The Quest

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Summer 1998

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

Return to the current issue of The Quest and the index of other back issues.

Return to the Gilbreth Network home page

Inside this issue (Summer 98):

Editorial by David S. Ferguson

That Gilbreth Humor

Untold Gilbreth Stories by Dr. Charles Wrege

Hot Off the Presses

Frank, the Experimenter

News of the Network


Become a member of the Gilbreth Network! Click here for a membership form

Vol. 2, No. 2 Summer 1998


David S. Ferguson

Coordinator of The Gilbreth Network

American History is full of popular myths; stories, which have been accepted as true, despite factual information to the contrary. Betsy Ross made the first American flag; Thomas Edison was the sole inventor of the light bulb; or that Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill on horseback. None of these myths are true, as proved by extensive evidence and yet, these stories persist as supposed fact.

In a like fashion, historians continue to attribute the pioneering work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth to Frederick Taylor; all too often stating that Time and Motion Study is a single, comprehensive system or that Taylor referred to his system as "The One Best Way." Again, as with myths of Ross, Edison or Roosevelt, mountains of facts are conveniently ignored to preserve the myth.

In past issues of The Quest, I have written about some inaccuracies in Robert Kanigelís book The One Best Way. Many letters have been written by myself and other Network members trying to correct the misnomers in Mr. Kanigelís writings. I even wrote a letter to the author.

My letter, of August 9, 1997, cited three main points: 1) That, when discussing application of Scientific Management to housework, the author made no mention of the extensive work of Dr. Lillian Gilbreth. 2) The lumping of Time Study and Motion Study, together as one entity, was inaccurate, both in function and philosophy. 3) And, that "The One Best Way" was a phrase adopted by the Gilbreths to describe (and market) their work in management and motion study, and that Taylor never used it, certainly not as the mantra it became to the Gilbreths.

Mr. Kanigel answered my letter on December 28, 1997, and in general, made little concession to my points, which I had extensively documented.

1) He acknowledges LMGís work, but states that his intention was to "...never to cite, with any claim to comprehensiveness and exactitude..." The reference to SM in the home was meant to sample some of the effects, not provide a comprehensive study of that particular subject. {for the sake of balance, Laurel Grahamís book Managing on Her Own, gives a very balanced discussion of the subject}

2) He did not agree with my assertions regarding the distinction between Time and Motion Studies and felt that Taylorís work outlined many functional aspects, attributed to Gilbrethís system, as being Taylorís ideas. [One must be very careful in crediting Taylor with certain ideas. Taylor was proficient at absorbing other peopleís ideas into his work. To gain a full understanding of whether he ever conceived of Motion Study, it is necessary to review "Shop Management" as it first appeared in the 1903 ASME Transactions, not the later republication] He, however, refers to page 415, where he outlines the distinctions between Gilbrethís and Taylorís work on the subject. On this page, he does have a basic understanding of the differences, but throughout the book, Time and Motion remain linked. He states that, in 1997, weighing the differences are not as important as they were in Taylorís and Gilbrethís day; that they fall under the broad "...emphasis on applying science, rationality and analysis to human work..." I would like to point out that the differences between the two approaches represent an ongoing controversy, which remains to this day. The battle is the same as Theory X and Theory Y or the differences between the writings of Champy/Hammer and those of Deming.

3) He agrees that there was material to support both Taylorís and Gilbrethís association with the phrase "The One Best Way." He states that he found references applying the phrase to Taylor and the SM movement as often as it was applied to Gilbreth [yet, his book cites only one, single reference]. He does admit that, in choosing this title, he "...anticipated problems on this score." He did not address my most salient point, however. Why would the Gilbreths chose this phrase for the slogan for their consulting company if it was so closely associated with Taylor? After all, at the time the Gilbrethís first chose the phrase, (early 1918), they were trying to distance themselves from Taylor and his followers.

Despite what remain strong differences of opinion and fact between myself and Mr. Kanigel, I will restate my positive feelings on his book. First, he never ignored Taylorís personality or egotism. Indeed, he probably did more, than previous writers, to present a picture of the entire person. Second, unlike some past Taylor "fans," he gave a fair coverage of the contributions of the Gilbreths; while, not what this group would wish, at least the Gilbreths were well recognized for their work.

