From The Gilbreth Network Online:
The Quest, Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 2000

Compiled by David Ferguson

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Summer 2000

Welcome to The Quest, Vol. 4 No.2, Summer 2000, published in July 2000. The Quest is published quarterly.

The Quest is published by and copyright David Ferguson.

Inside this issue:
Time Study Gone Crazy
Gilbreth Network Web Site is Honored
A Gift to Purdue Benefits Researchers
In "Touch" With the Past


Vol. 4, No. 2 Summer 2000

Time Study Gone Crazy

[Archivist's note: this article is duplicated from the prior issue, possibly as an artifact of the conversion to online format.]

Have you heard about the latest innovation in the radio broadcasting industry? They now have a digital software program which can compress the length of a person's speech, by greatly reducing the "dead space" between words. So, if a news person or talk show host uses a pause, for emphasis, in his/her delivery, the software will eliminate it. The net result is that enough time is saved in an hour of broadcast, to insert 4 to 6 more commercials. And, of course, the commercials will not be speeded up, except when a disclaimer is given.

While we are unlikely to miss great speeches on a talk radio show, just try to picture, if you will, great orators life FDR or JFK having their speeches compressed, so the broadcaster could sell more commercials.

Instead of: "Today,................December 7th, 1941;........................ a day that will live in infamy...." Americans would now hear: "Today December 7th1941 a day that will live in infamy..."

We know that this innovation will raise at least one person's hackles. Victor Borge (with his famous punctuation routine) would loose his sound effects for the comma, colon and semicolon. The result would be that "skeeech, boonk-book and ploop-skeeech" would forever be missing from grammar. Do we really need this much efficiency?

It was one thing, when Frank Gilbreth supported the Simplified Spelling movement. Eliminating silent or redundant letters from a word (tho for though, and thru for through) would have saved time typing, reading and made life easier for some of us who tend to spell things phonetically.

The heart of efficiency is in changing or simplifying a task, but still have the same outcome, whether it be assembling a quality product or conveying meaning with pauses in a speech.

However, with quite the opposite approach, the movie industry is actually slowing time down. If you saw last year's hit, The Matrix, you may remember one of the outstanding special effects was where the actors were moving in such detailed slow motion, that they appeared to be floating in mid-air.

This filming system is called "Bullet Time." The description of this system may sound familiar. They used high speed movie cameras, with the actors moving against a grid background. Then, using the first film, they plot the position of the movement, frame by frame [this is the same as aspects of the Gilbreth method] and installed individual still cameras, along the plotted path of motion. They then re-shoot the scene, using both still and movie cameras and spliced in frames from the still cameras to add enhanced clarity to the final version [the use of the still cameras, along the path of motion, was the technique Eadweard Muybridge first used in taking "moving pictures" of Leland Stanford's horse]. While typical slow motion photography has blurs and looks staged, the clarity of the Bullet Time system was as good as any still shot.

Gilbreth Network Web Site is Honored

The Gilbreth Network is picked as one of the recommended sites of the week (on May 8th), by Yahoo! Every week, the people at Yahoo pick what they consider to be some of the more interesting sites on the Internet. This was not only an honor in itself, but brought almost as many visitors to our site, in one week, as we've had since we started.

First, for those of you not familiar with Yahoo, they are a Internet information site and search engine and are one of the biggest and most popular on the web. Think of them as a gigantic telephone yellow pages.

To show you the power, that their recommendation represents, in the last few months, the Gilbreth Network web site had anywhere from 10 to 20 visitors per day. The week we were featured by Yahoo, we had over 1,000 visitors.

Indeed, their description of our site had some very kind words: "The Gilbreth Network, a consortium of engineers, academics, and management specialists, hosts a bustling forum dedicated to this [the Gilbreths] ridiculously accomplished couple. Frank introduced the idea of photography to study the effectiveness of assembly line workers. Lillian designed appliances and work spaces for the handicapped. Together they revolutionized the field of work efficiency."

There was an added bonus to this recognition. Those of you familiar with the Internet, know that there are other "search engines" besides Yahoo. They operate in a similar fashion (i.e. you type in a word and they will find related web sites). Up until now, when you searched for the word "Gilbreth" on most of these sites, our site showed up way down the list, if at all. Now, since our recognition by Yahoo and other sites, the Gilbreth Network shows up on the first page. This means when a person is looking for information on the Gilbreths they will see us first. It's a great way to spread the word on the Gilbreths.

However, least we forget, we owe this accolade to one person; Mary Ann Hainthaler, our Web Mistress. Not only was she responsible for getting us on the Internet, but she has worked long hours to constantly improve the appearance and functioning of our site. So, Mary Ann, this honor belongs to you. You've not only put us on the map, you got them to put a big gold star next to our name.

Footnote: As if the web site wasn't enough, Mary Ann is also working on her doctorate. So, members, if she contacts anyone, asking for advise or assistance, please, give her all the time you can spare. She has given so much of her time to us.

