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Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

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Essay title: Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

Frank Bunker Gilbreth was born on July 7, 1868 in Fairfield, Maine. He was a bricklayer, a building contractor, and a management engineer. He was a member of the ASME, the Taylor Society (precursor to the SAM), and a lecturer at Purdue University. Frank died on June 14, 1924.

Lillian Evelyn Moller was born on May 24, 1878 in Oakland, California. She graduated from the University of California with a B.A. and M.A. and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Brown University. She earned membership in the ASME, and like her husband lectured at Purdue University. Lillian died on January 2, 1972.

Frank and Lillian were married in 1904 and were parents of twelve children. Together they were partners in the management consulting firm of Gilbreth, Inc.

The following biography of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth was printed in the IW/SI Newas

, the newas

letter of the International Work Simplification Institute, Inc., in September 1968. For further reading on the Gilbreths and their family, please consult our bibliography of Gilbreth books.

Pioneers in Improvement and our Modern Standard of Living

IW/SI Newas

, Issue 18, September 1968, pgs. 37-38

One of the great husband-and-wife teams of science and engineering, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth early in the 1900s collaborated on the development of motion study as an engineering and management technique. Frank Gilbreth was much concerned until his death in 1924, with the relationship between human beings and human effort.

Frank Gilbreth's well-known work in improving brick-laying in the construction trade is a good example of his approach. From his start in the building industry, he observed that workers developed their own peculiar ways of working and that no two used the same method. In studying bricklayers, he noted that individuals did not always use the same motions in the course of their work. These observations led him to seek one best way to perform tasks.

He developed many improvements in brick-laying. A scaffold he invented 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 1/2.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth continued their motion study and analysis in other fields and pioneered in the use of motion pictures for studying work and workers. They orginated micro-motion study, a breakdown of work into fundamental elements now called therbligs (derived from Gilbreth spelled backwards). These elements were studied by means of a motion-picture camera and a timing device which indicated the time intervals on the film as it was exposed.

After Frank Gilbreth's death, Dr. Lillian Gilbreth continued the work and extended it into the home in an effort to find the "one best way" to perform household tasks. She has also worked in the area of assistance to the handicaped, as, for instance, her design of an ideal kitchen layout for the person afflicted with heart disease. She is widely recognized as one of the world's great industrial and management engineers and has traveled and worked in many countries of the world.

Frank Gilbreth was

born on July 7, 1868--his centennial should mark a milestone in management and work simplification. By 1912, he left the construction business to devote himself entirely to "scientific management"--a term coined, in Gantt's apartment, by a group including Gilbreth. But to him it was more than merely the mouthing of slogans to be foisted on a worker at a job in a plant. It was a philosophy that pervaded home and school, hospital and community, in fact, life itself. It was something that could be achieved only by cooperation--cooperation between engineers, educators, physiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, economists, sociologists, statisticians, managers. Most important--at the core of it all, there was the individual, his comfort, his happiness, his service, and his dignity.

By now, too, there was no mistaking the partnership--even though the wife's modesty, reticence, and sex could mislead

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