Henry R. Towne

American engineer

Henry Robinson Towne (August 24, 1844 in Philadelphia – October 15, 1924) was an American mechanical engineer and businessman, known as an early systematizer of management.

Henry R. Towne, 1900


  • Webster defines profit as excess of value over cost, and gain as that which is obtained as an advantage. I have availed of this well-expressed though delicate distinction between the two terms, to coin a name for the system herein described, whereby to differentiate it from profit-sharing as ordinarily understood and practised. The right solution of this problem will manifestly consist in allotting to each member of the organization an interest in that portion of the profit fund which is or may be affected by his individual efforts or skill, and in protecting this interest against diminution resulting from the errors of others or other extraneous causes not under his control. Such a solution, while not simple, is attainable under many circumstances, and attainable by methods which experience has shown to be both practical and successful.
    • Henry R. Towne. "Gain Sharing," Paper presented at the May, 1889, meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; Quoted in: Hugo Diemer, Factory organization and administration. 1921, p. 375-6
  • Executives must have a practical knowledge of how to observe, record, analyze and compare essential facts in relation to... all... that enters into or affects the economy of production, the costs of the product.
    • Attributed to Henry R. Towne in: William Kent (1914) Investigating an Industry: A Scientific Diagnosis of the Diseases of Management, p. 3
    • Comment: William Kent mentions the "The Engineer as an Economist," (1886) as the source.
  • We conceive the prominent element in present-day industrial management to be: the mental attitude that consciously applies the transference of skill to all the activities of industry. Here emphasis is placed upon the word all, for the restricted application of this principle to machines and tools has been highly developed for a long period. But its conscious application in a broad way to the production departments, and particularly to the workmen, we believe has been made during the last quarter of a century.
    • Attributed to Henry R. Towne in: William Kent (1914) Investigating an Industry, p. 3-4
    • Comment: William Kent mentions the "The Engineer as an Economist," (1886) as the source.
  • Among the names of those who have led the great advance of the industrial arts during the past thirty years, that of Frederick Winslow Taylor will hold an increasingly high place. Others have led in electrical development, in the steel industry, in industrial chemistry, in railroad equipment, in the textile arts, and in many other fields, but he has been the creator of a new science, which underlies and will benefit all of these others by greatly increasing their efficiency and augmenting their productivity. In addition, he has literally forged a new tool for the metal trades, which has doubled, or even trebled, the productive capacity of nearly all metal-cutting machines. Either achievement would entitle him to high rank among the notable men of his day; — the two combined give him an assured place among the world's leaders in the industrial arts.
Others without number have been organizers of industry and commerce, each working out, with greater or less success, the solution of his own problems, but none perceiving that many of these problems involved common factors and thus implied the opportunity and the need of an organized science. Mr. Taylor was the first to grasp this fact and to perceive that in this field, as in the physical sciences, the Baconian system could be applied, that a practical science could be created by following the three principles of that system, viz.: the correct and complete observation oi facts, the intelligent and unbiased analysis of such facts, and the formulating of laws by deduction from the results so reached. Not only did he comprehend this fundamental conception and apply it; he also grasped the significance and possibilities of the problem so fully that his codification of the fundamental principles of the system he founded is practically complete and will be a lasting monument to its founder.

"The Engineer as an Economist," 1886


Henry R. Towne, "The Engineer as an Economist," In: Proceedings of the Chicago Meeting (25-28 May 1886) Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1886), 7, 428-432

  • The monogram of our national initials, which is the symbol for our monetary unit, the dollar, is almost as frequently conjoined to the figures of an engineer's calculations as are the symbols indicating feet, minutes, pounds, or gallons. The final issue of his work, in probably a majority of cases, resolves itself into a question of dollars and cents, of relative or absolute values. This statement, while true in regard to the work of all engineers, applies particularly to that of the mechanical engineer, for the reason that his functions, more frequently than in the case of others, include the executive duties of organizing and superintending the operations of industrial establishments, and of directing the labor of the artisans whose organized efforts yield the fruition of his work.
    • p. 428; Lead paragraph
    • Self cited in: Henry R. Towne in Foreword to the 1911 editions of: F.W. Taylor Shop management; a paper read before the American society of mechanical engineers New York. 1903/1911.
  • To insure the best results, the organization of productive labor must be directed and controlled by persons having not only good executive ability, and possessing the practical familiarity of a mechanic or engineer with the goods produced and the processes employed, but having also, and equally, a practical knowledge of how to observe, record, analyze and compare essential facts in relation to wages, supplies, expense accounts, and all else that enters into or affects the economy of production and the cost of the product. There are many good mechanical engineers; — there are also many good " businessmen ;"— but the two are rarely combined in one person. But this combination of qualities, together with at least some skill as an accountant, either in one person or more, is essential to the successful management of industrial works, and has its highest effectiveness if united in one person, who is thus qualified to supervise, either personally or through assistants, the operations of all departments of a business, and to subordinate each to the harmonious development of the whole.
    • p. 428; Second paragraph
  • Engineering has long been conceded a place as one of the modern arts, and has become a well-defined science, with a large and growing literature of its own, and of late years has subdivided itself into numerous and distinct divisions, one of which is that of mechanical engineering. It will probably not be disputed that the matter of shop management is of equal importance with that of engineering, as affecting the successful conduct of most, if not all, of our great industrial establishments, and that the management of works has become a matter of such great and far-reaching importance as perhaps to justify its classification also as one of the modern arts.
    • p. 428-9

