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Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr.

Gilbreth with a wire representation of the path of motion for a unit of work
Born July 7, 1868(1868-07-07)
Fairfield, Maine
Died June 14, 1924 (aged 55)
Montclair, New Jersey
Employer Purdue University
Spouse(s) Lillian Moller Gilbreth (m. Oct. 19, 1904)
Children Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr., et al.

Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. (July 7, 1868 - June 14, 1924) was an early advocate of scientific management and a pioneer of motion study, but is perhaps best known as the father and central figure of Cheaper by the Dozen.



circa 1916

Gilbreth, born in Fairfield, Maine to Joseph Hiram and Martha (née Bunker) Gilbreth, had no formal education beyond high school. He began as a bricklayer, became a building contractor, an inventor, and evolved into management engineer. He eventually became an occasional lecturer at Purdue University, which houses his papers. He married Lillian Evelyn Moller on October 19, 1904 in Oakland, California; they had 12 children, 11 of whom survived him. Their names were Anne, Mary (1906-1912), Ernestine, Martha, Frank Jr., William, Lillian, Frederick, Daniel, John, Robert and Jane.

Gilbreth discovered his vocation when, as a young building contractor, he sought ways to make bricklaying (his first trade) faster and easier. This grew into a collaboration with his eventual spouse, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, that studied the work habits of manufacturing and clerical employees in all sorts of industries to find ways to increase output and make their jobs easier. He and Lillian founded a management consulting firm, Gilbreth, Inc., focusing on such endeavors.

According to Claude George (1968), Gilbreth reduced all motions of the hand into some combination of 17 basic motions. These included grasp, transport loaded, and hold. Gilbreth named the motions therbligs, "Gilbreth" spelled backwards with the th transposed. He used a motion picture camera that was calibrated in fractions of minutes to time the smallest of motions in workers.

George noted that the Gilbreths were, above all, scientists who sought to teach managers that all aspects of the workplace should be constantly questioned, and improvements constantly adopted. Their emphasis on the "one best way" and the therbligs predates the development of continuous quality improvement (CQI) (George 1968: 98), and the late 20th century understanding that repeated motions can lead to workers experiencing repetitive motion injuries.

Gilbreth was the first to propose that a surgical nurse serve as "caddy" (Gilbreth's term) to a surgeon, by handing surgical instruments to the surgeon as called for. Gilbreth also devised the standard techniques used by armies around the world to teach recruits how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons even when blindfolded or in total darkness.

Death and legacy

Gilbreth died of heart failure on June 14, 1924, at age 55. He was at the Lackawanna railway station in Montclair, New Jersey, talking on a telephone. Lillian outlived him by 48 years.[1][2]

Although the work of the Gilbreths is often associated with that of Frederick Winslow Taylor, there was a substantial philosophical difference between the Gilbreths and Taylor. The symbol of Taylorism was the stopwatch; Taylor was primarily concerned with reducing process times. The Gilbreths, on the other hand, sought to make processes more efficient by reducing the motions involved. They saw their approach as more concerned with workers' welfare than Taylorism, which workers themselves often perceived as primarily concerned with profit. This difference led to a personal rift between Taylor and the Gilbreths which, after Taylor's death, turned into a feud between the Gilbreths and Taylor's followers. After Frank's death, Lillian Gilbreth took steps to heal the rift (Price 1990); however, some friction remains over questions of history and intellectual property.[3]

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth often used their large family (and Frank himself) as guinea pigs in experiments. Their family exploits are lovingly detailed in the 1948 book Cheaper by the Dozen, written by his son Frank Jr. and daughter Ernestine (Ernestine Gilbreth Carey). The book inspired two films of the same name - one (1950) starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, and the other (2003) starring comedians Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. The latter film bears no resemblance to the book, except that it features a family with twelve children. A 1950 sequel, titled Belles on Their Toes, chronicles the adventures of the Gilbreth family after Frank's 1924 death. A later biography, Time Out For Happiness, was authored by Frank Jr. alone and published in 1971. It is out of print and considered rare.

See also


Further reading

External links



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