Lillian Gilbreth


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A pioneering figure in scientific management in the home, Lillian Gilbreth has been credited with the invention of the foot‐pedal operated rubbish bin and refrigerator door shelving. She Worked closely with her husband Frank (1868–1924), and the Gilbreths used their own domestic setting and twelve children as the focus for many of their analyses into the efficient running of the home. Lillian studied literature at both undergraduate (1900) and Masters levels (1902) at the University of California at Berkeley. She married Frank in 1904 and, after an interval raising her family and working with her husband she gained a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Management at Brown University in 1915 with a dissertation addressing the elimination of waste in teaching—bringing together education and time and motion study.

Both Lillian and Frank Gilbreth were associates of Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose influential studies on efficiency in the workplace undertaken in the late 19th century were to impact upon many aspects of 20th‐century life, ranging from Fordism in the motor industry and efficiency in the home. Frank Gilbreth had been interested in such studies early in his career and applied them to bricklaying with substantial gains in efficiency. He also developed ways of recording movements visually with an apparatus he called the Cyclograph. Frank established himself as a business consultant with Lillian working alongside him at home with their family providing much of the data for their work on scientific management in the home. Frank filmed the children in their daily routines and analysed their movements. In turn they recorded their experiences on charts. Lillian and Frank were partners in the management‐consulting firm Gilbreth Inc. Lillian was a significant pioneer in engineering and scientific management and became a member of the Society of Industrial Engineers in 1921. In 1930 Lillian was commissioned by the Brooklyn Gas Company to analyse the kitchen as a problem of industrial production. This was one of the industry's early attempts to rationalize kitchen layouts, building on studies such as those by compatriot Christine Frederick's Scientific Management in the Home (1915) and Margarete Schütte‐Lihotsky in Frankfurt, Germany, in the mid‐1920s. For the Brooklyn Gas Company Lillian sought to lay out the kitchen in such a way that it was made more efficient by sequencing the equipment to cut down any unnecessary tasks. Her consultancy clients also included General Electric.

After Frank's death in 1924 Lillian had become the first woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926 and in 1935 was made a Professor of Management at Purdue University, the first female professor in the School of Engineering. However, after Frank Gilbreth's death she had faced a number of difficulties in a male‐dominated profession, reflected earlier in the attitude of publishers who were often unwilling to credit her in books written jointly with her husband as they favoured male names. She also found that comparatively few in business were willing to take her seriously as an engineer, industrial psychologist, and specialist in industrial management. In 1966 she was awarded the Hoover medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers.


Subjects: Management and Management Techniques — Industrial and Commercial Art.

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