely great man. He was a democrat more beautifully balanced than Lincoln. (218)

Scudder Klyce was referenced as an influence to Batman nemesis, Anarky.

The legacy of Taylor will be explored this week at Stevens at the Taylor’s World Conference, held on campus, Thursday and Friday, September 24-25. If you would like to learn more about Taylor and his continued influence on modern life,  you may register to attend here:

No comments: