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History of the org chart

When were org charts first used to depict a business’ management structure? Anyone have any leads? All I could find on the Net was a link to a book by Stafford Beers that costs $115. While I wait for my local library to locate it, does anyone have any other sources/links?

Thank you.

13 Responses to “History of the org chart”

  1. I typed into Google ‘”organizational chart” invented’, and I came up with something that says Daniel C. McCallum made one in 1855 to organize a railroad. The page says it may have been the first, but that doesn’t sound too authoritative to me.

  2. Kyle’s comment is correct as far as I know. Alfred Chandler, the pioneer business historian, has a fairly detailed history of organizational innovations in “The Visible Hand: The managerial revolution in American business” (available on Amazon as a paperback). The relevant pages are 94-109, where Chandler describes how railroads pioneered the “divisional” organization now common in large corporations.

    McCallum may not have been the first to use this form of organization — his Erie railroad followed similar innovations in the Baltimore and Ohio, but McCallum definitely deserves credit for a systematic and rules-based approach to the organizational issues. Although Chandler doesn’t say it directly, it is entirely consistent that McCallum pioneered a formal depiction of his “rule 1: a proper division of responsibilities.”

    Hope this helps. The Chandler book is well worth reading regardless of this question, btw.

  3. I would also hold up McCallum as an early describer of a business organization – however, I suspect the organization chart is older than that – but not in business organizations. The Preussian Army, as noted in the link offered by the first poster, certainly was organized with functional units, hierarchical reporting lines and a staff. However, this organization was much older, used in armies at least since the Romans, definitely during the Napoleonic wars, and referred to by Karl von Clausewitz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clausewitz). I would be very surprised if a box-and-lines description had not been used at least in some army at some point….

    As a side note, here is a page describing the origin of the word “organogram”, which is the British word for org.chart: http://www.quinion.com/words/qa/qa-org1.htm. (Very interesting site, incidentally, does RSS).

  4. I’m not sure about the existence of surviving “charts” but I’m sure the ancient Egyptians had documented their methods of organizing the division of labor for their massive public works projects. And, of course, the Romans practically invented “red tape,” which inevitably seems to be accompanied by organization charts for the purposes of affixing blame and avoiding responsibility.

  5. I think it was invented by Mono Poly in the 1300′s, and it went something like this (top to bottom):
    1. Boss
    2. Friends and Family
    3. Suck-Ups
    4. Dead-Enders

  6. McCallum, wrt business management structure

  7. The generic rules for designing the charts, codifying in language the relationships between the jobs on the charts in terms of function, expertise, accountability and so on, were “invented” by Edward Hay in the early 1950′s, with a Philadelphia electric utility.

    This grew into the discipline (loosely speaking) of job evaluation, which codifies the formal pecking order and the salary and other compensation entitlements.

  8. I love the Web and I love you, not in that order.

  9. You probably know this already – an interesting new type of org charts relatively recently pioneered by Henry Mintzberg at McGill. There was a good article about this in the HBR in (I think) 2000 or 2001.

    He calls them organigraphs, and they depict the flow of the organization’s core activities in a pictorial form – generally much better than org charts for understanding how an organization actually works (except for the politics and power relationships).

  10. What about charts depicting organization structure of an army? You could probably go back to Rome or earlier, I might wager.

  11. Ref: Mintzberg
    While you are at it, why not look at his book Structure in Fives (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/013855479X/) which has become a classic on organizational design. Not to mention my personal favorite, Thompson’s “Organizations in Action”, which gives the underlying reasons for the varying organizational structures we employ.(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0070643806)

    (or I could toot my own horn: http://www.ebfonline.com/main_feat/in_depth/in_depth.asp?id=406)

    This is fun.

    Espen

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    History of the org chart

  13. In Peter Scholtes’ book The Leaders’ Handbook he credits the committee investigating the Western railroad train wreck of 10/05/1841 as the genesis of the institution of the org chart in American business. Scholtes credits major George Whistler as the head of the committee. Some websites suggest McCallum used this study as the seminal material for his work in management structure.

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