From The Gilbreth Network Online:
The Quest, Volume 1, No. 3, Fall 1997

Compiled by David Ferguson

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Vol. 1, No. 3 Fall 1997


In this issue:
An Apology to Dr. William Jaffe and the Members
The One Best Battle Continues
The Financial Future
Purdue's Gilbreth Collection Gets a Facelift
Who Was Irene Witte?
Gilbreth Papers Available
Membership List
Odd Facts
The Next


Email David Ferguson, editor of The Quest, at

Vol. 1, No. 3 Fall 1997


An Apology to Dr. William Jaffe And the Members

Dr. William Jaffe, a member and supporter of the Network, submitted a paper to me. It detailed his association with Dr. Lillian Gilbreth as well as his own work in the study of pioneers in scientific management. He wanted to share this material with the Network members.

Owing to my own time limitations and some computer problems, I have been unable to prepare the material for publication. I wish to apologize to Dr. Jaffe and to the readers of this newsletter for not having the paper ready for this issue.

However, the winter edition of The Quest will have Dr. Jaffe’s wonderful material. I assure you, it will be a treat.

David Ferguson


The One Best Battle Continues

Since the review of Kanigel’s "One Best Way . . .," in the last issue of The Quest, there has been, what we can call, a small groundswell of controversy. At least five more book reviews have appeared in major publications. As a result, letters have been flying from and between members of the Gilbreth Network.

For a book that would normally be relegated to the never world of academia, Kanigel has received a great deal of publicity. I say publicity since few of the reviews have had the slightest criticism of the book or its facts.

As to facts, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and I responded to the George Will review in the NY Times, although neither letter was printed. We pointed out the obvious errors, but apparently, no one cares about facts.

Most notable, among the reviews, was a piece in the July 21, 1997, issue of Fortune. The review, was written by Alan Farnham, whose lack of facts is exceeded only by his inability to distinguish between Taylor and Gilbreth. In his attempt to chastise Taylor, he chose to cite a scene from "Cheaper by the Dozen" (where he points out Clifton Webb using a stopwatch to improve the children’s response time to his whistle) as the epitome of Taylor’s efficiency movement. He goes on to refer to the subject of this story [Frank Gilbreth] as " . . . one of Taylor’s many disciples."

Randall Steger, an early member of the Network, responded to this review, pointing out both errors in the book and the obvious errors in Farnham’s article. He stated: "For reason’s inexplicable to me, the reviewer takes unusual delight in the eccentric nature of the innovators . . . [and] focused on Taylor’s two shaft putter rather than Gilbreth’s life saving improvements to surgical procedures." We hope his letter gets published.

In response to my own review, I received a letter from Yisrael Mayer, a member of the Network and an acknowledged source for Kanigel. He, rightly, points out that the Gilbreth/Taylor fight took place a long time ago and the "ownership" of the phrase, One Best Way, is a moot point today.

To an extent, I agree. It was a long time ago and few, except members of our group, seem to care.

Owing to the frustration of not having our point of view represented, I finally decided to confront Kanigel (at the urging of Randy Steger). In my letter, I diplomatically pointed out the errors and offered numerous citations. After five weeks, the letter goes unanswered.

Gerald Nadler probably made the most sense when he wrote that we shouldn’t forget that the "One Best Way" was a misnomer. In work, there really is no One Best Way, but many best ways, in a system of constant improvement of work. This clarification was stated by the Gilbreths, who said that there was only a one best way for the moment in time and that new materials, products and tools would require the ability to change the methods of work.

Dr. Nadler went on to point out that there is, indeed, still a battle between the philosophies of Taylor and the Gilbreths. However, we, as proponents of the Gilbreth system, shouldn’t dwell on Kanigel, but move on to promote our own point of view. To put Dr. Nadler’s words another way, it is time for us to take an offensive rather than a defensive posture.

After all, the promotion of the Gilbreths and their work is one of the goals of the Network. In many respects, the frustrations we may feel, because of Kanigel's book, are the same ones Frank and Lillian felt many years ago. The Quest and the Battle go on.

The Financial Future

by David Ferguson, Coordinator, The Gilbreth Network

The growth of the Gilbreth Network has been slow, but steady. Having started with about 18 people, our mailing list has now topped 50. This has been due to word of mouth as well as the wonderful publicity provided in the May issue of IIE’s Solutions.

Until now, the costs have been underwritten by a few of our members, with overruns covered by me. The costs of producing The Quest amount to $46.50 per quarter. Add to this periodic, mailings of the membership packets or phone/fax inquiries and responses, and you can see that we are quickly advancing into a small business.

Current expenses aside, the future effectiveness of the Network will depend on state-of-the-art growth. The creation and management of even a small Internet web site will clearly require additional funds.

The distant future has an unlimited potential. We may become a conduit for funds for the preservation of Gilbreth material or in offering scholarships to students following in the Gilbreths’ footsteps.

For the present, I would ask all of our members and associates to review the following options:

  1. Methods of increasing voluntary contributions to the Network.
  2. Investigation of the possibility of acquiring a non-profit or tax-exempt status.
  3. Affiliation with or sponsorship of an organization or institution.

The option of charging for The Quest has not been mentioned for two reasons. First, we want free access to student members. Second, our growth is enhanced by the free distribution of the newsletter.

Please send your comments and ideas (or your checks) to the Coordinator.

Purdue’s Gilbreth Collection Gets a Facelift

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth owned an extensive collection of books, covering almost all aspects of theirs and others work in the art and science of business management. These volummes and collections of periodicals, have been housed in the Gilbreth Library, operated by the School of Industrial Engineering at Purdue.

