Management History

The Pre-Modern Era:

Organized activities and management have existed for thousands of years. The Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China are evidence that projects of tremendous scope, employing tens of thousands of people were undertaken well before modern times. The pyramids are a particularly interesting example. The construction of a single pyramid occupied thousands of people for several decades, who told each worker what he or she was supposed to do? Who ensured that enough stones would be available at the site to keep workers busy? The answer to such questions is management. Regardless of what managers were called at the time, someone had to plan what was to be done, organize people and materials to do it, and provide direction for the workers.

When you hear the name Michelangelo, what comes to your mind? Renaissance artist? Genius? How about manager? Evidence tells us that the traditional image of Michelangelo – the lonely genius trapped agony and ecstasy, isolated on his back on a scaffold, single handedly painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a myth. Some 480 years ago, Michelangelo was actually running a medium sized business. Thirteen people helped him paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, about 20 helped carve the marble tombs in the Medici Chapel in Florence, and at least 200 men, under his supervision, built the Laurentian Library in Florence. Michelangelo personally selected his worker, trained them, assigned them to one or more teams and kept detailed employment records. For example, he recorded the names, days worked, and wages of every employee, every week. Meanwhile, Michelangelo played the role of the trouble shooting manager. Each day he would dart in and out of the various work areas under his supervision check on workers’ progress and handle any problems that arose.

These historical examples demonstrate that organized activities and managers have been with us since before the Industrial Revolution. However, it has been only in the past several hundred years particularly in the twentieth century that management has undergone systematic investigation, acquired a common body of knowledge and become a formal discipline.

What was Adam Smith’s Contribution to the Filed of Management?

Adam Smith’s name is typically cited in economies courses for his contributions to classical economic doctrine, but his discussion in wealth of Nations (1776) included a brilliant argument on the economics advantages that organizations and society would reap from the division of labor. He used the pin manufacturing industry for his examples. Smith noted that 10 individuals, each doing specialized task, could produce about 48,000 pins a day. However, if each worked separately and independently, those 10 workers would be lucky to make 200 or even 10 pins in one day.

Smith concluded that division of labor increased productivity by increasing each worker’s skill and dexterity, by saving time that is commonly lost in changing tasks and by the creation of labor saving inventions and machinery. Today, the general popularity of job specialization in service jobs such as teaching and medicine as well as on assembly lines in automobile plants is undoubtedly due to the economic advantages cited more than 200 years ago by Adam Smith.

How did the Industrial Revolution influence management practices?

Possibly the most important pre-twentieth century influence on management was the Industrial Revolution. Originating in late eighteenth century in Great Britain the Revolution had crossed the Atlantic to America by the end of the Civil War. Machine power was rapidly substituted for human power. Using machines in turn made it economical to manufacturing goods in factories.

The advent of machine power, mass production, the reduced transportation costs that followed he rapid expansion of the railroads, and lack of governmental regulation also, fostered the development of big organizations. John D Rockefeller was putting together the Standard Oil monopoly. Andrew Carnegie was gaining control of two thirds of the steel industry, and similar entrepreneurs were creating other large businesses that would require formalized management practices. A formal theory to guide managers in running their organizations was needed. However, it was not until the early 1900s that the first major toward developing such theory was taken.