Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Brownie Points"

The expression "Brownie points" in the American language and the railroaders' term "brownies" for demerits come from an august and enlightened railroad practice. Superintendent G. R. Brown (hence, the name) of the Fall Brook Railroad in New York State, beginning in 1886, developed an enlightened, instructive system of discipline, involving positive and negative points. (The Fall Brook RR later was absorbed into the New York Central.) Interestingly, Brown wrote that accidents and "close shaves"(i.e, close calls) both impart safety information. He did not suspend men for accidents and rules infractions, as was then the railroad disciplinary policy. According to the severity of the event, he gave demerits. Merits were awarded for good service. Hence, the "Brown System" had positive and negative Brownie points. Brown used bulletins as a means of instruction regarding what was learned from acts, sometimes called blunders, earning negative points. An annual bonus to conductors with a perfect record was sometimes part of the Brown System.

The best book on Brown is by a Browne (K. J. Norman). Browne's The Brown and Other Systems of Railway Discipline, London, Railway Gazette, 1923, is a classic. At a meeting in 1897 of the American Association of Railroad Superintendents, "Brown's Discipline" was discussed with appreciation (Railroad Gazette 29, 1897:690-691).

—Fred Gamst

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]