The Quest

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Summer 1998

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

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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


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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