Page Navigation - Go to: site index | start of page content | links to sections in this story | links to related material | story theme menu | text only version of scene
Stories about the lives we've made

story:Studying work

scene:Rowntree's Cocoa Works

Rowntree's Cocoa WorksImages with this text:
Women working in a chocolate factory.
Rowntree's Cocoa Works
Having been appointed by the Prime Minister Lloyd George to chair the Health of Munitions Workers Committee during the Great War, Seebohm Rowntree was supportive of industrial psychology. Known for its progressive labour policies and excellent labour relations, Rowntree and Co. was keen to promote the twin ideals of efficiency and welfare.
With the confectionery business experiencing a period of rapid growth, it was no longer appropriate to govern an expanding workforce with Quakerist notions of benevolent paternalism. An alternative model was required, one that would be both scientific and humanistic. Rowntree believed he had found such a model in industrial psychology.
Images with this text:
Lloyd George and BS Rowntree on the front cover of Cocoa Works Magazine, May 1920.
Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954) the third child of Joseph Rowntree and Emma Seebohm.
View of Haxby Road factory, York 1906. Rowntree and Co.
Industrial psychology
As he demonstrated in his book The Human Factor in Business (1921), BS Rowntree was firmly committed to industrial psychology: 'Careful and systematic attention to the human and psychological aspects of industry is not something to be put on, or taken off, as freely as an overcoat'.
In the summer of 1921, Rowntree invited Mr Muscio and Mr Brooke from the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) to undertake an 'Investigation into the Packing of Chocolates'. It was only the third piece of work the Institute had ever undertaken.
Employing time and motion methods in order to 'reduce to a minimum the range and number of the worker's movements', the researchers found that chocolate packing could be condensed to seven discretely measurable actions. With a skilled packer acting as instructor, five trainees increased their packing speed by an average of 27 percent.
As a consequence, the amount the firm had to pay for the training of each girl was greatly reduced. The investigators recommended that a training school be established at the factory to enable the firm 'to weed out those girls who are unlikely to become efficient packers' and eliminate wasted effort.
Impressed with these findings, Rowntree decided to appoint the first full-time industrial psychologist to a British company. 'The field of work for the Industrial Psychologist in increasing efficiency and humanising industry is vast indeed,' Rowntree's son, Seebohm Rowntree Junior, cautioned, 'but we must remember that the Works Psychologist is a servant of the firm. He must not claim to be able to do more than he really can do, and he must not pursue abstract truth at the cost of concrete efficiency.'
Images with this text:
Photograph from the chocolate packing room with the caption 'hundreds of girls are employed in this work', 1920.
Victor Moorrees
The lesson that 'the Works Psychologist must not claim to be able to do more than he really can do' was one that the pioneering psychologist - Victor Moorrees - had to quickly learn for himself.
After being appointed to the Rowntree factory in February 1922, Moorrees spent time studying factory conditions. He wrote, 'the needs of every day are more than enough to engage the activities of a psychological department, but above this, [the] lack of stability [within the factory] implies the abandonment of those opportunities for research under controlled conditions.' Rowntree agreed that 'the academic type of psychological test in its original form was not suited to factory conditions, so tests were devised which were presented in a form more closely resembling factory conditions.'
Delicate scientific instruments were found to be useless in the hustle of the busy factory. Chronoscopes were deeply unpopular on account of their similarity to the stopwatches used by the hated time and motion experts. 'Instead of Hipp Chronoscopes and the like expensive apparatus measuring accurately and minutely,' Moorrees conceded, 'we have home-made apparatus which we check up frequently so as to eliminate as far as possible the liability to error which we do not deny may exist.'
Ironically, the most 'home-made' piece of apparatus was also the most enduring. The Moorrees formboard was successfully used for vocational selection at the factory for 30 years.
Images with this text:
Victor Moorrees of the Psychological Department, Cocoa Works Magazine, July 1932.
The Psychological Department, Cocoa Works Magazine, March 1923. Five men and three women.
