A Happy Christmas Story – 1936

A Christmas Party to Celebrate with Mueller Employees after the Great Depression

A Newsworthy Event

On December 15, 1936, the Mueller Company sponsored their annual Christmas Party in honor of the Company’s 635 employees at the Mueller Gymnasium. The party began with a time-honored tradition, as each employee arrived and received a gift basket with a ham and a side of bacon.

Reporters from the Decatur Herald, the Indianapolis Star, and the Des Moines Register were sent to cover this event. While reading about this, I wondered why there was so much press interest. As I read further, the answer became evident.

By 1936, the nation was beginning to work its way out of The Great Depression. Unemployment in the U.S. had dropped from a high of 25% five years earlier to its 1936 level of 16%. Though progress was apparent, many were still struggling. In the midst of these conditions, the Mueller Company was ready to announce rewards and recognition for its employees. This Christmas party was more than good news; it was newsworthy.

Bonuses and wage increases announced

Company President Adolf Mueller spoke and made four announcements in recognition of the Mueller Company employees.

  1. A bonus described as a “gift” for each employee, which amounted to approximately 10% of an employee’s annual salary.
  2. An across-the-board raise of 8% in wages and salaries for all part-time and full-time employees, the most significant increase in wages and salaries since the pre-depression years in the 1920’s.
  3. A second bonus announced as a “regular bonus” for each employee. This bonus was the third within the year based on the August 1 – December 1 earning period, which amounted to approximately 10% of an employee’s salary.
  4. Service award emblems were given out to 26 employees. These awards demonstrated the ability of the Company to retain many of their employees through The Great Depression.

Cash awards for employee ideas

Mr. Mueller then passionately spoke to those gathered about the policy of explaining the company’s problems to employees and encouraging their participation in finding solutions. He pointed out the need for progress in many areas, including the development of new products.

This idea of using employee suggestions for various business improvements has been around since the 19th century, but even in the 21st century, very few employers follow through with such programs.

And so, Mr. Mueller announced that in addition to the bonuses and wage increases announced, employees who made suggestions that “contributed to factory betterment” would receive a “cash award.”

There was a first ($25), second ($15) and third ($10) place prize given to those judged as having the best suggestions in the following categories:

  1. Increasing production
  2. Reducing overhead
  3. Promoting safety

There were 61 additional cash awards ($2.50) distributed to employees for suggestions that the Company implemented and found beneficial. Adolf Mueller and others in management were incredibly forward-thinking to have recognized the value of employee suggestions and adopted such a plan over 80 years ago.
The Mueller Company Christmas party became an annual opportunity to reward and recognize the service of Company employees publicly. The party became a tradition that proved worthy of being continued.

Your Invitation

The Hieronymous Mueller Museum is proud to display numerous exhibits and memorabilia from the Company’s history. We invite you to visit this incredible collection at your earliest convenience.

The museum’s address is 420 West Eldorado Street in Decatur, IL. We’re open to the public on Tuesday through Saturday (except holidays) from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. You can also schedule a visit by calling 217-423-6161. Admission is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for those under 17 years of age.

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