Papers presented by Daniel Levinson Wilk since 2019
2024 Providence, Rhode Island
"The Customer Isn’t Always Right at the Statler Hotel"
Daniel Levinson Wilk, SUNY-Fashion Institute of Technology
E.M. Statler was the Henry Ford of the hotel industry. At the turn of the twentieth century, he found economies of scale in hotel architecture, engineering, and labor design and passed on the savings to customers, opening up a vast middle-class market of travelers and vacationers. Like Ford, Statler saw himself as a champion of the public good. He saw his business as a profit-making venture, but also a transformational product that would bring vast benefits to humanity. His hotels allowed the masses to travel comfortably and see more of the nation. His hotels pioneered technologies and labor systems that would be borrowed and modified in other places, especially upper- and middle-class homes. Statler believed that his responsibility transcended shareholder value. Statler’s most important public service was the style of customer service he enforced at his hotels. His corporation’s famous slogan “the guest is always right” concealed key aspects of his service philosophy. Turning away from the nineteenth-century style of personalized service that had been inspired by slavery and servitude, Statler asked workers to be polite, cheerful, and standard in their responses to customers. They should not tailor their work too closely to the specific desires of particular guests. Everyone should get the same treatment, and everyone should get less attention. Technology and design can be used to decrease the necessary amount of face-to-face customer service. Statler’s style of customer service helped bring profits, but it was also a less-servile model that was soon picked up by other hotels and other industries. It taught customers to treat workers a little bit better, and workers to expect better treatment.
2021 Hopin Virtual Events Platform
"Performing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire"
Daniel Levinson Wilk, SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology
This talk will explore the many ways that students at the Fashion Institute of Technology learn about the Triangle fire—fashion design and fashion business and management students, but also students from other majors. In class, we have developed lesson plans that draw on students’ creative eyes—for example, looking at photographs and illustrations of the fire from 1911 and imagining which would work best as propaganda to support workers’ rights, or creating art inspired by the fire. We have also used the history of the fire to reflect on more recent tragedies, especially the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Outside of class, we have also created many projects and events that explore the history of the fire. On the centennial of the fire, we hosted five panel discussions, two art exhibits, and a conference inspired by the fire’s history. Since then, we have adapted the Triangle Chalk project first created by artist Ruth Sergel, in which the names and ages of victims are chalked on the sidewalk in front of the school; in recent years, we have transferred the project to Instagram. Students and faculty have attended the annual commemoration at the site of the fire, and have been involved in creating a permanent artwork that will be installed on the building to remember the victims of the fire, including two events at FIT in 2019 where people sewed together meaningful swatches of fabric into a “Collective Ribbon” that will be scanned, cast in metal, and incorporated into the permanent memorial. This talk will explore how these lessons and projects illuminate aspects of capitalism that touch art and design fields: workplace safety, discrimination against women and immigrants, government regulation, labor unions (or the lack thereof), and commemoration of labor disasters. It will suggest ways that faculty at schools in other cities and towns can adapt these sorts of projects to events from local history.
2020 Charlotte, North Carolina
"Selling Trust in the Oyster Cellars of Antebellum America"
Daniel Levinson Wilk, SUNY-Fashion Institute of Technology
Collaboration takes trust, and big breakthroughs came in the antebellum United States. Some historians of the period have depicted that age as characterized by a fear of deceit and a lack of trust. The era is better described as a time when people were learning and practicing new ways to trust—in business, in politics, and at home. Recent scholarship in business history has shown many ways that the era’s capitalists built the requisite trust to keep betting on each other—for example Laird on networking, Balleisen on bankruptcy and fraud, Mihm on counterfeit money, the growing literature on credit and credit reporting (Olegario, Hyman, Lauer, etc.), all the work on business networks. This paper suggests that antebellum service sector industries—restaurants and oyster cellars, hotels, barbershops, saloons and bars, maybe even stables—were trust-building institutions, just like credit reporting agencies or, eventually, the US Secret Service, institutions that helped people at all levels of the economy learn to trust enough to buy, sell, and work with each other. By providing a place, a neutral host, a set of rituals, and a variety of mind-altering substances (alcohol, tobacco, sugar, tryptophan, etc.), service sector firms helped with deal-making and all the trust-building that preceded it. This paper also attempts a more precise theoretical description of trust than most other histories of capitalism. I define trust as an emotion. Drawing especially on recent developments in the psychology of emotions (but also touching on the sociology of emotional labor, affect studies, and histories of sentiment and emotion), I propose that trust and trust-building institutions warp truth and create emotional states that helps make capitalism work.