Selection and training tests using a Moorrees formboard, 1954. Two women are trying to fit pieces of different shapes into the holes in the formboard.
Move towards market research
Although the workers regularly opposed the ambitions of its Psychological Department, Rowntree and Co. continued to fund external research from the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) on a consultancy basis. In August 1931 Seebohm Rowntree received the NIIP's third report on the factory. The result of four months' work by a young Cambridge graduate, Nigel Balchin, it was concerned with every stage of the manufacture of Twopenny Whole Nut Sticks.
Seebohm Rowntree was particularly impressed with Balchin's 'psychological approach to market research'. 'The fact remains,' Balchin wrote in 1933, 'that until recently the importance of the customer's exact requirements was not realised. Design in manufacture was determined by convention and usage, by the opinion of factory experts, by manufacturing limitations - in fact by anything but the view of the man who was expected to buy.' Balchin argued that it was time to ask the consumers what they thought of Rowntree's products.
Currently on the losing side of a bitter trade war with Cadbury's, Rowntree's needed a new product to increase sales and stay afloat. In July 1932 the Rowntree Board of Directors sanctioned £3000 for an NIIP investigation into the chocolate assortment market. The Institute took six months to interview 7000 people in seven towns, with respondents asked about their chocolate-buying habits and favoured box designs.
A further 3000 people were asked to taste 45 different sweets and 2500 retailers were also questioned on their views about profit margins and price maintenance. The psychologists discovered that assortments were primarily bought by men for women; that a simple, austere box design was preferred; and that consumers would appreciate a chart, identifying which chocolates had which centres, inside each box.
Market research was the crucial link between sales and production. Balchin bluntly articulated how important it was to understand the connection between a product and its potential market. 'If our main market consists of intellectually self-conscious, upper middle-class women,' he wrote, 'we shall do no good at all with a label representing Highland cattle at Sunset.' Similarly, he noted that 'The artistic design in silver and black in abstract forms which we evolve for this market will not help our product much if our chief market is textile mill hands.'
Images with this text:
Girls queue at the clocking-in machine, Rowntree factory, York, 1933. Industrial psychology preached the doctrine of 'a place for everyone and everyone in their place'.
Women using machines to pack tubes of Rowntree's Fruit Gums and Pastilles, Rowntree factory, York, 1938. Most of the psychologists' attention at Rowntree's was directed towards the casually employed non-unionised female chocolate packers.
Women hand-packing in fancy boxes, 1935.
Secret of Black Magic
The result of the research was a classic new product: Black Magic chocolates. Balchin's work not only helped Rowntree's to design their new product, but it also suggested how that product might be marketed. The early advertisements for Black Magic featured exotic couples in beautiful settings. Gone was the Victorian kitsch of an earlier age, replaced by sleek, Bauhaus-inspired modernism - luxury for a mass market.
Black Magic was a tremendous success, and it initiated a period of financial recovery for the company. The dark chocolate assortment was the first product launched by Rowntree's that emphasised the product's qualities rather than the company name. A Golden Age - Kit Kat, Aero and Smarties were all developed and marketed using techniques developed for Black Magic followed from this abandonment of the traditional distinction between sales and production.
Although industrial psychology had triumphed, it was a pyrrhic victory. Having been a major architect of one particular company's financial revival, industrial psychology found itself very much on the side of the capitalists. Its stated aim of neutrality had been fatally compromised. The Institute banned any further market research and the story of Black Magic was hidden away in the archives.
Images with this text:
A Black Magic display with the text: 'We strongly recommend them '.
Black Magic advertising, 1938: Two very glamorous 'honeymooner's' admires the view of Venice with a box of Black Magic Chocolates in the foreground. A note next to the box reads: 'sweet of Alan to think of bringing a fortnight's supply of Black Magic with us on our honeymoon in'
Black Magic advertising featuring an affectionate and glamorous couple in party dress, 1933. The text reads: 'Only the very best are good enough '.

Resource Descriptions

Learning Module
Learning Module