Contemporaries of Carroll D. Wright (1840–1909) lived through the transformation of American society by the industrial revolution. For the most part they thought the transformation represented growth and progress, but many also found occasion for doubt and fear in its consequences. Their anxieties collected around the notions of a “labor problem” and “labor reform.” Whether from hope or fear, people felt a need for statistical information. On this popular demand Wright built his career as statistical expert and renowned master of “labor statistics.” His investigations during thirty-two years of government service (1873–1905) gave form to contemporary ideas and set precedents for modern procedures, as in his seminal studies of wages, prices, and strikes.
In telling how Wright took up this unprecedented career, James Leiby shows the importance of Wright’s early years and relates his work to the politics and religion of his time as well as to its social science. In this perspective, the history of the labor bureaus and their voluminous reports take on their original human purposes and meaning.