Jones Vs. Jones


While his business friends shook their heads and the community chicked its tongue, Jones announced in 1895 that from that time forward he would run his sucker-rod factory strictly “upon the basis of the Golden Rule.” He had arrived at this decision after reading Herron’s book, The New Redemption , in which he found this striking maxim: “He who builds a mercantile establishment upon the basis of the Golden Rule is a greater and wiser philanthopist than he who founds hospitals for the poor out of the gains of selfishness.”

To implement this principle in his own “mercantile establishment,” Jones began by cutting the regular work day from ten hours to eight, at the same time raising his minimum wage from $1.25 a day (the prevailing rate in all factories) to $2.00. He then announced that every worker in his factory would receive a Christmas bonus of five per cent of his yearly salary on the grounds that they all had a right to share in the annual profits ol the company. He instituted an employee sickness and unemployment insurance plan to which the company and the workers donated equal amounts. He purchased a plot of ground next to the factory to make a park where the workers could spend their lunch hours. It was called “Golden Rule Park.” At one end of it he built a children’s playground and at the other, a bandstand where weekly band concerts were held. He helped his employees to form their own brass band. He brought popular speakers on political and economic subjects from all over the country to address his workers, either in the park or in an auditorium which he added to the factory. He established an employee restaurant and had hot meals served there at a flat rate of fifteen cents each although they cost him twenty-one cents each. An annual company picnic was organixcd in an attempt to break down the barrier between the whitecollar clerks, the shopworkers, and the management. In addition, Jones was one of the first employers in the country to give his factory workers a regular summer vacation with pay. Hc also gave his employees shares of stock in the company to make them partowners. Though all of these reforms seem commonplace now, in 1895 they were considered the height of folly and radicalism.

But the reform which heaped upon him the ultimate in ridicule was his decision to abolish the use of supervisory bosses and timekeepers in the factory and to leave every worker free to keep his own time sheet and work at his own pace. Although he was called a muddle-headed visionary, Jones knew what he was doing. “Most manufacturers,” he said, “keep about eight out of every ten dollars which their employees earn for them. I keep only about seven, and so they call me “Golden Rule’ Jones.”

Of course, a few workers cheated him; some grumbled at the burden of responsibility thrust upon them; the company picnics failed to break down the social barriers between the white-collar and blue-collar work ers. But on the whole the experiment was a success The Acme Sucker Rod Company continued to thrive and in 1899 Jones could state publicly, “After nearl) four years, J am pleased to say that the Golden Ruh works. It is perfectly practical and worthy of a trial But my experience has shown me that it is a social not an industrial ride, and no one can truly live the Golden Rule until all live it.”

While Revivalist Jones had probably never heard of George Herron nor “Golden Rule” Jones until he received the invitation to preach in Toledo in 1899, he was not unaware of the glaring social problems of American industrial and urban life. Like most Americans, the evangelist was shocked at the record of crime and corruption which the muckraking journalists were beginning to set before the public eye. He was appalled at the effrontery of political bosses who robbed the public treasury of millions, who corrupted the democratic process by buying votes or stuffing ballot boxes, who invaded even the legislatures and the courts with bribery, boodle, and blackmail. And too, he shared the public’s growing concern with the problems of anarchism, socialism, and communism, which were associated in most people’s minds with the growth of labor unions and the increase in foreign immigration.

In his revival sermons Jones often emphasized the connection between labor radicalism and the evils of drinking, gambling, and Sabbathbreaking. “When you come down to bed-rock, all this communism and Anarchism are based upon the liquor traffic,” Jones told an audience in Baltimore a few weeks after the famous Haymarket Riot in 1886. “Where did the Chicago Anarchists hold their secret conclaves? In the back part of barrooms.” Jones warned the thrifty, industrious, respectable middle-class audiences which flocked to hear him, “Do you know what communism is? … It is the fifty thousand poor men who have been debauched by whiskey who … are now calling upon you to divide.”