Compiled by David Ferguson
Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network
Vol. I, No. 2 Summer 1997
In this issue:
"Frank B. Gilbreth's Research: The Quest of the One Best Way" by James S. Perkins
Book Review: The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency by Robert Kanigel. Reviewed by David S. Ferguson
Yet Another Tribute
An Untapped Source
Email David Ferguson, editor of The Quest, at
Vol. 1, No. 2 Summer 1997
by James S. Perkins
Frank B. Gilbreth, the engineer who conceived the "Motion Study" Principles (techniques for manual productivity improvement) was met at the dock in London, England, by a friend, in 1911. The British-Japanese Exhibition was in progress. The friend was an interested executive with the New England Butt Company. At the British-Japanese Exposition he had observed Japanese girls, in their brilliant kimonos, wrapping cans of shoe polish in colorful wrappers. Their fingers were said to be flying like hummingbird wings. Crowds were standing by to watch their performance. The demonstration was to help the sales of Japanese shoe polish.
The friend, knowing Gilbreth’s zeal for applying his productivity improving principles, took him from the dock, directly to the Exposition Hall, even before letting him register at his hotel. Casually walking and talking with his friend, Gilbreth stopped to view the shoe polish wrapping demonstration. The friend was anxious to see what Gilbreth would do. Gilbreth watched for a few moments, then simply said, "They are really skilled, but they could produce more." He timed the fastest girl and without hesitation, ascended the platform. He found she was being paid on a piecework basis and said, "I’m going to tell you how to earn more money, but you must follow my instructions." He changed the location of her supplies and showed her how to wrap and set aside more efficiently. He timed her again after several cycles. When he rejoined his friend he said, "When she gets the hang of it she’ll be making twice her former earnings."
That is an example of the applied results of using Gilbreth’s Motion Study Principles. Industrial Engineers uses these guiding rules throughout the United States. It is a system that has helped U.S. Labor compete with other countries who have lower pay scales.
Gilbreth said if his Motion Study Principles had not been [previously] applied to any manual work, by their application the productivity would be doubled or more.
In 1885, Gilbreth started out as an apprentice bricklayer. On his second day of work, with a Master Journeyman to train him, he noticed different methods of bricklaying. Undoubtedly in jest, he was informed there were three techniques: one, for just a regular day, the second was to hurry up to finish a wall, and the third, just to stretch out the job to fill the day. His question led him to think there should be one efficient and approved method, "The One Best Way."
Motion Study was first developed when it was applied to the world’s oldest trade --- bricklaying. The traditional method, even after 6,000 years, involved unnecessary stooping, walking and reaching. The time-consuming, tiring part of the job had been stooping 125 times per hour for brick and 125 times for mortar. By using Gilbreth’s method, a man could lay more bricks, standing normally, and return home after a full day’s work not nearly as tired.
Application of the Gilbreth system of motion analysis reduced the motions per brick from 18 to 5 and increased the number of bricks laid per hour from 125 to 350.
Following Gilbreth’s outstanding success in bricklaying and construction, he then pursued broad research into diversified manufacturing operations. He created an entirely new technique on how to improve industrial efficiency, while at the same time significantly improving working conditions for the worker.
His work took a firm hold in engineering and economic societies as well as with our country’s industrial companies. Its impact upon the U.S. economy helped us to attain our present position in the world.
In a speech made to our nation by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1919, he was quoted as saying: "Better standards of living are impossible without producing more. Men cannot consume what has not been produced. On American labor rests grave responsibility, if labor itself is not to suffer."
His Motion Study Principles affected all management. It created a different type of engineer: The Industrial Engineer, concerned with improving manual work, Gilbreth was a pioneer of American history.
From 1910 to 1924, he promoted his system as a consultant and a teacher. He died in 1924. His wife, Mrs. Lillian M. Gilbreth, educated in psychology and with an insight into the fundamentals of labor management, had been his partner. She was known to engineers as "the world’s greatest woman engineer" and received international recognition.
You know the family: they are the family in the book and motion picture film called, "Cheaper By The Dozen", written by two of their 12 children, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published in 1948.
