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Emporium of glamour and sanctum of scientific management: The early twentieth century department store

Ingrid Jeacle (The Management School, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 October 2004



The early decades of the twentieth century witnessed a significant transformation in managerial control practices within the US department store. New principles of scientific management, already employed on the factory floor, were now implemented on the retail “shop floor”. The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into this transition by examining three such scientific management initiatives introduced by store management during this era. The paper draws on a number of sources in its historical examination of early department store scientific management initiatives. These include archival records, published literature of the era, and particularly the proceedings of meetings of the annual Controllers Congress of the National Retail Dry Goods Association (US). The paper finds how notions of the rationality of science reined over such store operations as inventory valuation, credit control and overhead expense allocation. Traditional positions of power were recast and new managerial roles created in the name of science. The paper illustrates the insights that can be gained from an examination of scientific management practices in an alternative arena to the factory floor. Further historical research in the area of retail management may prove productive not only for our understanding of this site but also our knowledge of the process by which new managerial initiatives become assimilated. The study of the managerial practices of such vast organizational forms proves fruitful not only for the history scholar. Given the centrality of the department store in the creation of a contemporary culture of consumption, such examination becomes all the more insightful.



Jeacle, I. (2004), "Emporium of glamour and sanctum of scientific management: The early twentieth century department store", Management Decision, Vol. 42 No. 9, pp. 1162-1177.



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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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