The first ever organization chart?

Wired online magazine has a fascinating article about what may be the world’s first ever business organization chart.

It was produced in the 1850’s by Daniel McCallum, General Manager of the New York and Erie Railroad.

Instead of a top-down structure, the chart flows from its roots like a tree. The power was centralized with the president and board of directors as its anchor, but much of the day-to-day responsibility over the tracks was allocated to lower-level superintendents. The reasoning for this, Rosenthal writes: “They possessed the best operating data, were closer to the action, and thus were best placed to manage the line’s persistent inefficiencies.”

You can glean all sorts of managerial insights from the chart, many of which are the opposite of how big companies work today, but the real takeaway here is that even more than a century ago, design thinking was sometimes the best way to solve a tough problem.

There’s more at the link, including many more photographs of the chart in more detail – like this one.

That’s a pretty amazing achievement for an age that had never heard of organizational development or behavior, and didn’t use any of the management insights, tools and methodologies that we take for granted today.  I’m astonished to learn that this organization chart actually predates the Civil War!



  1. There have always been smart people trying to figure things out. we just don't know about the vast majority of them. Think how many things a quartermaster in the Roman or Persian army had to think about and contend with.

  2. "[They] didn't use any of the management insights, tools and methodologies that we take for granted today."

    That's probably a good thing for them because today's management technique consists mostly of management-by-spreadsheet and implementing whatever fad is coming out of the ivy league business schools today. Remember TQM from the nineties and early aughts? Well, that's gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Today it's "Net Promoter Score" – another bit of pseudo-scientific goofery where they are trying to superimpose human nature onto spreadsheet calculations. Who knows what new fad it's going to be tomorrow. It waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon.

    Why yes, I do work for a giant international corporation. Why do you ask?

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