Don't (Just) Hobnob, Organize: How Pre-Existing Social Connections Facilitated Employer Collective Action

In the first years of the twentieth century, employer organizations - spearheaded by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) - launched a campaign to halt the momentum of the growing labor movement. Within a couple of years, labor-sponsored bills withered in Congress while the national conversation about labor had shifted palpably. Key in the success of the campaign was the ability of the new employers' organizations to quickly construct a network of people who could wield influence at the local as well as the national levels. This they could do because they could build on pre-existing connections. A variety of social ties, ranging from marriage to residence in exclusive neighborhoods to membership in social clubs, already linked businessmen to each other, especially at the local level. Such ties meant that much of the groundwork of establishing trust and credibility had already been performed. They also formed a ready-made network for dissemination of information and the exertion of social pressure to respond to on calls to action. Many of these connections had the further advantage of connecting businessmen to political notables. This presentation performs a social network analysis of early-twentieth-century St. Louis to demonstrate the degree to which businessmen - including the slightly-below-the-top-rung businessmen whom the NAM tended to enroll - were embedded in local networks of kinship, residence, and social milieu. St. Louis forms a good case study: it was a central location for the NAM, and with its interregional ties and longstanding German immigrant presence, it was also a place where elite homogeneity might be expected to be lower rather than higher. More practically, published biographical compendia and social club directories of St. Louis make computational analysis of elite networks possible. This computational analysis visualizes the interconnectedness of St. Louis businessmen and their position in the city's elite circles.