During my first visit, in 1995, many of the volummes were showing the signs of age and use. Bindings were separating and many valuable papers and journals were in loosely stacked piles. Accessing the books was a dangerous proposition as the sliding glass doors, in the book cabinets, tended to fall out when opened; this was due to sagging of the bookshelf structure.

Since this visit, help has arrived, in the form of money to refurbish the collection. Dan Gilbreth, as executor of his mother’s estate, has made generous contributions to preserve the collection. The beginnings of repair were evident during my return visit in 1996.

The collection has also found another benefactor. Lynn Shelby Fortik (BSIE ‘87, Purdue) died in an auto accident in 1993. His wife, Diane, Lynn’s parents and sister, Dawn F.

Pansil created a memorial fund in Lynn’s name. The family felt that the Gilbreth philosophy, of improving the quality of a worker’s life, epitomized Lynn’s own feelings toward his work in Industrial Engineering. "Lynn wasn’t just a boss who told you what to doBhe wanted you to better yourself, to be a happier person." {from IE Alumni newsletter} On August 13, 1997, the formal dedication of the Lynn Shelby Fortik Memorial for the Gilbreth Collection restoration was made.

Through the contribution of the Fortik fund, the preservation of the Gilbreth Collection has found another supporter. Now, thanks to the Gilbreths and Fortiks, future generations of students can view the books that helped to create the Gilbreth philosophy.

If I may be allowed to speak for members of the Network, we want to thank Dan Gilbreth, Diane Fortik and the rest of the Fortik family for their efforts. The preservation of such a valuable collection benefits us all.

Footnote: For those of you planning a future trip to Purdue, please note that the Gilbreth Collection is separate from the Gilbreth Archives. The Collection is housed and administered by the School of Industrial Engineering, located in Grissom Hall, while the archives are located in Stewart Hall, in the Special Collections Library. To view the Collection, make arrangements with Rebecca L. Fry at the School of Industrial Engineering.

Who Was Irene Witte?

Many people, who study the Gilbreths, have asked: "Did they ever have any proteges/followers, like Taylor?" Generally, the answer is no. The Gilbreths, unlike Taylor, didn’t require people to always agree with them. Indeed, they encouraged people they worked with to use their own brains, as opposed to falling into locked step.

On the other hand, Irene Witte, was probably the person who most closely fit the definition of a Gilbreth protege. Frank first met her when she was an employee at one of his German clients. As was his habit, Frank encouraged her and others to learn about Scientific Management.

Irene Witte took this encouragement to heart and was to become an authority on Scientific Management and other management techniques, in Germany. Besides translating some of the Gilbreth books into German, she also wrote several of her own.

This brings us to two current matters to perk the interest of Network members.

We have a request for assistance from a doctoral candidate in Berlin who is writing her thesis on Irene Witte. Anyone who feels that he/she could offer help should contact her.

In my correspondence with Rita, I asked her if one of Irene’s books, a perspective written about Taylor, Gilbreth and Ford, had ever been translated into English. She found no record of this, but said that it would be a likely project for someone at her university if some grant money were available.

Translating Witte’s book is a good example of the type of work the Gilbreth Network could spearhead.

Project Proposal

We should have someone in the Network look into the alternatives for this project.

  1. What would be considered a nominal cost for the translation?
  2. Who or what organization would be willing to sponsor such a project?
  3. While publishing might be an option, in this day of computers, merely having the material on disk would be a means of distribution.

We will hope that one of our readers will tackle this project. This translation of Irene Witte’s book would be a valuable addition to research sources for those interested in the Gilbreths and Scientific Management.

Gilbreth Papers Available

For those who haven’t been to Purdue, to view the Gilbreth archives, their material is divided into several collections. The "N Files" were the business papers of Gilbreth Consulting. The files also included letters and articles from the period Frank Gilbreth was alive.

Many years ago, a selection of papers, from the "N Files", were placed on 35mm microfilm. This part of the collection amounted to four reels of material.

Now, UMI, the company which re-prints students’ masters and doctoral papers, is making the microfilm of the Frank B. Gilbreth Papers available. The cost is $310.00 for the four reels.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the many people doing research on the Gilbreths. Now, a college or city library can purchase this collection for a reasonable price.

UMI’s web site also allows you to search for material on other topics. Contact them at:

For other information, contact:

Membership List

We are updating our list of Active Members, which will be mailed with the Winter newsletter. Active Members are those who are willing to be contacted by students/researchers. Contributing Members will not have their names published, but will be on our mailing list.

Those who do not have an application on file will receive a form with this newsletter. There is no cost to join and we would all welcome you.

Odd Facts

Travel life’s highway on Gilbreth Road

If you’re in the San Francisco area, you can do just that.

Just south of SF’s International Airport is a light-industry area with a frontage road on Highway 101. I found Gilbreth Road by accident when trying to reach my hotel for a conference, on of all things, ergonomics.

I don’t know if the road was named for our Gilbreths. Maybe one of the members can tell us.

The Next Quest

Please submit your articles or news items before December 15, 1997. We are especially in need of brief articles or items of interest.

Preferred methods of submission are:

We are in real need of your contributions. Time constraints simply will not permit me to continue producing the Quest in its current size without your contributions.

Send your items to:

David Ferguson, Coordinator The Gilbreth Network
113 Kay Ct.
Cloverdale, CA 95425
phone/fax (707) 894-3854
New: e-mail:


— 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.