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National Industrial Conference Board (NICB) records
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National Industrial Conference Board (NICB) records

Accession 1057

Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807

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Cite items for this collection in the following format:
[Description and dates], Box/folder number, National Industrial Conference Board (NICB) records (Accession 1057), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807


Descriptive Summary

Title: National Industrial Conference Board (NICB) records
Dates: 1916-1985
Accession Number: 1057
Creator: National Industrial Conference Board.
Extent: 135 linear feet
Language of Material: English
Repository: Hagley Museum and Library: Manuscripts and Archives Department
Abstract: The National Industrial Conference Board, later renamed The Conference Board, formed in 1916 as a response by the business community to continued labor unrest and growing public criticism. Their records are an important source for understanding the business community's response to most political and socioeconomic issues.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Records subject to 25-year time seal.

Use Restrictions

Literary rights retained by depositor.


Historical Note

The National Industrial Conference Board (NICB), renamed simply The Conference Board in 1970, was established in 1916 by eleven of the major trade associations in the United States. The employer representatives attending NICB's founding convention sought to formulate a collective response to the industrial unrest of the World War I era. In its original statement of purpose, NICB claimed that it intended to work to maintain "harmonious relationships between employer and employees and between both labor and government." Though many of NICB's founding members were affiliated with the open-shop movement, they were willing discuss issues of common concern, i.e. industrial safety, vocational training, and unemployment, with the American Federation of Labor. The NICB was divided over the issue of union recognition and therefore avoided taking a position on collective bargaining. However, Magnus Alexander, the NICB's first president, who spent many years as a personnel officer with General Electric, believed that the trade union movement had become a permanent fixture in American life and employers should attempt to increase their bargaining power by organizing themselves into trade associations and affiliating with organizations like NICB.

NICB operated on the basis of consensus and voluntary agreement. If a representative of a member trade association did not agree with the organization's stated positions, they were free to oppose them. The NICB was, therefore, able to embrace the twin banners of employer unity and labor reform. When NICB was established, it held annual meetings which became known as Yama Conferences, since the first was held on the Yama farm in New York State's Catskill region. At these meetings, NICB members discussed economic and social issues of the day and attempted to develop a consensus which would define the organization's positions.

As part of this process NICB's staff experts began to compile a number of economic and sociological reports on contemporary issues. The first of these, completed in 1917, focused on the structural weakness of workmen's compensation laws in addition to health and social insurance. Over the years, NICB became a spokesman for the so-called progressive wing of the business community. As part of its ongoing function as a lobbying group and publicist for American business, it produced hundreds of research reports on economic and social issues facing the United States.


Scope and Content

Transcripts of NICB's monthly meetings and Yama Conferences contain descriptions of routine businesses that were transacted as well as addresses by prominent business leaders on the economic and political issues of the day. Of particular interest are the debates over labor-management relations, union recognition, employee benefit plans, the New Deal, and the growing role that the state played in regulating the economy. Debates at annual meetings often described conditions in various industries, most notably automobiles, chemicals, textiles, and rubber. Other issues discussed included: research and development, atomic energy, unemployment compensation, right-to-work laws, industrial mobilization, unemployment compensation, World War II mobilization, the Marshall plan, and civil defense.

Executive Committee minutes document election of officers, selection of topics for NICB reports, relationships with associated trade associations, estimates of revenue and expenses, and discussions of new member applications. The records also document the relationship between the Conference Board and the various state associations of manufacturers.

Correspondence with affiliated organizations consists of letters to and from the various trade associations that were NICB members. Most of the correspondence concerns fund raising, elections of officers, and the recruitment of new members.

Subject files, from the office of presidents Magnus W. Alexander (1916-1930) and Virgil D. Jordan (1931-1965), document NICB's industry studies. They include fragments of survey data, as well as some final reports. Also included are files from the Committee on Industrial Relations (1917-1920), which contain Walter Drew's correspondence with various NICB members and document efforts to draft a labor policies program. The subject files also include survey information on the following subjects: employee absenteeism, compulsory arbitration, bank credit, industrial relations and personnel practices in various industries, holiday practices, group insurance, and workers' compensation.

Surveys on corporate organization were primarily conducted in the 1970s, as the Conference Board sought to compile data on organizational structure and directors' compensation in the Fortune 500 companies. These records consist of staff, personnel and policy manuals, and organization charts, for America's largest firms. Included are annual reports and data on corporate financial structure, cost ratios, and marketing costs, which document corporate strategies for raising capital and the effects of inflation, recession, and federal budget deficits on capital availability.



I. Transcripts of conference proceedings, 1929-1977

II. Executive committee records, 1917-1965

III. Members' meetings, 1916-1963

IV. Correspondence with affiliated organizations, 1920-1975

V. Subject files, 1917-1966

VI. Presidential correspondence and papers, 1920-1975M

VII. Surveys of corporate organization and directors' compensation, 1945-1985


Separated Material

A full series of NICB reports is housed in Hagley's Published Collections Department.