Schmidt and Stokhanov: Work Heroes in Two Systems

by Milton Nadworny



The worker who achieves a prodigious individual output or who performs some similar production feat on his job has not occupied an important place in the development of the American culture. While some few are yet celebrated in folk songs, the work hero has had a modest career in the U.S. To be sure, each society has its own quantity and quality of work heroes, and the fate of each "man of steel" varies according to the individual's own resourcefulness and the apparent needs of the society in which he works. One of the most interesting of all American super-workmen, a man popularly identified as "Schmidt," has been largely neglected and ignored, despite the fact that between 1911 and 1914 he attracted some notice and, indeed, served as a temporary, minor symbol of the scientific management movement. Schmidt was the product of the work of Frederick W. Taylor, and was virtually a creation of the management leader. His place in oblivion is modified only by his continued existence in the writings and published speeches of Taylor. The irony of these developments is that Russian Alexei Stakhanov represented a program which was, at best, ephemeral in nature, yet Stakhanov probably gained all the rewards he could hope for in his own society. Schmidt, on the other hand, represented a program which was much more profound and durable but his personal rewards were minute indeed.

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