A Penny For Your Thoughts (on Meeting)

In these days of cellphones and Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and other virtual gatherings, it’s nostalgic to remember a time when people actually met face-to-face to transact business and socialize. So it was in 1921 when the Bureau of Municipal Research was ferreting out corruption and teaching New York and cities around the country how to govern effectively. To do this it needed to meet which meant coordinating the schedules of a dozen or more very busy men (and they all were men back then). So the decidedly low tech-solution of the day was to give trustees pre-addressed penny (!) postcards with the date and time of the next meeting typed in. All the respondents had to do was cross out “can” or “cannot” and sign their names.

Some opted to add a note of explanation. For the meeting of Jan. 21, 1921, as the Bureau was transitioning to the National Institute of Public Administration (later just the IPA), Henry Bruère, one of the BMR’s legendary “ABC” founders, wrote in that I “hope to” attend. “But I shall be later as it is too early for me,” he scrawled in pen. He had another meeting at 4:30. (See how busy?)

Sam A. Lewisohn, lawyer and philanthropist and son of Adolph Lewisohn who donated the money for City College’s Lewisohn Stadium (built in 1915, demolished in 1973) wrote I “will try to” attend. R. Fulton Cutting wrote he would simply attend.

What would they have made of today’s online calendars?


Inventing a Science of Government

The “Father” of the Research Bureau


The Times They Are (Not) A-Changin’

You all know what this is, right?

Of course, it’s a New York City subway Fare Decoder Circuit,– Heavy Duty Type, circa 1952. Don’t feel bad if you can’t make much sense of it — we can’t either.

So what’s the point?

Bear with us.

The diagram comes from a 65-year-old report of the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, that mouthful of a municipal reform effort that consumed New York through the early 1950’s and was instrumental in reshaping the city for the modern era.  You’ll remember, no doubt, that the executive director was Luther Gulick. Of course. We’ve written about the MCOMS before. It began under Mayor William O’Dwyer (who resigned in a police corruption scandal), continued under Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, and concluded under Mayor Robert Wagner.

Road Rage, 1952: An Overnight Parking Tax

The Rich Blue Line: NYPD, 1952

Gotham Gridlock — Then and Now

The management survey examined every aspect of the city’s operations, including its vital transit lifelines. Then (as now) the subway and bus system was in crisis. Subways in particular were jammed, (or let’s say rapid transit because the Third Avenue El was running until 1955 in Manhattan, the elevated lines on Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenues having previously been torn down). One plan was to extend the length of trains from the usual seven cars to as many as fourteen.  (Most now run eight to eleven cars). That would have required a lengthening of some stations. Or a complicated system of stopping only some cars (front or back) at certain stations. Planners considered skip-stop service, by-passing certain emptier stations at rush hour. Some of the innovations were adopted over the years.

But what caught our eye (and why we were moved to write this) was a little notation in the decoder circuit diagram — did you catch it?

Change Dispenser.

Yes, the train turnstiles actually provided change! The fare was a nickel from 1904 to 1948 — a nickel in 1904 was equivalent to about $1.33 — and doubled to a dime in 1948 ($1 today), rising to 15 cents in 1953 ($1.34).

But you got change for, say, a quarter. How cool was that! Bus drivers made change until 1969, when you had to start dropping in the exact fare — 20 cents.


How quaint. How civilized.

Perhaps the end of the era came in 1953 with the arrival of the subway token — and a disgusting practice. Scam artists would stuff the turnstile slots with paper and later suck out the trapped token. To stymie them, cops would sometimes sprinkle the slots with chili powder.


That all ended with the arrival of the MetroCard in 2003. But ahh for the days of the change-dispensers.


Tennis, Anyone?

Say what you want about Luther Gulick, just don’t joke about his faults — those on the tennis court, anyway. Newsweek tried it light-heartedly in a wartime profile, and found itself…well, shall we say, ill-served? Here’s how it started, (with thanks to our intrepid digitizer-in-chief, Sarah Rappo, who spotted the material in a catch-all alphabetical file, “N” for Newsweek):

You’ll notice, by the way, that Gulick helped Governor (not yet Prez) Calvin Cooledge straighten out the Massachusetts budget. Also that among the triumvirate who reorganized the executive branch for FDR, Louis Brownlow was the idea man, Charles Merriam was the brakes, and Gulick was the one who ran around doing the hard work — the leg man.

Anyway, back to tennis.

In its profile of Gulick on July, 13, 1942, Newsweek mentioned he “hates publicity” — prompting the indecipherable friend of Gulick’s who saw the article to scribble in the margin in red pencil But not doing so bad.

The piece went on to note that Gulick was the father of two boys, a lover of modern music and painting, and a rather bad tennis player…

The wielder of the red pencil was moved to scrawl, I’d sue ’em.

Gulick went him one better. He challenged all editors of Newsweek, male or female, within ten years of his age (which was then 50) to a deadly duel. “Weapons: Tennis raquets [sic] and so-called Victory balls.”

