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Walter A Shewhart, 1924, and the Hawthorne factory
  1. M Best,
  2. D Neuhauser
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Best
 Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine—Bradenton, Bradenton, Florida 34211, USA; markbest20{at}

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The year 1924—at a factory in Cicero, Illinois—saw the start of two of the most important developments ever in managerial thinking. In May that year Walter Shewhart described the first control chart which launched statistical process control and quality improvement. In November of that year there began a series of research projects which came to be known as the Hawthorne studies. This body of work was central to the creation of the fields of the sociology, social psychology, and anthropology of the work place. Although these events occurred at the same place and in the same year, there has been remarkably little cross fertilization of ideas between them.


Walter Shewhart was born in New Canton, Illinois on 18 March 1891 to Anton and Esta Barney Shewhart. He received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Illinois, then attended the University of California at Berkeley from which he was awarded a Doctorate in physics in 1917. He taught at both universities and went on to head the department of physics at Wisconsin Normal School at LaCrosse for a short period of time.1,2

In 1918 Shewhart joined the Western Electric Company to assist their engineers in improving the quality of telephone hardware. Western Electric produced hardware for the Bell Telephone Company, which became the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). The Western Electric Company manufactured telephone equipment for them and since 1905 its major plant was the Hawthorne Plant in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. The company and its factory grew rapidly with the need for telephones. By 1913 there were 14 000 employees and by 1930 there were 43 000.3 It was one of the largest manufacturing plants in the country. Shewart worked at Hawthorne until 1925 when he moved to the Bell Telephone Research Laboratories where …

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