From The Gilbreth Network Online:
The Quest, Volume 3, No. 1, Spring 1999

Compiled by David Ferguson

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Spring 1999

The Quest is published and copyright by David Ferguson. Contact him at

Inside this issue (Spring 1999):
In Search of the Gilbreths' Germany
A Man of Quality
Work on Gilbreth Photograph Collection Continues
"Cheaper" to Own a Copy
The New "Cheaper"
Get Well Dr. Jaffe


Vol. 3, No. 1 Spring 1999

In Search of the Gilbreths' Germany—Part I

As I was looking for an inspiration for the lead article for this issue of The Quest, I found my thoughts wander back to my 1997 German trip. As such thought processes go, I couldn't believe I never wrote about it before this. Hope you like it.

In the Fall of 1997, I was working as a safety analyst for the City of San Francisco's public transit department. One of my projects had been to find ways of reducing driver injuries when operating the trolley poles and retrieval equipment on our fleet of trolley buses (trackless trolleys). The solution to the problem turned out to be a new type of system, manufactured by a company in Germany. Since I had instigated the idea and was on the procurement committee, I was told to start packing.

Aside from the business end of the trip, this was a golden opportunity to conduct some research on Frank Gilbreth's work. I immediately arranged to extend my stay a few days to explore Gilbreth's Germany.

The Gilbreths' trips to Europe were made in the leisurely comfort of steamships. Our so-called modern transit, while speedier, is far from comfortable. Being a man with similar girth as Frank Gilbreth, I felt like an inflated rubber, raft jammed into the trunk of a Volkswagen. But when I found more average statue people with similar complaints, we concluded that United Airlines had designed their seats for the fit and comfort of the average sixth grader.

Once the flight ordeal ended, the business part of my trip was an absolute delight. Our German hosts treated us like visiting royalty. We were wined and dined (more correctly, that should be "beered" and dined) at every thing from elegant restaurants, to public houses and bier gartins. No evening was complete without a shot or two of the local schnaps.

One interesting footnote. German beer is a very heavy bodied brew, compared to American brands. It also has a higher alcohol content. Despite the attempts of our hosts to drown us in beer, I never once had a sign of a hangover. I should arrange another trip to do some scientific studies on this subject.

The food we had, as a whole, was excellent. My favorite was jagger schnitzel (a pork loin, pounded and fried in a sauce with "champions" (mushrooms). Talk of heaven on earth. Of course, I had to try sauerkraut (which was best when washed down with large quantities of beer), but there was also another version called wine kraut, which had a more mellow taste and went great with sausage and senif (mustard).

However, when you go to Germany, leave your American tastes for food at home or you'll be very disappointed. If you've ever wondered where old, scrawny cows go to die, its Germany. At more than one dinner outing I was encouraged to order steak, by my German hosts. I don't know if this was an attempt to accommodate my American tastes or if they were trying to impress me, since the steak was invariably the most expensive thing on the menu. God help the person who tackled one of their steaks without a full set of teeth, preferably sharpened to points. Their steak is sooo tough--that I then learned that Germans must have been the inventors of the chain saw, since that was what you needed to cut the steak.

The variations on the type of food and drink seemed to define the region you were in. Unlike our national brands of beer, each town or region had its own particular brand or two. The same held for schnaps.

German restaurants shared one oddity. If all you wanted to drink was plain old tap water, you were out of luck. Now, I normally drink several large glasses of ice water everyday. Along with knowing the German words for black coffee and a few beer varieties of beer, I made sure to have down pat, the word for water. However, when you order wasser in a restaurant, they bring out a bottle of the German carbonated water. This condition was so ingrained in the Germans that I couldn't even get my request across to our bilingual hosts.

Now, if you are one of these people who gets offended when the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke drifts your way, you'd better not go to Germany. Public smoking, today in Germany, is roughly equivalent to what it was in America 25 years ago. The Germans smoke almost everywhere. The only saving grace is that there are non-smoking cars on trains and non-smoking sections in some restaurants. Our hosts were wonderful. They took great pride in showing use their factory and its products, as well as giving us a taste of Germany. I found it interesting that while they were so progressive in quality and technology, they hadn't adopted the informality of American businesses. There was no "friendly" use of surnames. Even between employees of the company, it was Herr this and Frau that. I suppose it lent a professional feeling, but it did seem somewhat stiff.