A Gift to Purdue Benefits Researchers

The Boren Family Trust has given us all a great gift. Thanks to their generosity, there is a brand new source of Gilbreth information. We particularly add our thanks to Rebecca Boren, member of the Trust board and the Gilbreth Network. Indeed, their gift has also broken ground in being Purdue's first Internet site to provide Gilbreth research material (while the Special Collections Library briefly had a Gilbreth site, it was dropped).

Some of you may not have realized that Purdue University not only houses Gilbreth material at the Special Collections Library, but also at the School of Industrial Engineering. The School maintains the Gilbreth Library, which contains some of the books the Gilbreths once owned, it also houses such items as an original Motion Model, wood carvings, made by Frank Gilbreth, awards, as well as photos and assorted documents, including the first draft of Edna Yost's biography of the Gilbreths.

This collection was not easily accessible and up until now, you needed an appointment to view the material. When I discovered this, in 1996, I had suggested that they should at least make copies of the material easily available for researchers.

Thanks to grant from the Boren Family Trust, we can all view this fascinating material. Their grant funded the process of making electronic images of this collection, which are now posted on the Internet. You can view them at: and then click on "Gilbreth Library."

We would also like to thank W. Dale Compton, Lillian M. Gilbreth Distinguished Professor of Industrial Engineer and Interim Head of the School of Industrial Engineering. He has supported this effort and continues to be interested in helping to preserve Gilbreth related material.

Speaking for the members of the Network, I would like to thank Rebecca Boren and all those involved for this wonderful gift. You have helped in taking an important step towards fulfilling one of the main purposes of the Gilbreth Network; the preservation of material. Thank you.

[Archivist's note: Purdue nowhas a substantial and very accessible Gilbreth collection both online and for visiting researchers.]

In "Touch" With the Past

Every time you sit down to your modern computer, your fingers are touching a bit of history. Your modern marvel actually uses a keyboard which was designed over 100 years ago.

Back when typewriters were all manual, the keys used to jam up regularly, requiring that you manually separate them and wind up with ink on your fingers. To solve this, some long-forgotten engineer looked at a typist's fingers and decided to intentionally slow them down a bit.

The engineer took frequently used letters and located them near the weakest fingers and weakest hand. The idea being, that since these fingers were weak, they wouldn't be as fast and that there would be less tenancy to jam the keys. This key configuration is called the QWERTY keyboard; named for the letters in the upper left of the keyboard.

The QWERTY configuration is not only antiquated, but in it's design, actually produces more fatigue and a heightened chance of causing Cumulative Injury. In other words, the keyboard is not ergonomically designed.

In his1915-16 work with Remington Typewriters, Frank Gilbreth, using motion study was one of the first to recognize the poor design of the QWERTY keyboard. The Gilbreths were no strangers to the typewriter, having studied the best methods of education and teaching with their children. However, it was their careful study at Remington, which led to numerous innovations and a call for a better key arrangement.

The Gilbreths believed that the layout of the keys could be improved, pairing the most frequently used keys with the strongest and most dexterous fingers. In their training of speed-typists, they recognized the inherent fatigue-producing design of the keyboard. You could think of the fatigue factor by repeatedly lifting a weight with one finger. If you attached it to the index finger or thumb, substantially more lifts could be accomplished than if the weight were lifted by the ring or little finger.

World War I interrupted Frank's work at Remington and he never returned to studies of the typewriter. However, among her many accomplishments, it was Lillian Gilbreth who carried forth the typewriter battle.

The alternate keyboard, first proposed by the Gilbreths, was to wait almost 20 years before a young man, August Dvorak (a relative of the composer of the New World Symphony) was to refine the Gilbreth's work with what has become know as the Dvorak Keyboard. However, his work would not have been possible were it not for the assistance of Lillian Gilbreth.

We don't know just how they met or how much help she gave him, except by his own words. His book, published in 1936, was dedicated to Frank Gilbreth and he spends many pages explaining the studies the Gilbreths conducted.

His proposed keyboard layout placed frequently used keys with the strongest fingers. He also locates more frequently used consonants in the range of the right hand (as the majority of the population is right-handed, and thus is stronger.

Lillian Gilbreth worked hard to help Dvorak promote his system. Indeed his book was filled with references to what had been Dr. Gilbreth's main themes of work methods. This included extensive instruction on proper postures and arrangements of the typing desk (a subject the Gilbreths developed at Remington), as well as what we call the psycho-social aspects of work, of which Dr. Gilbreth was a pioneer.

There were few Dvorak Keyboards produced, after his invention, although you can adjust some computer software to emulate the Dvorak layout, however, the keys require re-labeling. However, the main stumbling block preventing wide acceptance of the keyboard was implementation. Like converting from the English to the Metric system of measurement, converting to the Dvorak Keyboard would take a commitment from schools, manufacturers and currently trained typists. So far, this hasn't happened.

However, before we start a campaign to adopt the Dvorak Keyboard we should look at two important flaws in Dvorak's design. In point of fact, the flaws in the layout were that he didn't read enough of the Gilbreths' original writings on the typewriter.