Gulick also took modest issue with the magazine’s characterization of his role in reorganizing the Army’s Services of Supply division. In truth, Gulick protested, he played a “very, very minor part.”

The tennis challenge left Newsweek officially quaking but actually unfazed, replied Managing Editor Chet Shaw.  The 40-to 60-year-old staffers in Gulick’s bracket either didn’t play the game “or else would collapse after a few minute of exercise.”

Advantage, Gulick.


The Hunger Plan

Remember our post from April 7, “When America Fed (and Led) the World”? (Here’s a reminder: There was a time, believe it or not, when America’s leaders and the rest of the free world cared about the hungry and homeless. It was called World War II. While engaged in a life and death struggle against intractable enemies on two fronts on opposite sides of the globe, the U.S. still mobilized a colossal rescue effort to feed, clothe and shelter some half a billion people from Spain to North Africa to China. In history’s darkest time, it was truly humanity’s finest hour…)

When America Fed (and Led) the World…

Well, from the World War II library of Luther Gulick comes this chilling counterpart, which we’ll call “When Nazi Germany Starved the World.”

While the U.S. and its allies were performing Herculean feats to save humanity, Hitler’s armies were systematically looting Europe of food to feed the Reich, consigning millions of conquered people to slow death by starvation. The grim tale is told in this 110-page book, published in 1943 by The Institute of Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress. The authorship is interesting — Boris Shub, a prolific anti-Fascist and anti-Communist writer and radio broadcaster, and Z. Warhaftig, who appears to have been Zerach Warhaftig, a prominent Zionist leader and signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Boris Shub, Prominent American Jewish Writer, Dies in New York; Was 52

The Choice, by Boris Shub

Nearly four years into the war, “Germany eats by the sweat and toil of millions of subjugated Europeans,” the book declares. Even before the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazi bullying of its neighbors was already filling the larders of the Reich, thanks to rigged trade deals that the Germans had no intention of honoring. With the fighting, the plunder soared. From one Polish province alone, Germany took up to 800,000 tons of grain a year, more than twice all of Poland’s 1938 grain exports. In its first week of occupying Holland, German troops seized 90 percent of the country’s butter, and in 1941 more vegetables than pre-war Germany imported annually from the whole world. From Ukraine, twenty trainloads carried 10,000 tons of food to Germany daily. Local officials, farmers and tradesmen who resisted faced execution while vast populations went hungry.

Lest there be any doubt, The New York Times of Oct. 5, 1942 quoted Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering boasting: “The whole German army is fed from conquered countries.”

With evil cynicism, Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels declared in 1940: “The German people as the pivot and leader of Europe’s new era must avoid the temptation to devote their energies to the good of others.”

They succeeded.

But at home and abroad, Aryan Germans ate well.  The main Krakow newspaper of Sept. 6, 1942 carried two pages of ads for fancy dining and entertainment — by Germans, for Germans in German establishments.

Others suffered, to varying degrees. Compared to Germans, the Dutch made do with more than a quarter less meat, the French with barely half. The Jews got zero.

In the town of Avenza, Italy, in 1942, two young girls were hospitalized with poisoning after cooking and eating a long-dead cat.

By 1943, Germans were still enjoying 93 percent of their pre-war diets. Their victims, declining percentages from Czechs (83%), Belgians (66%), Norwegians (54%) and Jews (20%).

Subjugated populations survived on portions of the caloric intake afforded Germans.

Clearly, the Nazi starvation policies targeted Jews with special venom — another means of extermination. On pain of arrest, Jews were only allowed to line up for rationed food at certain hours, often when supplies had run out. Germany and Poland forbade Jews from buying meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, vegetables, flour, bread and fruit.  Many food stores were closed to Jews altogether. As an ultimate insult, Germany specifically barred the sale of pork to Jews, saying it was against their religious laws.

Using official Polish mortality statistics for 1941, the book puts the death toll of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto that year at 47,428, or one out of ten. With skeletal victims piling up, a Nazi writer scoffed, “The callousness of the Jews goes so far that they throw the bodies of their dead into the streets during the night.”

The 1943 book is necessarily incomplete. “What has happened since is cloaked in darkness and horror,” it  concludes, noting that Hitler’s SS Minister of Food and Agriculture, Herbert Backe, had come up with “the Hunger Plan” to exterminate entire subject populations. “How far that process has already progressed only the German government knows.” Now we too know. It was only the beginning.


How DID We Win the War?

Let’s take a moment to give thanks again for someone we like to call…The Man Who Loved Government.

You wouldn’t know it from today’s Washington, but there was a time when administrative know-how was prized, government was respected, and dedicated professionals worked selflessly to implement smart policies masterminded by an experienced President and largely cooperative Congress. Such was the case during World War II when victory or defeat hung by the slenderest of threads. Luther Gulick and Bernard Baruch were among those experts and without their organizational savvy we might now all be speaking German or Japanese — or more likely, not be speaking at all.

