Frank Bunker Gilbreth

American industrial engineer (1868-1924)

Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. (July 7, 1868 – June 14, 1924) was an American industrial engineer, known as early advocate of scientific management and a pioneer of motion study.

Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr.


  • All human activity is a matter of motion and decision.
    • Gilbreth (1917) in: Popular Science, Dec 1920, p. 34 (online).
  • We're all like tools. Not only like tools, we are tools, tools of Time. We're worn into grooves by Time — by our habits. In the end, these grooves are going to show whether we've been second-rate or champions, each in his way, in dispatching the affairs of every day. By choosing our habits, we determine the grooves into which Time will wear us; and these are grooves that enrich our lives and make for ease of mind, peace, happiness — achievement.
    • Frank B. Gilbreth, cited in: American Magazine, Vol. 103 (1927), p. 183

Primer of scientific management, 1912


Frank B. Gilbreth (1912). Primer of scientific management,

  • Time study is the art of recording, analyzing, and synthesizing the time of the elements of any operation, usually a manual operation, but it has also been extended to mental and machinery operations.
It is one of the many remarkable inventions of Dr. Taylor while he was working at the Midvale Steel Works. It differs from the well-known process of timing the complete operation, as, for instance, the usual method for timing the athlete, in that the timing of time study is done on the elements of the process. Much ridiculous criticism has been put forward by well-meaning but uninformed persons, who claim that timing a worker down to a three hundredth of a minute is unkind, inhuman, and conducive to the worst form of slavery ever known.
On the contrary, obtaining precise information regarding the smallest elements into which an art or a trade can be subdivided, and examining them separately, is the method adopted hi all branches of scientific research.
  • p. 7
  • Motion study is the science of eliminating wastefulness resulting from using unnecessary, ill-directed, and inefficient motions. The aim of motion study is to find and perpetuate the scheme of least waste methods of labor.
By its use we have revolutionized several of the trades. There is probably no art or trade that cannot have its output doubled by the application of the principles of motion study.
  • p. 8

The present state of art of industrial management, 1913


Frank B. Gilbreth. Discussion on "The present state of art of industrial management." Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering. Vol. 34 (1912). 1224-6

  • A better name for scientific management is "measured functional management." It is not sufficient to call it " labor saving 'management " for it deals with more than labor and labor saving. It is a way for obtaining methods of least waste. It not only saves useless labor, but it improves labor conditions; improves quality of product; prolongs the period of the worker's productivity; conserves, teaches and transfers skill and experience. The committee have caused the Society and the world to recognize at last the importance of the feature of the transference of skill, but they apparently still lack appreciation of the even greater feature of the recording and transference of experience of Mr. Taylor's measured functional management and of micro-motion study. Mr. Taylor's system is best described in his writings entitled A Piece Kate System, Shop Management, and On the Art of Cutting Metals, published by the Society, and Principles of Scientific Management, published by Harper & Brothers.
    • p. 1224
  • It... has long been realized by those engaged in the work of installing scientific management, that transference of skill is one of the most important features(*)... The importance of transference of skill was realized many years ago. Studies in division of work and in elapsed time of doing work were made by Adam Smith, Charles Babbage, M. Coulomb and others, but accurate measurement in management became possible when Mr. Taylor devised his method of observing and recording elementary unit net times for performance with measured allowance for fatigue.
It is now possible to capture, record and transfer not only skill and experience of the best worker, but also the most desirable elements in the methods of all workers. To do this, scientific management carefully proceeds to isolate, analyze, measure, synthesize and standardize least wasteful elementary units of methods. This it does by motion study, time study and micro-motion study which are valuable aids to sort and retain all useful elements of best methods and to evolve from these a method worthy to be established as a standard and to be transferred and taught. Through this process is made possible the community conservation of measured details of experience which has revolutionized every industry that has availed itself of it.
    • p. 1124-5 ; (*) See Primer of Scientific Management, F. B. Gilbreth, p. 56; Psychology of Management, L. M. Gilbreth, chap. 8; Motion Study, F. B. Gilbreth, p. 36.
  • Micro-motion study, presented for the first time at this meeting, is a new and accurate method of recording and transmitting skill. Based upon the principles of motion study and time study, it makes possible simultaneous measurement of both time and path of motions. It produces an entirely different result from any of the methods attempted by its predecessors, in that it shows a measured difference in the time of day on each and every cinematograph picture, even when the pictures are taken at a rate much faster than ever considered in work where positive films are printed and projected upon the screen.
    • p. 1225
Gilbreth in about 1916

"Motion Study as an Increase of National Wealth," 1915


Gilbreth, Frank B. "Motion Study as an Increase of National Wealth." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 59 (1915): 96-103