Mrs. Gilbreth, who had been of great assistance with the running of the Gilbreth Consulting Firm, took over and carried the full load, all by herself. She taught Motion Study at Purdue University, consulted and ran the company, along with being a wonderful mother to 12 children, all college educated.
In the late 1940’s, James S. Perkins, an Industrial Engineer, on a research assignment for the Western Electric Company, was at the University of Iowa, where he met Mrs. Gilbreth, who was a speaker at the Industrial Engineering Conference there. She visited with him and reviewed his research. After that discussion, he asked Mrs. Gilbreth what was being done with the thousands of feet of 35 mm nitrate film Mr. Gilbreth had taken to establish Motion Study Principles. She said: "Nothing." He asked if he could use the film and make a short 16 mm film for historical and educational purposes. She agreed and five years later a short silent 16 mm film was first shown, in 1945, at the Medinah Hotel in Chicago. It drew a crowd of over 800 Industrial Engineers and management people.
Gilbreth’s film studies, research and conclusions, demonstrated in this film, extend into many diverse areas:
Gilbreth developed the route model technique to improve the flow of materials in manufacturing operations. When he first developed it, Gilbreth said that several of his engineering friends, at an engineering meeting, laughed themselves to death, but that it was quickly accepted by Plant Managers. He found that by its used, the layout distance was often cut by 75% and product processing time was reduced substantially. Further, plant productivity was usually increased by 15 to 25%.
In 1968, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers decided to honor the achievements of Frank B. Gilbreth, (on his 100th anniversary) at their Annual Meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. They asked Mrs. Lillian M. Gilbreth to speak at this meeting honoring her husband. She asked Jim Perkins to present the silent films he prepared of Mr. Gilbreth’s research on Motion Study. At that time, he proposed making these silent films into sound films by a new process which included Mrs. Gilbreth’s voice on the sound track. The sound films were shown for the first time at the Annual Meeting of the ASME honoring Frank B. Gilbreth.
One of the comments made by Mrs. Gilbreth in the film is "This is one of Frederick Taylor’s experiments that Frank did over again in order to compare the results with the results as they are in "Shop Management" [Taylor’s 1903 paper]. Her remark refers to a scene of the Pig Iron Carrying Experiment made by Taylor. Using planned rest periods and an incentive system which increased pay by 60%, Taylor was able to increase productivity from 12-1/2 to 47 tons per day, per man, without harmful effects.
Gilbreth’s cyclegraph technique, to learn about skill, was one of his significant contributions. He demonstrates this technique in the film and also shows the three-dimensional model he made from the pictures of a drilling operation. He said, "The expert uses the motion model for learning the existing motion path and the possible lines for improvement. An efficient and skillful motion has smoothness, grace, strong marks of habit, decision, lack of hesitation and is not fatiguing."
The film includes motion pictures of a baseball game between the Giants and the Phillies, taken at the Polo Grounds on May 31, 1913. One of the observations Gilbreth made after analyzing these pictures was that after the ball left the pitcher’s hand, it took about 1-1/2 seconds before it could be relayed to second base by the catcher. The dash to steal second base, with an eight foot lead, required a speed faster than the world’s record for the 100-yard dash.
In Gilbreth’s film studies of surgical operations, he observed that the doctors took more time searching for instruments than in performing the operation itself. He worked with doctors and came up with a technique which is still being used today. When the doctor was ready for a new instrument, he simply extended his hand, palm up, to the nurse and called for the instrument he wanted. By this means, he was able to keep his eyes focused upon the open incision, thereby significantly reducing operating time, so critical to both patient and doctor. The film shows doctors, nurses and technicians prepare a patient and the removal of a large tumor.
"Cheaper By The Dozen" tells the story of the Gilbreth family and how their home was managed. Because they are known and loved internationally, a few scenes of the Gilbreths at play with their children are included at the end of the film.
Currently, some examples from this film and video are exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum.
Editor’s Note: As stated in the last issue, the film is now available on video for $40.00. Send check to:
13848 Silkvine Lane
Jacksonville, FL 32224
A Review By David S. Ferguson
When Gerald Nadler and Dan Gilbreth first informed me that they found a review of a new Taylor book, in the NY Times, I was surprised and immediately interested. Having already read everything written by and about Taylor, I naturally had to get this book. So I plunked down $34.95 out of great curiosity, which in large part concerned the author’s ‘right’ to the title phrase "The One Best Way", a natural affront to Gilbrethites. More on this later.
