Seebohm Rowntree (1871 – 1954)

Seebohm Rowntree was one of the most influential figures in social thinking in 20th century Europe. He was born in York, the son of the Quaker chocolate manufacturer Joseph Rowntree (1835-1925), and was educated at Bootham School, York, a Quaker establishment, and at what became the University of Manchester, where he studied chemistry.

He was appointed a director of the family company in 1897, and applied his chemical knowledge to the development of chocolate-manufacturing processes, while taking some responsibility for the development of the model community at New Earswick, alongside the chocolate factory. He was chairman of the company from 1923 until 1941.

Taking inspiration from the work of Charles Booth (1840-1916), he carried out a survey of social conditions in York which was published as Poverty: A Study of Town Life in 1901, and provided a wealth of statistical data on which those who shaped social policy were to draw for many years. In 1907 he met David Lloyd George (1863-1945), then President of the Board of Trade, and had a considerable influence on Lloyd George`s legislation on Old Age Pensions and National Insurance.

During the First World War he was Welfare Director of the Ministry of Munitions. He advocated the enforcement of a minimum wage and the introduction of family allowances, as well methods of management through work councils. He considerably influenced the social policies of the Labour government in Britain in 1945-50. In 1941 he published a second survey of York under the title Progress and Poverty, and a third, called Poverty and the Welfare State, in 1951.

He became an honorary founder member of the British Institute of Management on its formation in 1947. Rowntree is acknowledged to have been a pioneer in the application of scientific methods to both industrial management and social policy.