Born (1868-1924) Frank and wife Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) were seen as one of the great husband-and-wife teams of science and engineering. They were married in 1904 and produced 12 children, one of which died. They used their children as guinea pigs in their experiments for the quest to find “the one best way”. Early in the 1900s, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth worked together to develop motion study as an engineering and management technique. They followed the established work in time embarked on by Frederick Winslow Taylor and they developed the study of workplace psychology.
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were partners in the management consulting firm of Gilbreth, Inc and wrote numerous books on their development. Frank Gilbreth was regarded as an innovative building contractor. His reputation was based on speed work achieved by mechanical innovations (an adjustable bricklayer’s scaffold and cement mixers), systematic management (coordinating activities on and among construction sites, generating labor efficiency), and advertising publicity employing smooth pamphlets filled with photographs, many of them chronological images displaying his buildings in progressive stages of completion.
According to Baumgart (2009) scientific management was mostly developed in the 1880s and 1890s by Fredrick W. Taylor whose method of time study defined the field. Baumgart (2009) stated that Taylor observed 75 men who worked repetitively to move pig iron by shovel all day at the Bethlehem Steel Company. Then one of his engineers selected a worker and instructed him to follow his directives to the t. “We want no back talk, when he tells you to walk, you walk and when he tells you to sit down you sit down”. Consequently, the worker raised his productivity from 12. 5 to 47 tons of pig iron moved daily and even earned an increased pay from $1.
15 to $1. 85 daily. Frank Gilbreth’s well-known work in improving brick-laying in the construction trade is a good example of his approach. According to From his observation in the building industry, he came to the conclusion that each worker had their own way of doing things and that no two used the same methods and the same motions when engaged in work. These observations led him to seek the one best way to perform tasks.
He realized that if he could use a little adjustable table that put the bricks at the same height as the row he was working on, he wouldn’t have to stoop down to get each brick so he invented a scaffold which permitted quick adjustment of the working platform so that the worker would be at the most convenient level at all times. He equipped the scaffold with a shelf for the bricks and mortar, saving the effort formerly required by the workman to bend down and pick up each brick.
He had the bricks stacked on wooden frames, by low-priced laborers, with the best side and end of each brick always in the same position, so that the bricklayer no longer had to turn the brick around and over to look for the best side to face outward.
The bricks and mortar were so placed on the scaffold that the brick-layer could pick up a brick with one hand and mortar with the other. As a result of these and other improvements, he reduced the number of motions made in laying a brick from 18 to 4 ? so that the worker’s productivity went from 120 to 350 bricks laid per hour. Gilbreth’s achievement gained him considerable public recognition but the acclaim was by no means universal. Brick masons struck his sites twice . To make matters worse, Gilbreth’s motion-studied efficiencies failed to aid his company’s financial stability.
At the very moment that his integration of systematic management, time study for piece rate setting, and motion study for labor efficiency gave him the potential to gain control of all on-site work, the construction depression of the winter of 1911-12 threatened him with bankruptcy. Accordingly, because he felt that in motion study he had a significant tool with which to set a foundation of his own reputation within the rising scientific management movement, Gilbreth chose this time to make his career move, exiting the construction industry and dedicating himself to his own version of Taylorism.
In 1907 Frank Gilbreth became a disciple for Taylor. On Taylor’s behalf, Gilbreth participated in public debates with trade unionists on scientific management while Lillian Gilbreth compiled The Primer of Scientific Management to address a popular audience by answering the most common questions about Taylorism. She went on in Psychology of management to argue that scientific management, contrary to union claims, was the only management method consonant with the psychological health and development of workers.
In the meantime Frank Gilbreth organized the Society for the Promotion of Scientific Management, giving the beleaguered Taylorites a forum for mutual support, self-defense, and the promotion of their principles. Frank Gilbreth became a management consultant in 1912 after leaving his business in construction. The two subdivided workers’ hand movements into 17 different units, which they called “therbligs” (Gilbreth backwards, except for the t and the h).
Doctors to this day owe a debt to them, since it was Frank who first came up with the idea that surgeons should use a nurse as “a caddy” to hand them their instruments as and when they were needed. Previously surgeons had searched for and fetched their own instruments while operating. Lillian lived on for another 48 years after Frank’s death, continuing to work and give seminars for much of that time. Famously, she travelled to Europe a few days after her husband’s death in 1924 to fulfil a speaking engagement in Prague that he had undertaken.
She was a redoubtable woman, forging a career in a discipline—management in the engineering industry—where women were not at the time taken seriously. Often called “the first lady of management”, she was also the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Trained in literature, she has found her place in engineering. As an engineer, she has found people more important than machines; waging a never-ending war on fatigue. Overall, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth sought to find the one best way of performing tasks through motion study, fatigue study and time study.
They were mostly influenced by Frederick Taylor and changed the management presence and pay issues in an organization. The Gilbreths believed that employers and employees must cooperate in the work process for benefits to occur. They improved working conditions and labor problems. They contributed to the increase of efficiency by removing unnecessary movements in which they came up with therbligs. Therbligs is a system developed to analyze the basic body movements such as search, reach, move, grasp, release, use, assemble, just to name a few. Fatigue for employees were reduced.