From The Gilbreth Network Online:
The Quest, Volume 5, No. 2, Summer 2001

Compiled by David Ferguson

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Summer 2001

Welcome to the current issue of The Quest, Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer 2001, published in July 2001. The Quest is published quarterly.

The Quest is published by and copyright David Ferguson.

Inside this issue:
U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Gilbreth Axiom
When Industrial Engineering Isn't Enough
Yet, Another Loss
Budding Writers Wanted!
Welcome, New Members


Vol. 5, No. 2 Summer 2001

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Gilbreth Axiom

Eighty-five years ago, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, put their formidable abilities to work on solving what they called, "the problem of the crippled soldiers." They felt that regardless of a person's disability, jobs could be modified to fit the physically challenged worker.

The Gilbreths work entailed examining thousands of different jobs, and gleaning the "essential elements" of the tasks. For example, it was not essential that a store cashier stood to perform his/her task of writing receipts or making change. Therefore, a person without the use of his/her legs could do this job.

They also proved that, with minor modifications, other work could be easily adapted to fit a person's physical limitations. It was Frank who, for example, first developed the idea of the "Shift-Lock" key on a typewriter. This key (which locks the keyboard in it's upper case position) removed the need for a person to have two hands in order to be able to type.

The Gilbreths showed businesses, that with minor work redesign and accommodation, they could employ a long-overlooked segment of the population. However, as is so often the case, business didn't respond to this call until the Gilbreths' principles were made into law, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in the late 1980s. However, even with the tenets of the ADA, the disabled are still fighting for a level playing field.

Casey Martin is a professional golfer. His magic with a golf club earned him a slot on the PGA tour; truly, an achievement few golfers realize. However, Casey has a degenerative circulatory disease, which affects one of his legs and makes it very painful for him (oft times, impossible) to walk. Casey made a simple request of the PGA---that he be allowed to use a golf cart when playing in tournaments.

Even though millions of golfers, today, traverse the links in golf carts, the PGA insisted that Casey Martin couldn't use a cart when competing in PGA sanctioned tournaments. The PGA's stance was that the fatigue, from walking, was an essential factor in the competition. Silly me. I always thought the essential elements of golf were a good swing and accurate putting. Besides, if the PGA truly thought that allowing Mr. Martin ride in a golf cart was an advantage, very simply, they could allow all tournament participants to ride, thus leveling the competition.

This battle went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, in a 7 to 2 decision, the court ruled in Casey Martin's favor, saying that walking was not an "essential element" of the work of being a golfer. It is truly sad that this man's right to work had to be affirmed by the highest court in our country.

We can only hope that this decision will, once and for all, affirm the intent of the ADA, and the Gilbreths' principles, which serve as the foundation of this law. To our detriment, the PGA (and the two dissenting justices) still represent an all too prevalent way of thinking. After eighty-five years, it's high time we started call these people to account for their actions.

When Industrial Engineering Isn't Enough

When I was growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a normal week would have a succession of visits from the milkman, bread-man, and egg/produce man, all delivering their goods to our doorstep. The Sears and the Wards catalogs would also provide doorstep delivery of other goods, when we couldn't get to the store.

With this type of service, you only needed to go to the grocery store once a week and hit the department stores once a month. This, of course was advantageous in that we didn't own a car for many years. When we later got a car, there was no worry about gas prices or traffic congestion--we just didn't need to use it much, since we could get the basics delivered to our doorstep.

This method of consumerism began to disappear with the advent of supermarkets, discount stores and shopping malls. While the Sears and Wards catalogs still did a fair business, eventually, they both stopped these operations in the 1990s. A spokesperson for Sears even said, "People don't want to buy merchandise site unseen." Considering the burst of Internet stores to come, this statement could go down with other such statements like "...if man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings."

Through the mid to late 1990s, the "dot-com" revolution, in its way, brought back many childhood memories of doorstep consumerism, like the milkman and bread man. A company named Web Van, really turned back the clock to the days when you didn't need a second car just to buy basics.

Web Van essentially was an on-line grocery store. You could go on-line, order from a wide variety of food and hard goods, and within a short time, a van pulled up to your house with your order. Web Van started offering these services in major cities and added more cities with each passing month.

While I never, personally used them (they weren't yet in my town), I was very enthusiastic about the prospect. For one thing, retirees, like my mother, who no long drove their cars, could have a real independence when it came to shopping for groceries. Secondly, if services like Web Van caught on, it could go a long way to reducing traffic congestion, as well as making us less dependant on the bloodsucking gasoline companies.

A few months ago, IIE's magazine, Solutions, ran a fantastic article on Web Van's warehouse/order-picking system. Their modern system was enough to make the Gilbreths and every other industrial engineer green with envy. To add to this, they also had an active "continuous improvement" process in place. When they saw a trend in certain items damaged in shipping, they designed modifications to the shipping containers. If there were ever a part of heaven, where industrial engineers go, it would be much like a Web Van warehouse.

While Web Van appeared to have put the "E" in Efficiency, it wasn't enough. Now, almost every month, instead of opening in a new city, Web Van is announcing closures of one warehouse after another. This has culminated with the announcement, on July 8th, that Web Van was filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Like other dot-com'ers, Web Van was cash-poor. The typical dot-com made a huge investment in inventory and material handling/order-picking equipment, not to mention the costs of setting up their web sites. Few of even the oldest and largest dot-com's have yet to show a profit. In Web Van's case, this was even more dramatic in that while trying to remain competitive with local supermarket prices, it appears that they forgot that the profit margin in groceries is extremely low, averaging 2 to 4 percent, with staples even lower. They had hoped to make up the difference in lower overhead. The costs per delivery averaged $10 to $15. They didn't have to worry about maintaining a store and associated costs. However, they needed an instant success to cover a massive, initial investment of $ 800,000,000, which was all too slow in coming.

