A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 15, 2012
“The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank…” (Imhoff’s Law)

Thomas Lyle Merton’s book, Malice in Blunderland (1973), provided a satirical view of bureaucratic jargon. One “law” has remained popular:

IMHOFFS LAW: “The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank— the really big chunks always rise to the top.”

“Imhoff’s Law” is named after John L. Imhoff (1923-2005), who headed the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Arkansas. The law states that the biggest stinkers (that is, the worst people) rise to the top in any bureaucracy.


OCLC WorldCat record
Malice in blunderland.
Author: Thomas Lyle Martin
Publisher: New York : Mcgraw-Hill, 1973.
Google Books:
A satirical view of bureaucratic jargon and operations that reveals the way in which bureaucracies tend to turn into monstrous systems of waste and incompetence.

Google Books
Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness
By Jim Stratton
New York, NY: Urizen Books
1977
Pg. 145:
IMHOFFS LAW: “The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank— the really big chunks always rise to the top.”

3 December 1977, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, pg. 4, col. 2:
Imhoff’s Law
The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank— the really big chunks always rise to the top.

Google Books
The Book of Laws
By Harold Faber
New York, NY: Times Books
1979
Pg. 21:
IMHOFF’S LAW
The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank; the big chunks always rise to the top.
(Attributed to John Imhoff, in Malice in Blunderland.)

Google Books
1,001 logical laws, accurate axioms, profound principles, trusty truisms, homey homilies, colorful corollaries, quotable quotes, and rambunctious ruminations for all walks of life
By John Peers and Gordon Bennett
Garden City, NY: Doubleday
1979
Pg. 22:
ImhofFs Law: The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank — the really big chunks always rise to the top.

Google News Archive
9 November 1979, St. Joseph (MO) Gazette “Finally—a law for everything” by Steve Huff, pg. 4A, col. 3:
Imhoff’s Law: The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank — the really big chunks always rise to the top.
(From Paul Dickson’s book, The Official Rules—ed.)

Google Books
How to Lead With Genius:
Words of Wisdom for the Common Sense Manager

By Walter P. Von Wartburg
New York, NY: M. Wiener Pub.: Shapolsky Publishers
1991
Pg. 85:
The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank. The really big chunks always rise to the top.
-- John Imhoff (1923- )

Google Books
Unwritten Laws:
The unofficial rules of life as handed down by Murphy and other sages

By Hugh Rawson
Edison, NJ: Castle Books
2002
Pg. 121:
Imhoff’s Law. The organization of any bureaucracy is very much like a septic tank. The really big chunks always rise to the top.
This law was attributed to Professor John Imhoff, head of the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, by Thomas L. Martin, in Malice in Blunderland (1973). The insight came naturally to Professor Imhoff — it was in his genes, so to speak — since, as Mr. Martin pointed out, “A distant cousin, Karl Imhoff, invented the Imhoff Septic Tank of international fame.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (2) Comments • Monday, October 15, 2012 • Permalink


Well that is the usual with politics. An interesting article. Thanks again

Posted by movers gold coast  on  10/16  at  10:55 AM

I always wondered where that came from.  Almost certainly true in academics, and probably many other disciplines in which leadership positions are a “short straw” sort of affair.

Posted by W at Off-Road Finance  on  10/16  at  12:20 PM

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