“American Enterprise” Exhibit Looks at Work Incentives

Display Offers New Perspective on Business Motivators
July 17, 2017

A new display that looks at how work place managers created innovative ways to shape their employee’s work ethic with various incentives will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History July 20. The case, within the museum’s “American Enterprise” exhibition, focuses on the development of American business by examining strategies and techniques that U.S. corporations and companies have developed to foster passion, loyalty and comradery among employees.  

Beginning with the shift in the American workplace in the industrialized era of the late 1800s, this case points out methods American business owners used throughout history to engage with employees especially as companies became bigger and more efficient but also much more impersonal. Facing challenges such as increased regulation and the rise of labor unions, business owners developed new ways to increase productivity and to keep employee morale high.

Key objects on display are a selection of work incentive posters including a 1920s-era poster that asks, “Are you afraid of criticism?” from Chicago-based Charles Mather and Co., one of the first companies dedicated exclusively to the production of work-incentive posters; a branded food cup and napkin from Bloomberg L.P.’s employee snack bar and gathering area; pins and badges given to a Walmart employee; a 3M Golden Step innovation award; a work apron worn by Home Depot “kitchen designer” Marty Grecco decorated with his collection of corporate promotional buttons and pins; Denise Kucharski’s “Queen of Sales” Mary Kay Cosmetics diamond-encrusted pin; and a share of stock from the late E-Trade founder Bill Porter.

“American Enterprise” is a permanent exhibition that opened July, 1 2015, and chronicles the interaction of capitalism and democracy that resulted in the continual remaking of American business. For more information on the exhibition and the “Work Incentives” case, visit: http://bit.ly/AmericanEnterprise.

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