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On Controlling the Workforce (1915)
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board with the foreman and the recording of missing workers on the basis of the keys that have remained hanging. The control clock usually marks the time or departure by impressing a star next to the time. For that purpose, the porter must throw a switch on the clock before the monitoring begins. After the monitoring is over, the strip of paper can be removed from the clock at any time in order to be used for entries into the wage book. In general, one cannot process more than 300 workers within five minutes with a control clock. There are also control clocks that do not require the key to be turned, instead, the mere insertion of the key is sufficient for registration.

Further progress came with the so-called “lever machines” [Hebelapparate], which by nature are also control clocks. These machines possess a visible, circular dial with numbers. To activate the monitoring, one guides a moveable lever to the control number in question, where there is a hole into which one pushes the stylus of the lever. The clock then automatically notes the number and time on a strip of paper that runs over an interior drum. The mechanism of these machines is very finely wrought, and the strip has categories for entry, exit, morning, noon, evening, and so on, which allows for a very precise record. The required categories can be set both by hand and automatically. The lever apparatuses are also made with a two-color strip, so that instances of tardiness, for example, are printed in red, which stands out sharply when it comes to making entries in the wage book. A worker’s absence appears on the paper strip as a blank space. These lever machines are usually built in four sizes, namely for 50, 100, 150, and 200 persons. Since up to 42 registrations can be performed, the recording can be done continuously for a week or fourteen days. In general, though, these machines work with a daily strip. The great advantage of the lever machines lies in the fact that one can see all records for each control number together.

The latest that the technology of worker monitoring has produced is punch clocks, which have indeed reached a high degree of perfection in automated time control. For the punch clock, each worker is provided with a card which, for control purposes, has a corresponding pre-printed form on it. The punch clock corresponds in its construction to a control clock, into which the card is inserted via a mouthpiece. Once that has been done, the worker pushes a button, which prints a time – precise to the minute – onto the card. The adjustment of the mouthpiece from one slot to the other, from “Coming” and “Going,” is done by hand or automatically. The adjustment from one day to the next is done automatically by the very precise clock. Above the machine hangs a clock that runs parallel to the control clock, so that the worker can instantly verify the accuracy of the automatic record. The cards are inserted, with only the name visible, in a specially made board, which is found both at the factory entrance and at the worksite. In many cases, the cards have a pre-printed form on them, which allows them to be used for payroll accounting, which makes the use of a wage book superfluous. Unused slots on the board are conveniently covered with black cards; red cards have worked well for slots of workers on leave or out sick. The only flaw in the cards is that they dirty easily. In companies where the actual workplace is located far from the factory gate, the control machines are not usually located at the factory entrance, but at the entrance to the workplace itself, so that the time control refers solely to the workplace proper. It is reckoned that on average, 30-50 men can pass through each machine per minute, so that one machine is sufficient for about 200 persons. Practical experience has made clear that, after the introduction of automatic monitoring, the work period was often increased by 15 minutes per day for individual workers. Especially in large companies, the wage savings generated by this over a year can be quite considerable.


Source: P. Martell, “Über Arbeiterkontrolle” [“On Controlling the Workforce”], in Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft [Journal for the Social Sciences], Leipzig, new version, 6 (1915), pp. 185-88.

Original German text reprinted in Jens Flemming, Klaus Saul, and Peter-Christian Witt, eds. Quellen zur Alltagsgeschichte der Deutschen 1871-1914 [Source Materials on Everyday Life in Germany 1871-1914]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1997, pp. 113-16.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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