The Social Museum Collection

Industrial Betterment

Industrial Betterment

In 1911, Francis Greenwood Peabody’s protégé James Ford installed an exhibit at the Social Museum illustrating conditions of and remedies for the epidemic “housing problem” in America and abroad. In an accompanying publication, Ford summarized the findings of recently conducted international social science surveys that documented how millions of poor immigrant and so-called rural-class people newly arrived in major urban centers in search of work lived in appallingly congested, dark, ill-ventilated, unsanitary, combustible, and ugly dwellings. “The social causes of evil housing conditions,” Ford wrote, “may be traced not only to the cupidity, apathy, or ignorance of landlord or of builder, but also to the lack of adequate social control of land and buildings.” He argued that solutions to the housing problem should encompass a wide array of private and public alleviative and preventative reform measures, including slum clearance, public utilities, legislation, health acts, city planning, and experiments in modes of less expensive “ready-made” construction to ensure every family an “artistic and hygienic” home [1].

Ford also articulated the relationship between unrestricted and unregulated development in housing and in industry that he believed fueled “urban congestion and its attendant evils.” He advocated stemming the influx of workers to the city through promoting the “countermigration” of manufacturing to the suburbs and the erection of model factory villages with “constructive recreation” [2] facilities, such as libraries, gymnasiums, playgrounds, and baths. He singled out such notable examples as the employee homes built by the Cadbury Brothers chocolate manufacturers in Bournville, Great Britain, and operated by the Charities Commissioners of the British Government. The incentives to industry of this tactic, Ford noted, included the purchase of land and labor at a lower cost and the profit on the investment that rents provide, as well as the “increased efficiency” of the workingman—a result of the “improved health and character” [3] that he believed enhanced home and working environments would engender.


1. James Ford, The Housing Problem: A Summary of Conditions and Remedies Prepared to Accompany the Housing Exhibit in May 1911 of the Harvard Social Museum. Publications of the Department of Social Ethics in Harvard University, no. 5 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1911), 2–3.

2. Ibid., 16.

3. Ibid., 17.