Upon buying the book, my first thought was regarding its sheer size; 570 pages of text and another 86 pages of acknowledgements, references and bibliography. However, despite its voluminous appearance, Mr. Kanigel would have had to gone much further to beat out Copley’s 918 page, two-volume biography of Taylor.
I must admit to knowing nothing of the author or his earlier works; Apprentice to Genius and The Man Who Knew Infinity. Both were biographical works written by Kanigel, who according to the dust jacket, teaches writing at the University of Baltimore.
Unlike others who have delved heavily into Taylor’s eyesight or sleeping problems, Kanigel places only minor emphasis on these stories. However, while most authors have done little exploration of the cause or effect of Mrs. Taylor’s "illness", he covers this extensively, with the conclusion that it came at a very convenient time for Taylor, just as he was coming under fire from labor and Congress, and thus provided an excuse for seclusion.
However, I must agree with the NY Times review when they said that he spent a little too much time trying to draw significance from stories of Taylor’s youth. While well written, this was slow reading.
Generally, Kanigel delivers a very even-handed presentation. While some previous, negative stories are down-played or absent, he doesn’t hesitate to dive in to controversy. His pallet of paints clearly doesn’t include whitewash.
There is one section of the book out of phase with the bulk of the text. Just after covering Taylor’s House Committee testimony, he launches into a section called "Report from the End of the Century." In this section he covers examples of "Taylorism’s" influence in later enterprises, albeit, in not too favorable a light, but asserting some long-lasting effect.
Kanigel laid little groundwork for these conclusions and didn’t supply enough material about other influences on business methods, for the reader to make a proper judgement. The last sentence in the book states, talking about Taylorism, "In its thrall and under its blessings, we live today." We can have a lively debate on this statement, but one would hope the pro and con arguments would be backed by more support than is supplied in the test.
How the Gilbreths Fared
Making no excuses for my feelings, my first reaction to the "One Best Way..." title was one of anger. Attributing the One Best Way to Taylor was a slap in the face to the Gilbreths. While Kanigel wasn’t the first to attribute the phrase to Taylor, at least the others didn’t use it as the title of their books.
He cites a March, 1911 article by Edward Mott Woolley called "Finding the One Best Way", as "...the first time that phrase, which was became to be associated with Taylor and the efficiency movement as a whole, reached the general public." Frankly, I find this a bit of a stretch. Taylor never emphasized the phrase in his writings. If anyone would care to scan "Principles..." I don’t believe you would find its use prominent.
Not only was the One Best Way the property of the Gilbreths (if only by the frequency of its use in later writings), but also in its philosophy. The One Best Way denotes a "method" of doing work, not the time of doing work, which was Taylor’s emphasis when it came to workers. Besides, when the term was chosen by Frank Gilbreth as his new business slogan, he was attempting to distance himself from Taylor. It is doubtful that he would chosen a phrase, allegedly, associated with Taylor.
An equally hard slap occurred within the first few pages of the book. On page 12, he states: "Today, when a home improvement contractor sells a new kitchen, its arrangement, the placement of appliances, and the like owe something to Taylor and his vision." He then goes on to cite the work of Mary Pattison (first writing in 1911) and Christine Frederick....nowhere does he mention the name Lillian Gilbreth.
Our own Dr. Laurel Graham confirms the work of Pattison and Frederick. She states, however, that Dr. Gilbreth "...was the first to use systematic scientific management of homemaking..."
How can Kanigel ignore all the articles and books, written by the Gilbreths since 1910 and Lillian Gilbreth’s later work in design, which led up to the classic design premise of the kitchen triangle, let alone her work accommodating the heart patient and the handicapped. Mr. Kanigel needed to do his "home[maker]work" on this point.
The other flaw noted was his insistence that Taylor developed Time and Motion Study. He even alludes to Taylor’s origin of Motion Study when he states: "Gilbreth emphasized the motion study he would always claim as his intellectual property." However, he offers no support (since none has ever surfaced) that Taylor used anything but work "elements." Instead, he only cites examples of Taylor’s examination of steps in a process such as removing a casting from a cutting machine, etc. This error proves that, again, Kanigel didn’t do his homework.