You could, if you so desired, eat off the floor of their factory. The quality of their workmanship was also impeccable. The quality and precise machining were evident, even to an untrained eye.

In many ways, this factory was superior to a typical American plant. However, in one respect, they were well behind us. At several production work stations, I noted that parts were carelessly placed, requiring time and awkward body postures to pick them up. While they had heard of ergonomics, they admitted that they had yet to apply it to their work. It was obvious that they should have given Frank Gilbreth more German contracts.

I offered to come back and assist them in motion study and ergonomics. I told them I would settle for an airline ticket, and room and board as my payment. I am still watching the mail.

Before proceeding, I should note that I was sold on their trolley pole system before I went to Germany. It greatly reduced the ergonomic hazards of our present system. The objective was to sell the rest of my co-workers on the procurement committee. The deal was recently closed and San Francisco will become the second America city with this new system.

On the Art of Catching Trains

During my 8 days in Germany, I think I spent a total of 20 minutes in transit other than on trains. Having been lucky enough to have experienced American rail travel before Amtrak, my love of trains was once again renewed. Indeed, the foolish person is the one who doesn't take the train when traveling in Germany.

When you arrive at a station platform, you will find ticket vending machines along with a fare chart. Ticketing is largely on the honor system and tickets are only rarely checked and then only to see that you didn't sneak into first class with a second class ticket. Unlike the airlines, the difference between the price of first and second class is minor. For a 10 mark ticket, first class would only be another mark and a half.

The neatest thing about first class were the enclosed compartments. You've seen these in every old movie taking place in Europe. I expected to see James Bond walking through the door at any minute. The intimacy of these compartments also made for very pleasant conversations with other passengers.

Catching a train was a snap. On the platform was a chart which showed the number and types of cars on each train, along with the numbered part of the platform where they would stop. And, don't be late--the whole time I was there, through dozens of train trips, I waited a total of eight minutes for late trains. This may have been a distinct problem for Frank Gilbreth, who had a singular difficulty getting to the train station on time.

There was one thing I found difficult to believe. I have always had the picture of Germany being a place of almost anal cleanliness. And, as to uncontrolled youth, the Germans have a reputation of adhering to every rule in the book. And yet, every train station wall and tunnel or underpass was covered with graffiti. I'm not talking about an occasional scrawl; the whole wall would be loaded. To top this off, there appeared to be no attempt to cover it up or repair the damage.

The train yards, of even the smaller towns, were a maze of tracks going to various sidings or lines to different destinations. These people took their railroading seriously.

Traveling to and from the train station is also an interesting experience. Every single taxicab is a Mercedes. The saving grace of this is that you have more leg room than on the plane coming over. Also, in many ways, the taxi drivers are reminiscent of New York; none of them spoke much English.

The People

Frank Gilbreth was one of these people who could charm your socks off. He and Lillian had friends all over the world, and with good reason. His letters from Germany, before the war had nothing but wonderful things to say of his many friendships. He was even in the midst of planning to move the entire family to Germany, even after war had broken out. He was well liked and well paid, so why not move to Germany.

Frank had very fond feelings for the Germans, due in part to Lillian's German lineage and part from his own experiences. Indeed, his interest in helping the crippled soldiers was out of a concern for the Germans and other Europeans, not a nationalistic interest in just American soldiers. The Gilbreth's crippled soldier work started long before America got into the war.

After the war, Frank found a radical change. While we can say governments go to war, the people are dragged into the mix. Most of Frank's contacts would have little to do with him and there was no hope of new contracts. He generally found that being an American in post-war Germany closed a great many doors.

For the most part, I enjoyed the people I met. Of course our hosts were in their marketing mode, but I know there was sincerity in their feeling, in that I still get phone calls and Christmas cards from many of my new friends. Strangers on the train and the good Herr-Doctors I met in Mannheim and Jena were delightful. They would ask questions about where I lived and talk of state-side relatives. We'd discuss the German reunification and the imminent Euro currency (not a happy subject to most former West Germans).

But, this trip marked the first time I truly knew what it must be like to be hated and discriminated against. In sharp contrast to those who would try to be helpful or muddle through my attempts at communicating with a combination of bad German and sign language, many people made no attempt to be friendly or helpful (and I'm talking about clerks and service industry types). If you would ask a question, they'd walk away. Now you might think they were getting someone who spoke English, but no, they'd just walk away and leave you standing there.

