Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
In a nutshell, the Lowell Experiment was a step in creating jobs and product while also taking care of employee welfare. It was an attempt at a working utopia. The men behind it sought “huge capital under corporate control” that would also put into use “new inventions and machines” as well as use new processes and “harnessed waterpower on a grand scale” while it “paid rich dividends for decades” and gave more than adequate “employee welfare.” (1) They wanted to eat their cake and have it, too. The desire stemmed from the high number of European factory areas that “festered with poverty and misery.” (2) America did not want to be like the world they had left behind. They wanted something new. They wanted to show the world how they were different. For the first time, there was a mass change in how the employer was to look at the well-being of his employees. In the eyes of the world today, many of the methods might still sound harsh, but it was a vast improvement over the labor arrangements in Europe. American companies tried to employ “whole households at one time, including very young children for the simplest tasks.” (3) The intent was not to make them all slaves down to the smallest child, but to give families opportunities to rise up as most of the manufacturing workers came “from the lowest ranks of society.” (4) The need to use the best was not the driving force. It was to employ those that needed it while still paying out good returns to investors. This worked for quite some time until competition rose up shoving the charitable aspect of the experiment aside. (5) It was a matter of economic survival now. Charity had to be put on the backburner.
The experiment was a wonderful attempt at a employer-employee relationship that could benefit all involved, but in such a capitalistic society it could not compete and found itself being snuffed out. This was also a sign of societies need to help others and the increase that was about to happen as more movements would rise up to create orphanages and other institutions to help those less fortunate. In a sense, the Lowell experiment proved that capitalism could not co-exist with welfare, but it also showed where society was looking beyond the money and towards the needs of others.
(1) Daniel Feller, The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815-1840, (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1995), 119.
(3) Ibid, 120.
(5) Ibid, 121.