Aside from these glaring errors, the Gilbreths actually receive some very good treatment at the hands of this author. In Copley’s 900-plus pages, Gilbreth received only three, brief references. Kanigel’s index lists seventeen references to Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, a number of which involve stories running several pages.
For the most part, he applies the same even-handedness to Gilbreth and others, as he does to Taylor. For example, when he relates the story of S. Thompson’s letter to Taylor, where he claims Frank couldn’t be trusted in money matters, Kanigel states that Thompson was probably jealous. A conclusion evident in more than one instance.
No, he doesn’t give the full story of the Gilbreth/Taylor feud. Indeed, he gives little coverage of Taylor after the House hearings; the period when most of the feud took place. However, he does show that Taylor had many people he did fight with.
On the whole, the book’s length was a bit trying, even with my interest in the subject. As far as new material (compared to what has been published in the last twenty years) there is little.
As to the book’s sub-title, the only enigma demonstrated was with Taylor himself; the flaws in the man and the system—and yet accepted (by the author) as the foundation of American industry.
On March 10, 1997, New Jersey Institute of Technology, The Constance A. Murray Women’s Center and The Society of Women Engineers presented a program honoring Lillian M. Gilbreth. Several talks were presented, outlining Dr. Gilbreth’s long list of accomplishments.
It is a wonderful legacy that her work continues to be recognized. We hope it will spur more interest in the important work of the Gilbreths.
In the last issue, it was suggested that The Quest could be a good forum for publishing unanswered questions you may have. This may become an extremely valuable resource.
Not only is The Quest mailed to a number of important institutions, but the ranks of our Contributing Members continue to grow. Therefore, by submitting your questions to the newsletter, they may be answered by very knowledgeable sources.
It is suggested that you format these questions as follows:
Please follow the rules for newsletter submissions listed later in the newsletter. Those not following these guidelines may not be published.
To kick things off, here are a couple of questions selected for being of general interest. The any answers received will be published in the next issue.
First, the Gilbreth Network must express its gratitude to the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Lisa Zaken, Membership, Allen Allnoch, IIE Solutions and Forsyth Alexander, Engineering and Management Press. These people enthusiastically embraced our group and have provided invaluable assistance.
The announcement of the Gilbreth Network, which appeared in the May issue of ‘Solutions, has already generated many inquiries and shows of support. To everyone concerned, thanks for your help.
At press time (going down to the local drugstore copy machine), we have some new active members. Please welcome them.
I first met Susan at the Special Collections library at Purdue, in 1995. She is still continuing on her quest.
Phase/Purpose of Interest: Lillian M. Gilbreth with emphasis on psychology. Current research; writing thesis.
Dr. Ralph L. Disney is a past recipient of the Gilbreth Award from IIE. While his work focused on Applied Mathematics, he remembers meeting Dr. Gilbreth. He has been kind enough to join us.
Dr. Ralph L. Disney
We’ve made another important connection for the Network. Rebecca Fry is now our liaison with Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering
Communications & Development Coordinator
School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue
1287 Grisom Hall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Phone: (765) 494-0827E-Mail: [omitted].
Fax: (765) 494-1299
This list, of course, doesn’t include our Contributing Members and our growing list of those who have asked to be placed on the mailing list. To all of you, welcome.
In the last issue of The Quest, we asked for members to share their citations of sources of articles or books by or about the Gilbreths. The purpose being to compile a comprehensive list of references that could be a valuable resource for those conducting research.
As the Network continues to grow, many of the inquiries I receive could be answered by just such a list. Therefore, it is more important than ever for us to develop such a list.
Please send your list of references, in one of the standard reference formats. A master list will then be compiled and available to those interested, for the cost of postage and copying.
The next issue of The Quest will be out in September. Any submissions must be received by August 15th.
To reduce time of production, it is asked that your submissions be submitted in one of the following formats (listed in order of preference).
Gilbreth Network Coordinator:
David S. Ferguson
113 Kay Ct.
Cloverdale, CA 95425
— from the website The Gilbreth Network Online. Reformatted but unedited. All rights remain with the author and/or publisher.
It can be assumed that all physical and web addresses in this document are obsolete.