Purpose - This paper aims to provide evidence of pro-worker orientation and acceptance of socialist idealism in scientific management, with particular focus on Walter Polakov. Design/methodology/approach - A range of original texts have been examined to identify the ideas expressed or accepted by the early scientific managers. These include Bulletin of the Taylor Society and the early publications of the socialist engineer and scientific manager Walter Polakov. Findings - This paper shows how an avowed socialist is outspoken but unremarkable for the members of the Taylor Society in the 1910s and 1920s, contrary to the views expressed in textbooks and other histories which assert a deep antiworker bias in scientific management. Research limitations/implications - This is limited to a historical analysis of the role and extent of involvement of the Marxist engineer Walter Polakov in the US scientific management movement in the 1910s and 1920s. Originality/value - This paper offers insights into the workings of the Taylor Society using a biographical approach. In so doing, it demonstrates, in a new way, the verity of claims that the original proponents of scientific management were not authoritarian or anti-worker in their views or ideals, but, rather, open to progressive and socialist ideals.