Most recently, Mr. Kanigel wrote a short article for the magazine, Bottom Line (June 15, 1998), in which he briefly outlined Taylorís work. I found it interesting that when citing examples of Taylorís research into the standards of work output, he quotes how Taylor (most likely through Thompson) found that " bricklayer and helper averaged about 480 bricks per working day." To any of you who have studied FBGís figures on bricklaying, this figure of Taylorís is a joke. Even when citing the improvements of his new system, Frank stated that before application of his methods, bricklayers completed 120 bricks per hour (960 for an eight-hour day).

I know from first-hand experience, that there is a lot of material to cover in the study of work. However, if you are going to cite Taylor, donít make him look like a fool with the wrong figures. [Incidentally, this inaccuracy also drove Frank Gilbreth crazy.]

Thankfully, Iím not alone in this battle. Jim Perkins, who gave us the only remaining film record of the Gilbrethsí work, has been a stalwart supporter. He wrote the editor of Bottom Line, pointing out the omission of the significant and important contributions of the Gilbreths in improving the true efficiency of the worker.

Mr. Perkins has also written letters, responding to reviews of Kanigelís book, making similar points. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Perkins for all of his efforts to set the record straight. With the added help of Ernestine Carey, William Jaffe and Randall Steger, we are at least educating the editors of these publications.

It is clear that the Gilbreth Network, and its members, have a big job to do. Not only do we need to see that the Gilbreths receive proper credit for their work, but we need to revitalize the philosophy the Gilbreths applied to work and the value of the worker. This is a job, which goes far beyond historical accuracy. The need for the Gilbrethsí vision was never greater than it is today.

That Gilbreth Humor

If you want an example of the Gilbreth vision, you have to look no further than one of the best anecdotes from Frank Gilbreth.

The Gilbreth invention of the Process Chart, could be called "motion study of the factory." These charts examined, step by step, the tasks involved in making a product. They were made on long sheets of blueprint paper, sometimes extending several feet in length.

On one of his consulting jobs, Frank had a meeting with the company president. He pulled out a process chart, which when extended, covered the length of the presidentís office.

The president said: "Now see here Gilbreth, if you think weíre going to change our system to follow that...." Frank interrupted saying, "You donít understand, this is how youíre doing things NOW!"

If you need an indicator of the state of modern business, you could easily replay the same situation in almost any of todayís companies.

Untold Gilbreth Stories

Dr. Charles Wrege

Editorís Note: The Gilbreth Network is lucky to have, as one of its members, Dr. Charles D. Wrege, author of a long list of books and articles on the history of management. Dr. Wrege can be called the consummate researcher, never satisfied with the popular view of history, he digs deep into archives and attic trunks with equal vigor.

One day, in a phone conversation with Dr. Wrege, we touched upon the early contacts between the Committee for Industrial Lighting (CIL), and Dr. Lillian Gilbreth. The CIL was the group responsible for initiating the first Hawthorne Experiments; a long study, which, right or wrong, has had a significant influence on the labor/management relationship.

Following our conversation, he sent me the following letter.

"The story of Lillian Gilbreth and the Committee for Industrial Lighting, October, 1924, is a simple one: Dr. Dugald C. Jackson, the chairman of the Committee (Thomas A. Edison was the honorary chairman) selected Charles E. Snow and John F. Scott (former students of Jackson at MIT) to handle the lighting tests in the fieldóSnow went to Hawthorne [Western Electricís Illinois plant] and Scott to the G.E. Bridgeport plant. Snow was working at the G.E. Bloomfield N.J. plant (next to Montclair) and Jackson (apparently through Frank B. Jewett, of Bell Telephone Laboratories) asked for Snow (and Scott) to go to Lillian Gilbrethís home in Montclair, to learn something about motion study and the techniques of industrial studies. They were taught by Lillian for about 4 days (Scott living with Snow, at Bloomfield, during the lessons).

In 1957, Snow (who was then head of Defense Projects, for Western Electric), told me, in his office at 120 Broadway, NYC, how he remembered Lillian instructing them while still doing the household chores, taking care of the children, etc. Even though it had occurred 33 years earlier, Snow still was impressed by her instruction. Unfortunately, the Committee never made any motions studies of workers so Lillianís instructions were never used."

Editorís Note: There may have been one concession to the Gilbrethsí Motion Study techniques in the Relay Assembly Room. Pictures and drawings of the work benches show gravity chutes used to transfer completed relays to a storage box, which activated a counting device to keep track of output. Of course, gravity chutes were long advocated by the Gilbreths to reduce the time of the Therblig "release."

My conversation with Dr. Wrege also covered Dr. Gilbrethís work in the home. He adds the following to his letter.

