Management Management Research during World War II
Robert F. Grattan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0021


The circumstances of World War II introduced major changes to the way in which societies operated all over the world, and much of the trappings of normal life had to be sacrificed to the war effort. The term World War II requires definition since Britain and France were at war with Germany from 1939 to 1945, the Soviet Union was at war with Germany from June 1941 to 1945, and the United States was at war with Japan and Germany from December 1941 to 1945 (although some preparatory measures were undertaken before formal hostilities began). For the purposes of this bibliography, World War II is deemed to have lasted from 1939 to 1945, which assumption needs to be borne in mind when considering the academic activity in the United States between 1939 and 1941. The academic world was not immune to these changes since young men went off to fight in the armed forces, and the efforts of many of those remaining were concentrated on satisfying the demands exacted by the war on producing more arms and materiel for the conflict and food for the population. The changes of attitude consequent on these new demands meant that study, in general, was more devoted to problem-solving than theory generation, and this orientation affected what was written and published during this period. The term management research implies a requirement for academic rigor, and the practical, “how-to” paper may well lack that approach, so the criterion adopted in this bibliography for the selection of papers to reference is as follows: Research is the purposive collection and analysis of data and information leading to the proposition of a scholarly conclusion or theory which can be tested by other researchers.

Environmental Context

Modern war demands the mobilization and concentration of the whole of society, whose efforts are directed principally to the achievement of war aims. Britain had learned during World War I that the State had to direct what had to be produced, its quantity, and its price. Labor had been directed by the State to bolster the industries vital to winning the war, so consumer goods became a low priority and the niceties of human resource management were often overlooked. Goods in short supply, particularly food, were rationed, so marketing, and particularly advertising, became selective as it merely annoyed the consumer to be urged to buy goods that were not available. Prices of many goods were controlled by government, affecting the operation of laws of supply and demand. Great emphasis was placed on productivity and methods for improving efficiency and the substitution of raw materials in short supply. The increased role of the State moved a number of responsibilities from general management to those in public administration, many of whom were unfamiliar with business operations and scientific management, particularly in the United Kingdom. Many of these innovations were socialist in political character, which caused some concern in the United States, which had to consider adopting similar measures; and the concept of state planning was the subject of debate, as was the role and operations of trades unions. Although most universities continued to operate through the war, most of the potential students were engaged on war work or in the armed forces. In the United States, universities continued to generate research papers, although much of their effort was directed at teaching. In Germany and occupied Europe, the work of the universities was adversely affected by the Nazi racial policies that resulted in the removal of Jewish academics. Another factor affecting the generation of management theories was that there were only a relatively few business schools operating during World War II. The principal role of business schools in this period was management education, and university business schools’ own accounts of their history usually have a blank for the period 1939–1945. Nonetheless, the need for rigorous study to supplement “managers’ experience” was recognized, as Perkins 1940 shows. Jeuck 1986 concedes by omission that the war years were not an active period of management research.

  • Jeuck, John E. Price and Prejudice: 1986 Towers/Cresap Lecture. Selected Paper Series 64. Chicago: Booth School of Business, University of Chicago.

    The lecture gives a brief account of the development of management and business studies in America from the end of the 19th century. Little is recorded, however, of activities during World War II, except the launch of the world’s first MBA program in Chicago in 1943.

  • Perkins, John S. “Management Research.” Harvard Business Review 18.4 (Summer 1940): 488–496.

    Perkins begins, “Management today is recognizing more and more the importance of research and fact finding as a tool for effective policy administration and general administrative control.” He avers that executive decisions have been largely based on experience and instinctive judgment. In recognizing the synoptic nature of business policy research, the paper is forward-looking and an important piece of work.

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