Biography and History

The Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University was established in 1922 to enhance and extend the knowledge of industrial relations. The Section serves the university community, industry, and the government and includes a research program, a special library, and aids in instruction at Princeton University. Directors of the Section have included J. Douglas Brown and Frederick H. Harbison.

The Section was the first university research division to specialize in industrial relations and was established to enhance and extend the knowledge in industrial relations in the broadest sense of that term. The Section studies topics such as personnel administration, labor relations, trade union organization and policies, labor and social security legislation, and all aspects of labor economics. It was initiated at the suggestion of Clarence J. Hicks, executive assistant to the president of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and a long-time leader in the field of industrial relations. Hicks persuaded John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to finance the Section for a trial period.

The Section has three principle functions: it serves as a research bureau, with staff conducting and publishing original research, maintains a special reference library on industrial relations, and provides instruction to Princeton University students. The Section acts as a clearing house of information for industry, government agencies, and scholars through the library's resources, distribution of its research materials, holding conferences, and providing consulting services to government and industry. The Section is closely integrated with Princeton University but serves all persons concerned with industrial relations problems.

The Section has published numerous reports, books, articles, and bibliographies on the field of industrial relations resulting from its research. The reports are typically concise, analytical studies of current practices and on subjects of current interest to be immediately useful to individuals involved in determining policies. The subjects of the research are determined in part by inquiries received by the Section. The Section also studies newer trends or practices while they are in the early stages of development. Initially, many of the studies focused on new programs such as benefits and employee stock ownership plans. During the Depression, the Section shifted to studies of problems associated with unemployment and social insurance, as well as the rise of unions. During World War II, the Section made a special effort to publish materials that would aid industry in adjusting to the problems of mobilization. Immediately after World War II, in response to strikes and labor disputes, the Section began to study union-management relations and the factors that contributed to constructive labor relations. The Section expanded its research into three major areas during the 1950s and 1960s: the relationship between management development and economic growth in the United States, the problems encountered by American companies operating abroad and the comparative study of managerial approaches to labor problems internationally. During the 1970s, the Section again expanded its research to include studies of education, discrimination and human capital.

The Section's library is the oldest special library in its field. It collects published and unpublished materials related to the field of industrial relations. An emphasis is placed on collecting current documents and manuscript materials related to developments in the field of industrial relations in the United States and internationally. The Section also aids in the instruction of both undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton University. Students utilize its research findings, the resources of the library, and the industry contacts of the Section to prepare papers, presentations, and senior theses or doctoral dissertations. And the Section has also provided a consulting service, offering advice to government agencies based on its research findings and through participation on committees or conducting specialized studies, as well as providing advice to other universities establishing similar industrial relations sections, and to companies and trade unions.

The first director of the Section, Robert F. Foerster, served from 1922 to 1926. During Foerster's tenure, the essential function of the Section, the enhancement and extension of knowledge in industrial relations, was agreed upon by both Princeton University and Rockefeller. Numerous companies began contributing information and material to the Section, which built up a valuable collection of primary source materials for its library, and the first publication of the Section, Employee Stock Ownership in the United States, was well received. Foerster was succeeded in 1926 by J. Douglas Brown, Dean of the Faculty at Princeton University, who served in both positions simultaneously. Brown was influential in building the Section and solidifying its goals and purpose. He remained director until 1955. Frederick H. Harbison served as director from 1955 to 1968. Since that time, the position has been held by many individuals, including Albert Rees, Orley Ashenfelter, Daniel Hamermesh, Alan B. Krueger and Cecilia E. Rouse.

In 1927, the Section received funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for three additional years, and in 1930, on the recommendation of Hicks, Rockefeller gave $300,000 for a permanent endowment for the Section. The endowment was supplemented by two gifts of $60,000 each from John D. Rockefeller, III. The Section undertook a fundraising campaign, the "Twenty-fifth Anniversary Fund," in 1944 to raise an additional $360,000 from industry to double the endowment, which was oversubscribed by more than sixty companies and national unions. In 1946, the Section moved into new quarters in the recently completed Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library through a gift of the Princeton University Class of 1926. By 1955, the endowment was valued at over $1 million, and by 2006 the endowment had grown to over $10 million.

Beginning in 1931, the Section sponsored an annual conference on industrial relations, attended by leading executives in industry and business from the companies that cooperated with the Section. The conference was highly regarded, regularly receiving more applicants than could be accommodated. The conference provided an opportunity for the leaders in the field to discuss the fundamental problems affecting industry. Starting in 1938, the conference was preceded by a seminar course in industrial relations to train junior industrial relations executives. The conference and seminar were discontinued in 1962. The Section also held a similar seminar training course for personnel of national trade unions and federations from 1947 through the 1950s, where they studied basic problems related to collective bargaining and labor legislation.

As of 2008, the Section remains active at Princeton University under the direction of Cecilia E. Rouse. Current research interests of the Section include aspects of unemployment and racial discrimination, the economics of labor supply and retirement, education and school quality, the effects on minimum wages and labor turnover and job duration.

Source: From the finding aid for MC231

  • J. Douglas Brown Papers. 1910-1978 (inclusive), 1930-1970 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC155

    J. Douglas Brown (1898-1986) was an economist and Princeton University administrator who was an expert in the field of industrial relations, especially on the subjects of Social Security and personnel and manpower issues. He was one of the leaders in the development of the Social Security program and also served in the War Department during World War II on manpower issues. Brown's papers document his career as a government consultant, as a scholar, and as a university administrator and include his correspondence and writings, reports, meeting minutes, notes, and publications.

  • Industrial Relations Section Records. 1922-1984 (inclusive), 1930-1965 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC231

    The Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University was established in 1922 to enhance and extend the knowledge of industrial relations. The Section serves the university community, industry, and the government and includes a research program, a special library, and aids in instruction at Princeton University. The Section's records document the research and administration of the Section and include financial papers and materials related to its conferences, publications, and research.

  • Industrial Relations Section Records. 1922-1984 (inclusive), 1930-1965 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC231

    The Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University was established in 1922 to enhance and extend the knowledge of industrial relations. The Section serves the university community, industry, and the government and includes a research program, a special library, and aids in instruction at Princeton University. The Section's records document the research and administration of the Section and include financial papers and materials related to its conferences, publications, and research.