Abstract: Persuasive Information: British Business and the Educative Campaign, 1913-2008

Mike Esbester

Abstract

This paper examines the business origins of the voluntary educative campaign, known as "public information," in Britain, whereby organizations produced informative material to persuade people to alter their behavior. Taking the occupational safety education campaign introduced by the railway industry, I will show how the educative approach was borne out of and reinforced dominant voluntaristic notions of how government, business, and society should interact to regulate business and social behavior that was seen as undesirable. I argue that the concept of the "public information" campaign was introduced to Britain by the railway industry in 1913, following the American "Safety First" campaign. I argue that this was a "modern" approach to persuading people to adopt economically and socially beneficial behavior. I chart how this approach grew in Britain from a single industry to have a significant and continuing impact upon wider society. In doing so, I engage with broader debates in business history, about the relationships between government, business, and the public, and about notions of voluntarism and individual liberty.