In one incident, our hosts were extremely embarrassed when they attempted to buy us a late dinner at a little bar near our hotel. We were ushered up to a quiet loft area of the building. We carried the round of drinks up that were already purchased. When no one came to take our dinner orders, our host, Herbert, went downstairs, ordered a second round and asked someone to take our orders. We finally ordered dinner at 8:30 and didn't even see a salad until 10:45 and this only after Herbert had made another trip downstairs and later bellowed at the top of his voice for "Service," in German.

While you might chalk this up to poor service, a friend and I had been at this same bar earlier in the week and received similar treatment. After we sat with empty glasses for about twenty minutes, while the bartender talked to some people at the other end of the bar, we got the hint.

As if to drive home the point, another host (the company vice-president) offered a toast on our last evening together. It struck me as unusual until I had had time to put everything together. The toast went "...let's stop all the hatred and be friends." Hatred, what hatred? World War II, by my watch, had been over for more than 52 years. But, I have yet to find a more reasonable explanation for the behavior I'd witnessed.

Its easy to understand the wall that Frank Gilbreth ran into, in the years immediately after World War I, when I found such remaining resentment after more than 5 decades. War, the gift that keeps on giving.

I can say, thankfully, that like bigots in America, the outwardly resentful Germans were few and far between. Put another way, I left with more new-found friends than enemies.

Part II of "In Search of Gilbreths' Germany" will appear in the Summer issue of The Quest.


A Man of Quality

The March 1999 edition of IIE's Solutions has a rare treat for Network members. Our own Dr. Joseph Juran is interviewed by Jane Gaboury, editor of the magazine. While some may think the Quality Movement, in this country, was a passing fad, Dr. Juran will renew your faith. It may seem as though American companies have forgotten about quality and are more interested in quick and dirty methods to achieving the almighty "bottom line." They might point to Japan, the world leader in the quality movement, and say, "look what good it did them; their economy has fallen apart." Dr. Juran points out that Japan's problems were poor banking and financial practices, not poor quality.

Work on Gilbreth Photograph Collection Continues

The latest word from Network member Elspeth Brown is that they have started scanning the Gilbreth photos at the Smithsonian. These will later be included on their web site, along with caption descriptions. This important work will allow the world to view this interesting and important collection.

This scanning process turns a photograph into a digital file on a computer disk. This file can then be accessed over the Internet and the picture viewed on the screen. One can also print a copy with the right software. In essence, this system is far superior to the old rolls of microfilm, used so frequently in libraries.

Once the image has been scanned and converted into a digital file, it can be easily reproduced. Thus, you will no longer have to travel to the Smithsonian to view these photographs.

Along with improved dissemination comes the obvious advantage of preservation. Future generations will have access to these historic images.

Elspeth is a Ph.D. candidate working at the Smithsonian. She was one of the first to join the Gilbreth Network and has been our technical source on photography. Her work will make a lasting contribution towards understanding the Gilbreths' work.

I will again ask the Network members to check their notes and reference materials on the Gilbreths. We are seeking any caption descriptions of numbered Gilbreth photographs. Please, donate a little of your time towards this important work. While Elspeth and I have extensive lists of captions, we by no means have a complete listing.

"Cheaper" to Own a Copy

An alert member sent me an advertisement for the first ever video release of Cheaper by the Dozen, which was featured on the front cover of the catalog of Critics Choice Video. It is being sold for $14.95 (probably with the obligatory shipping and handling charges added on). For those who have asked about this in the past, call 800-367-7765 or check out their web site at:

The New "Cheaper"

You may remember that over a year ago, we told you of a planned remake of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen, a project being carried forward by producers Ben Myron and Chris Columbus. The latest word, from Ernestine Carey, is that the project is still active. They were delayed by a false start on the screenplay. New screen writers are in the middle of a revised script.

So whet your appetites as to who would be cast in the leading rolls. When we get closer to that stage, maybe we should have a contest where the person who gets closest to guessing the final cast wins a prize.

Get Well Dr. Jaffe

Please join me in wishing a speedy recovery to Dr. William Jaffe, who was recently taken ill and is now in a convalescent hospital. Dr. Jaffe has been a stalwart supporter of the Gilbreth Network and shared a wonderful article of his memoirs of his association with Dr. Gilbreth.

Get well soon, Dr. Jaffe. We need your knowledge, wisdom, but most of all your sense of humor.


— from the website The Gilbreth Network Online. Reformatted but unedited. All rights remain with the author and/or publisher.
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