I also have an additional theory as to their low volume of sales. Grocers have long admitted that their profit depends on impulse buying (items shoppers never had on their grocery list). Just think of how much larger your purchase is when you shop while you're hungry! With Web Van, the name of a product, next to a check box would be much less inviting to a hungry shopper, than holding the item, poised over their shopping cart. Add to this that ordering on-line shows you your total cost as you go, making you much more aware of the amount you're spending, as opposed to that surprise at the check-out stand.

Despite my nostalgia for home delivery and the aforementioned benefits, it will be a while before home delivery becomes a way of life, once again. Despite almost textbook industrial engineering and efficiency, there are other important aspects to consider in a business plan.

Yet, Another Loss

We are deeply saddened to report the passing of Lillian Gilbreth Johnson. She was the seventh of the Gilbreth "dozen," who died in June, after a long illness. Lillian was the second Gilbreth to be born in Providence, Rhode Island. Like the rest of the clan, she completed college and went on to marry. She was a housewife and raised two children. Our condolences go out to her family and siblings.

Budding Writers Wanted!

As always, we are looking for written contributions to The Quest. Can you share an example of a Gilbreth-like innovation; part of your research that didn't make it into your paper; or what first drew you to your interest in the Gilbreths? You will have the chance to be a published author and at the same time, enrich our newsletter with your perspective. Not only will your article be included in our quarterly mailing, but will appear on the Gilbreth Network web site, which has an average of 40 to 50 visitors a day.

If you don't feel up to a full-blown article, how about a letter? I'm sure that there must be someone ready to take me to task on my facts or opinion. We would welcome your ideas.

As another idea, why not write a letter to the Gilbreth family. I get several requests each month, from people who want me to provide the names and addresses of the Gilbreth "children." We do not provide this information out of respect for the Gilbreths' desire for privacy. However, there is nothing to say that you can't write your letter to The Quest. We send the newsletter to the family, so, if published, one or more of the Gilbreth children would read your letter.

Welcome, New Members

The Gilbreth Network is richer for the following people joining our ranks:

Linda Brenner is a safety representative at the Saturn automobile plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. She is interested in the Gilbreth management philosophy. You can reach her at: [omitted].

Dr. Jerry Davis is Research Assistant Professor at Auburn University, who teaches Work Measurement. He may be contacted at:[omitted].

Gabe Giella just graduated from Longmeadow High, Longmeadow, MA. Gabe is a real fan of the Gilbreths and interested in applying what they have taught him, in his career. You can contact him at: [omitted].

John T. Schulz is a "Lean Implementation Facilitator" with Homaco, Inc. He is interested in using Therbligs and Motion Study to help improve his own company's operations. You can reach him at: [omitted].

There are other new members who have either joined through our web site or have asked not to have their names listed. We welcome you as well and are glad you have joined us.


Virtual Tour

A "timely" treat awaits you at the Smithsonian, on-line. The National History Museum's wonderful exhibit, On Time, is on the Internet. While nothing beats wandering through the Museum, in person, you can take a virtual tour at their web site ( The site is really amazing, with animation, excellent pictures and history. The Gilbreths have received an excellent write up, placing them at the forefront of this phase of "time history."

Article of Interest

Dr. Gerald Nadler, a GN member, along with William Chandon have written an article entitled "A Breakthrough Thinking Organization." For those of you familiar with Dr. Nadler's books on Breakthrough Thinking, this should be an interesting follow up. It is published in Team Performance Management Journal, Vol. 6, No. 7/8, Dec. 2000, pp. 122-130.


The Gilbreth Network web site front page has had over 13,000 visitors since we came on line in the fall of 1999. This was announced by our web site designer/engineer, Mary Ann Hainthaler, on the occasion of installing a new visit counter. This achievement is thanks to Mary Ann's hard work and thanks to all our visitors.

Address Changes

Please note the following address changes, of organizations close to the heart of the Gilbreth Network.

If you are on our Members Resource List (on our web site) and have changed your address/contact information, please let us know.

If you wish to be added to this list, please complete a membership application and send it to David Ferguson. Unless you check the box allowing publication of your address/e-mail, etc., we cannot add you to the list.

Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has moved from New York and is now located at:

230 East Ohio, Suite 400
Chicago, IL 60611-3265
Phone (312) 596-5223
Fax (312) 644-8557

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has reorganized its locations. The headquarters are now at:

Three Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016-5990
(212) 591-7722
Fax (212) 591-7674

Process Charting

The Gilbreth Process Chart essentially was Motion Study for an entire plant or operation. Thankfully, the system didn't die with the Gilbreths and has been carried on and refined by the Ben Graham Corp. They apply the Process Chart, taking full advantage of our computer age and offer Business Process Charting: Professional v. 5.0 software. Of course, the beauty of their software is that it performs a linear tracking of the process (as did the Gilbreths). Of course, an important difference is that with the computer version, you can initiate improvements without having to re-do the entire chart. Contact the Ben Graham Corp. for further information.: (937) 667-8690 or check their web site at


— 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.