"In regard to Mary Pattisonís "Experimental Housekeeping Station" at Colonia, N.J. (1912Bwhich is described in her book Domestic Engineering [1915]) This book may have influenced later work, in this area, by Lillian.

Mary Pattisonís daughter, Dianatha "told me her mother often spoke of the Gilbreths and their visits to the station at Colonia (located adjacent to the Pattison "House of Four Winds," on Devon Road, Colonia, even today). Mary Pattison made motion studies of housekeeping chores, so may have been influenced by the Gilbrethís also, aside from influencing them!"

Dr. Wrege was also kind enough to send an article relating to Frank Gilbrethís work with the medical profession: Medical Men and Scientific Management: A Forgotten Chapter in Management History, Review of Business and Economic ResearchóSpecial Management Issue: Univ. of New Orleans, XVIII/3, Spring 1983. This article reviews FBGís work with Doctors Ernest A. Codman and Robert L. Dickinson, in applying Scientific Management to the medical profession.

Hot off the Presses

Engineering and Management Press has begun shipping copies of As I Remember and Managing On Her Own. Without hesitation, I can tell you that these volumes are "must-haves" for anyone interested in the Gilbreths.

Lillian Gilbrethís As I Remember, is delightful reading. The book canít be considered a comprehensive source, on the history of the Gilbreths; many significant stories have been left out. However, there is much information and many stories, told for the first time.

Dr. Gilbreth also paints a wonderful picture of her life growing up in the late Nineteenth Century. Her focus on the tiniest details makes you feel you are really there in Nineteenth Century Oakland.

Dr. Laurel Grahamís book, Managing On Her Own, makes a wonderful campaign volume. Here we find out about Dr. Gilbrethís work, after Frankís passing. This is the first time we have seen such detail in recounting Dr. Gilbrethís many projects.

Dr. Graham points out how the focus of Dr. Gilbrethís work was molded by a society which still wasnít ready to accept a womanís capability to work in a manís world of industry. Instead, much of her paid work was in areas traditionally relegated to the woman/housewife or to provide designers and marketers with the womanís point of view.

Both books are beautifully bound and contain many photographs from Ernestine Careyís private collection. These "new" photographs (not contained in the Purdue or Smithsonian collections) are an added treat to the works.

The Gilbreth family has been kind enough to divide the royalties from As I Remember, between IIEís Gilbreth Foundation (for scholarships), the Gilbreth Collection, at Purdue and the Gilbreth Network. This is a generous gift from the family and I believe Dr. Gilbreth would have approved of this.

Both books are available from Engineering and Management Press (800) 494-0460. I would urge members to buy two copies each and donate one set to their favorite library.

Itís been almost a quarter-century, since any book on the Gilbreths has been in print. These books are fine representatives of a continuing tradition of excellent reading on the subject.

Frank the Experimenter

To whet your appetite for As I Remember, there is a great, new FBG anecdote. To paraphrase the story:

The Gilbreths had just had their first child, Anne. One evening, Frank came home and announced that he had just read an article which stated that if you put a new born baby in water, it would naturally start to swim.

To the horror of his mother and aunt, he asked if he could try the experiment with Anne. Lillian, possibly already used to Frankís inquisitive mind, agreed.

Frank picked up Anne and headed for the bathtub.

A few minutes later, he returned with a somber face, stating, "She sank!...I guess the article was wrong."

News of the Network

Would you please join in congratulating the Gilbreth Networkís newest Ph.D., Dr. Jane Lancaster. Her work was completed May 29th, with a dissertation on Lillian Gilbrethís life. She will soon begin work on a book on the same subject. Her dissertation should soon be available, through UMI. We wish her all our best.

You can also find Dr. Lancasterís article Oí Pioneer (originally published in the Brown Alumni Magazine), by conducting a "gilbreth" search on the Internet.

Please welcome our newest member, Dr. Daniel A. Wren, of the University of Oklahoma. He has an ongoing interest in the Gilbrethsí management work and will be a valuable resource for our members. You may contact him as follows:

Daniel A. Wren

David Ross Boyd Professor of Management

Price College of Business

University of Oklahoma


Part of the Fall issue will be devoted to fund raising for the Gilbreth Network. If you have any ideas or suggestions, to assist in this venture, please send them in, prior to the September close of submissions.

One idea which has been mentioned was charging a five-dollar per year subscription for The Quest. A vote of members would be taken before such a change was made.