Industrial Engineering, 1905


Henry R. Towne. Industrial Engineering : An Address Delivered by Henry R. Towne, M.E. At the Purdue University Friday, February 24th, 1905. Reprinted by The Yale & Towne Mfg. Company of New York and Stamford, Conn.

  • As an engineer by training and practice, and as a manufacturer having upwards of thirty-five years of practical experience in industrial management in many phases, I avail myself with pleasure of this opportunity of meeting this large body of students who are preparing themselves for active work in the world, and of submitting for your consideration some suggestions concerning your future work, especially in the field with which I am most familiar and in which some of you, I feel sure, will find your best opportunities, and which will form the topic of my argument, namely, Industrial Engineering
    • Lead paragraph
  • The dollar is the final term in almost every equation which arises in the practice of engineering in any or all of its branches, except qualifiedly as to military and naval engineering, where in some cases cost may be ignored. In other words, the true function of the engineer is, or should be, not only to determine how physical problems may be solved, but also how they may be solved most economically. For example, a railroad may have to be carried over a gorge or arroyo. Obviously it does not need an engineer to point out that this may be done by filling the chasm with earth, but only a bridge engineer is competent to determine whether it is cheaper to do this or to bridge it, and to design the bridge which will safely and most cheaply serve, the cost of which should be compared with that of an earth fill. Therefore the engineer is, by the nature of his vocation an economist. His function is not only to design, but also so to design as to ensure the best economical result. He who designs an unsafe structure or an inoperative machine is a bad engineer; he who designs them so that they are safe and operative, but needlessly expensive, is a poor engineer, and, it may be remarked, usually earns poor pay; he who designs good work, which can be executed at a fair cost, is a sound and usually a successful engineer; he who does the best work at the lowest cost sooner or later stands at the top of his profession, and usually has the reward which this implies.
    • Self cited in: Henry R. Towne in Foreword to the 1911 editions of: F.W. Taylor Shop management; a paper read before the American society of mechanical engineers New York. 1903/1911.
  • The Engineer is one who, in the world of physics and applied sciences, begets new things, or adapts old things to new and better uses; above all, one who, in that field, attains new results in the best way and at lowest cost.

Quotes about Henry R. Towne

  • Afternoon Session, Wednesday, May 26th.
The session was called to order at 2.30 p.m. The first paper was by Charles W. Barnaby, of Salem, entitled a " The Steam Engine Indicator." This was discussed by Messrs. Porter and Walker. Following this the set of three papers on the topic of shop management and shop account were presented and discussed together.
These papers were " The Engineer as an Economist," by H. R. Towne of Stamford ; " The Shop Order System of Accounts," by Henry Metcalfe of Troy, and "Inventory Valuation of Machinery Plant," by Oberlin Smith, of Bridgeton. These were discussed by Messrs. Partridge, Fitch, Anderson, Hand, Taylor, Durfee, Oberlin Smith, Metcalfe, Hawkins.
At the close of the debate, in view of the general interest of the topics of this group, it was moved that the preparation and reading of papers on these and cognate subjects be encouraged for discussion in the general sessions of the Society.
  • Henry R. Towne is unquestionably the pioneer of management science. He began, as early as 1870, the systematic application at the Yale & Towne works, of what are now recognized as efficient management methods. In 1886, his paper "The Engineer as Economist," delivered before the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, probably inspired Frederick W. Taylor, then a young man of twenty, to devote his energies to the labor that formed his life work.
    • John Robertson Dunlap ed. (eds.) Factory and Industrial Management, Vol. 61 (7), 1921, p. 231; Cited in Bruce E. Kaufman (2008) Managing the Human Factor, p. 67.
  • Improvements in the prevailing methods of work and organization during this era were principally initiated by men actively engaged in industrial enterprises. The person most often referred to as the first to propose a rational and systematic science of management (and hence organization) was Henry R. Towne (1844-1924), president of the Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company, who in 1886 presented a paper titled "The Engineer as Economist." His comments, delivered at a meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), stressed the importance of management as a field of independent study, equal to that of engineering. Noting the almost complete lack of management literature, the virtual absence of a medium for the exchange of administrative ideas and experience, and the total absence of management associations, Towne urged that ASME serve as a center for the development and study of industrial management. Such a suggestion was considered nothing less than revolutionary.
    • Arthur G. Bedeian (1980). Organizations: Theory and Analysis : Text and Cases. p. 56.
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