First of all, he failed to address the issue of frequent letter combinations (in English usage). If you look at the Gilbreths' principles of motions, you will find that sequential movements are most easily performed by alternating the hands with each motion. This develops a rhythm which not only improves speed, but spreads the work evenly. Therefore, in frequent letter combinations like: TH, GH, IE, IES, ER, ST, etc., the keys should be struck by alternate hands (and ideally, with the same finger on each hand). In Dvorak's design, T, H, G, S are all on the right hand side, thus requiring many frequent letter combinations to be done by the same hand or finger in the case of T, G, &H, which are all grouped together.

The second missed opportunity is the location of the space bar. Frank Gilbreth had originally proposed that the space bar be located in the middle of the keyboard layout. This was due to its frequent use in typing. As always, the Gilbreths' empirical assumption has proved correct in latter day ergonomics. Because of the physical position of the thumb, when using the space bar, numerous people are experiencing pain in the lower thumb joint.

There is a golden opportunity for someone to continue the work of the Gilbreths and Dvorak. By reviewing their work and the research of others, like Lahy and Gilbert (who also did typewriter studies), we could come up with an improved keyboard design. This and the many other improvements recommended by the Gilbreths are long overdue.


Is there a doctor in the house? Once again, one of the Gilbreth Network's own can answer that call. Please congratulate Dr. Elspeth Brown, who was recently awarded her degree. As if that wasn't enough of an accomplishment, she's even landed a job. Dr. Brown will be an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Canada's gain is our loss.

We should also point out that Dr. Brown was also has spearheaded a project at the Smithsonian, to identify and catalog all of the Gilbreth photographs. While it's a slow process, when finished, it will be a valuable resource for all. Elspeth, thanks so much for this work and take all of our "warmest" congratulations with you to Toronto. You will need anything that comes close to being "warm", way up there.


We are happy to welcome Michael DeBlasio, as a new member. Mr. DeBlasio has immediately become a valuable asset to the Network, in that he is a contractor and very interested in Gilbreth Construction and the Gilbreths' early, construction-related books. We've long needed someone with the experience to give us insights into the early work of Frank Gilbreth Construction. You can contact him at: P O Box 1121, Littleton, MA 01460.


Cheaper by the Dozen continues to live on in the hearts of America and the world. I never cease to be amazed at the number of adoring comments we receive from people, who say that they still warmly remember this book from childhood or from teachers who use it in their classrooms. Now, more than 50 years after it was first published, the book is still popular.

And, if you'd rather wait for the movie, the film has been briefly released on video and is still shown on American Movie Classics (AMC)-check your cable/satellite listings. While Clifton Webb is not exactly the image we may have of Frank Gilbreth, it is still an entertaining film.

However, we may eventually have a second Cheaper' film to see. Ernestine Carey reports, that after a number of screenplay problems, a final script has been approved for a remake of the original film. When it comes out, I for one, will be first in line, but don't buy your popcorn yet, since Hollywood works in its own good time. We'll keep you posted.

Support for the Network

The Gilbreth Network is only as good as the support of our members. We've come a long way since 1996, when we announced the formation of the Network. However, we wouldn't be where we are today without the support of our members.

Our members have aided us in any number of ways. We've had members support the Network through generous funding, excellent articles, providing us with new information on the Gilbreths, not to mention major projects like the creation of our web site, the Smithsonian project or the recently completed Purdue web site.

We continue to look for your support. Here are just a few ways in which you could help.

1) Financial donations to help defray the costs of materials, postage and phone calls in the operation of the Network.

2) Articles for our newsletter, which is now also electronically published on our web site.

3) Keeping the Network informed of any new or recently discovered Gilbreth material.

4) Initiating or assisting in special projects to find material.

Your financial gifts help us to pay for the publication of The Quest, our quarterly newsletter. Monies also defray the continued costs of phone calls and printing of material as part of the Network operation. Most importantly, your endowments have helped us to continue to provide the newsletter free of charge, so as to allow students on a tight budget, to receive it.

The Quest is greatly enriched by the people who have written articles for our members. Your contributions are greatly appreciated by our members and add variety. We urge those who have not yet written for us to share your experiences or point of view with the other members. For example, in your research, you may have come across an interesting bit of Gilbreth information, but chose not to put it in your own published works. We would welcome the chance to hear from you.

As to the last points, the Network continues to strive to see that Gilbreth writings and material is preserved. Many times, Gilbreth material is locked away, in dusty archives, at universities and colleges, separated by thousands of miles. Unless a student has unlimited financial resources, it is difficult to view all of this material. Therefore, we seek to continue to support projects like the recently completed images from the School of Industrial Engineering at Purdue and the current effort at the Smithsonian Institution. The more material readily available, the greater will be the value to Gilbreth research.

Finally, if you really want a challenge, there is no shortage of work. There are many mysteries to be uncovered. Whether you're a later day Sherlock Holmes or Indiana Jones, have we got the job for you. Perhaps you could be the person to discover previously unknown Gilbreth films or photos. The search for new material is never-ending.

In whatever way you can, please offer your support to the Gilbreth Network. Contact me at:

David Ferguson
Coordinator of the Gilbreth Network
113 Kay Ct.
Cloverdale, CA 95425
(707) 894-3854

or visit our web site:


— 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.