Abstract: Motivation Goes Global: Selling Workplace Ideology in the Cold War

David Gray


During the early Cold War era, the American motivational publicity business—a sector that came into existence during World War I—began to expand into Western Europe. In turn, the ideals promoted in motivational posters and other workplace publicity became entwined with American Cold War ambitions. This talk addresses the expansion of the motivational business through a discussion of the most successful American firm in this field, the Sheldon-Claire Company. I discuss the firm's European operations, its owner's 1957 trip to Moscow where he observed Soviet motivational techniques, and his subsequent media crusade warning Americans that the Soviet Union was winning the "motivational war." In its posters and supporting literature, Sheldon-Claire asserted the moral supremacy of the American/Western way of life, and claimed that Soviet motivation was premised on an amoral campaign to instill fear among Soviet workers. In this paper, I contend that beneath their capitalist and communist rhetoric, respectively, American and Soviet motivational initiatives involved a similar rationale: in each case, the objective was to connect workers' aspirations and identities to the goals of the state. Moreover, as Sheldon-Claire personnel acknowledged in private, its campaigns deployed fear just as much as did those created by their Soviet counterparts.