Abstract: Bringing God to the Shopfloor: The Industrial Chaplain Movement in Postwar America

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf and Ken Fones-Wolf


In the decade after World War II, many American workplaces underwent a religious revival. Hundreds of companies invested in religious literature and welcomed on-the-job religious services. The industrial chaplain movement was the most intense manifestation of religion in the workplace. While relatively few companies actually implemented industrial ministries, there was widespread interest among elements within the church and industry about this phenomenon and the prospects for its further spread seemed promising. For the church it offered access to laboring people untouched by the conventional ministry. For strongly religious employers like R. G. LeTourneau, it harkened back to earlier paternalistic traditions of supporting evangelical religion. The emphasis on religion in the workplace also dovetailed nicely with other postwar managerial initiatives, in particular, sophisticated managerial strategies like human relations, which promised to increase productivity and loyalty to the firm. Indeed in some firms, industrial chaplaincy was part of a broader effort to stymie the growing union challenge to corporate authority. Drawing on church, business and union records to explore the history of the industrial chaplaincy movement, this paper helps shed light on the links between the study of religion and business history.