Abstract: The Fordist Factory as a Fourierian Phalanstery? French Reinventions of the American Model between the Two World Wars

Joshua Humphreys


As the Scientific Management movement tried to make inroads into Europe after the Great War, a French machinist named Hyacinthe Dubreuil (1883-1971) became determined to confront the American model of industrial modernity head-on. Dubreuil had been a vocal critic of "the Taylor System" before the war, but after spending nearly a year and a half traveling across America's industrial belt and working in some of the nation's most rationalized plants, from Taylorized firms like Dennison and the White Motor Co. to Ford's enormous experiment at River Rouge, he became one of France's most outspoken defenders of American forms of industrial rationalization and labor-management relations. What set his account apart from other French advocates of industrial rationalization was the trade unionist's curious comparison of Ford's assembly line with the socialistic "phalanstère" of the nineteenth-century French utopian Charles Fourier. In comparing the strange genius of Fourier with Ford's innovative vision, Dubreuil was trying to translate Fordism into the French imagination. Making mass production resonate in an economy still dominated by small and medium enterprise was, however, an uphill task. Analyzing his efforts thus provides a perspective on the obstacles to the "Americanization" of French and European industry before the Second World War.