Baruch served in a variety of roles as a trusted Roosevelt trouble-shooter. https://www.baruch.cuny.edu/library/alumni/online_exhibits/digital/2008/bernard/exhibit1.html

Gulick supervised the War Production Board, smaller war plant production and a vital agency of refugee relief that provided life-saving food, clothing and shelter to some half billion war refugees. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2017/04/when-america-fed-and-led-the-world/ He also worked on issues of war reparations from Germany and Japan and surveyed the evidence against Nazi leaders at Nuremberg.

Gulick’s copy of the Nuremberg courtroom layout

But one of his greatest contributions came shortly afterwards when he published a slim volume based on a series of lectures in 1946 at the University of Alabama. The 1948 book, “Administrative Reflections From World War II,” might have been titled, “How and Why We Almost Lost the Most Terrible War in History But Pulled Off  the Greatest of Victories.”

In a nutshell, Gulick found that Democracy, uh, trumps Totalitarianism. You might think that in a contest between unruly democracies and single-minded dictatorships, democracies would lose, but you would be wrong, of course. Gulick showed why.

His story begins with Europe already at war and the U.S. torn over jumping in to aid our allies, or opting for “America First” and staying out of it. Roosevelt tried to prepare, appointing two leading Republicans as secretaries of War and Navy and, on the advice of Einstein and other top scientists,  ordering a top secret effort to build an atomic bomb. Congress boosted defense spending.

After Pearl Harbor, Congress which had barely voted to extend the draft (it won by a single vote) declared war on Japan with only a single dissenter — pacifist Jeanette Rankin from Montana,  the first woman to hold national office in America. Roosevelt demanded 60,000 planes, 45,000 tanks, 20,000 anti-aircraft guns and 8 millions tons of shipping, and government bureaucrats and corporate industrialists rushed to comply. Soon there were more factories and shipyards than could be staffed or supplied, and the process had to be administratively reorganized. Wages and prices required emergency stabilization. Thanks to some key victories in the Pacific and the fierce Soviet resistance that stopped the Germans at Leningrad and Stalingrad, the tide of battle turned in 1943, although the most savage fighting lay ahead. The biggest limiting factor in the war effort: getting enough manpower.

The story broke down into four chapters, Gulick wrote: 1: the opening chaos and imminence of defeat; 2: the little-understood interplay of military, social, political, economic and personality factors; 3: the forging of successful working relationships; and 4: the extraordinary unity and power of the usually individualistic American public.

Ever the passionate chartist, Gulick provided a diagram of all the needed wartime resources (manpower, factories, science etc.), when they were brought on line month to month, and through what alphabet soup of agencies.

Gulick then drew some lessons: In wartime, resources are strictly limited. But they are intermutable — they can be shifted around. This requires administrative know-how, manpower and time. Still there were major failures. The U.S. ignored the lessons of WWI and did not mobilize in time. Military intelligence was poor. Supply and production problems abounded — nobody had an idea of what would be needed and how it was to be provided. The same for raising an army — suddenly up to 15 million men (and soldiers were men then) were needed, along with plans on how to de-mobilize after the war. Internationally, the U.S,. had only a spotty idea of how to reshape the post-war world, jeopardizing the fruits of victory.

On the plus side — victory. From 1940-44, America put together the greatest fighting force in history, a triumph of the singleness of command. The U.S. created a vast transport system and unparalleled war production. Public opinion was marshaled without surrender of notable liberties (with the significant exception of the shameful confinement of Japanese-Americans). The standard of living was maintained and scientific research, particularly military, fluorished. And new government machinery, notably the United Nations, emerged.

Finally, Gulick concluded, “the American governmental system was found to be fully adequate for the management of the  war.” The mission was properly defined to guarantee enthusiastic public support. Good administration translated purpose into action. Coordination with allies, with civilian industry, with all government agencies, was a crucial element in victory. Good planning produced successful operations. Knowing when and how to decentralize decision-making was likewise vital.

But the biggest advantage of America was what the Axis thought would be our downfall — our addiction to comfort and aversion to sacrifice, our moral and ethical code, our divisions as a polyglot society and the competing interests of capital and labor. Whereas the dictatorships with their single leader unbound by the distractions of democracy could act with vigor and dispatch. But in the end, there was no one to tell Hitler or Tojo when they were going disastrously wrong.

“The greatest superiority of the free peoples, however, arose from two things,” Gulick wrote: “the superiority of their broad plans and their elasticity, their quickness to change in the face of need. I think it requires no argument to show that these two superiorities spring directly from the democratic process. Broad plans are more valid when they have been subject to to the kind of review and criticism which democracy alone affords. Broad plans which are hatched in secret by a small group of partially informed men and then enforced through dictatorial authority contain fatal weaknesses until too late.”