  • There is no waste of any kind in the world that equals the waste from needless, ill-directed and ineffective motions, and their resulting unnecessary fatigue.
    • p. 96
  • There is no industrial opportunity that offers a richer return than the elimination of needless motions, and the transformation of ill-directed and ineffective motions into efficient activity.
    • p. 96
  • This country has been so rich in human and material resources that it is only recently that the importance of waste elimination has come to be realized. The material element received the first consideration, and in the comparatively few years during which the subject has received attention, an enormous amount has been done to conserve natural resources, to economize in the use.
    • p. 96

Measurement of the human factor in industry (1917)


Frank B. Gilbreth and Lillian M. Gilbreth, (1917) Measurement of the human factor in industry To be presented, at the National Conference of the Western Efficiency Society

  • No definite and permanent advance is made in any kind of work, whether with materials or men, until use is made of measurement.
    • p. 3.
  • [A]dvancement of the human factor in industry... varies so much that unless we use measurement and abide by the results, there is no possibility of repeating the process accurately and efficiently at will, or of predicting and controlling the future conditions that assure that advancement.
    • p. 3.
  • The first step in any great movement is to... arouse interest in the subject, to discuss the great problems involved, to outline the possible solutions, and to assign the various problems to those best fitted to undertake and handle them.
    The next step is to realize that all this discussion, valuable as it is, can grow into such action as it deserves, only if measurement is insisted upon from the very beginning of making the investigations outlined, if the records of measurement are in such form that they can be used by those who did not make them, that skill and experience may thus be transferred, and if the results of the measurements are incorporated into actual and universal practice as soon as they are properly synthesized into practical methods of least waste.
    The world has come to realize the truth of this as applied to material things. The day of standardization of materials and of machines is far advanced, and is daily progressing; but such has been rarely the case with measurement as applied to the human element.
    • p. 3.

Applied Motion Study (1917)


Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1917) Applied Motion Study: A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial Preparedness.

  • Motion Study is a means to permanent and practical waste elimination, — hence a prerequisite to efficient preparedness that shall be adequate, constructive and cumulative.
    • Preface.
  • There is some confusion today as to the meaning of scientific management. This concerns itself with the nature of such management itself, with the scope or field to which such management applies, and with the aims that it desires to attain. Scientific management is simply management that is based upon actual measurement. Its skilful application is an art that must be acquired, but its fundamental principles have the exactness of scientific laws which are open to study by everyone. We have here nothing hidden or occult or secret, like the working practices of an old-time craft; we have here a science that is the result of accurately recorded, exact investigation.
    • p. 3.
  • The greatest misunderstandings occur as to the aims of scientific management. Its fundamental aim is the elimination of waste, the attainment of worth-while desired results with the least necessary amount of time and effort. Scientific management may, and often does, result in expansion, but its primary aim is conservation and savings, making an adequate use of every ounce of energy of any type that is expended.
    • p. 4.

Process charts (1921)


Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1921) Process charts.

Process Chart for Ordering Blank Forms - Present Method, 1921.
  • The Process Chart is a device for visualizing a process as a means of improving it. Every detail of a process is more or less affected by every other detail; therefore the entire process must be presented in such form that it can be visualized all at once before any changes are made in any of its subdivisions. In any subdivision of the process under examination, any changes made without due consideration of all the decisions and all the motions that precede and follow that subdivision will often be found unsuited to the ultimate plan of operation.
    • p. 3.
  • The aim of the process chart is to present information regarding existing and proposed processes in such simple form that such information can become available to and usable by the greatest possible number of people in an organization before any changes whatever are actually made, so that the special knowledge and suggestions of those in positions of minor importance can be fully utilized.
    • p. 5.
  • Process-chart notes and information should be collected and set down in sketch form by a highly intelligent man, preferably with an engineering training and experience, but who need not necessarily have been previously familiar with the actual details of the processes. In fact, the unbiased eye of an intelligent and experienced process-chart maker usually brings better results than does the study of a less keen man with more special information regarding present practices of the processes. The mere act of investigating sufficiently to make the notes in good enough condition for the draftsman to copy invariably results in many ideas and suggestions for improvement, and all of these suggestions, good and bad, should be retained and filed together with the description of the process chart. These suggestions and proposed improvements must be later explained to others, such as boards of directors, managers and foremen, and for best results also to certain workmen and clerks who have special craft or process knowledge. To overcome the obstacles due to habit, worship of tradition and prejudice, the more intelligence shown by the process-chart recorder, the sooner hearty cooperation of all concerned will be secured. Anyone can make this form of process chart with no previous experience in making such charts, but the more experience one has in making them, the more certain standard combinations of operations, inspection and transporting can be transferred bodily to advantage to the charts of proposed processes.
    • p. 5-6.

Quotes about Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr.

  • Blessed is the man who makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. More blessed is he who multiplies the harvests of toil not merely two-fold, but three-fold or more-fold, for he virtually lengthens life when be adds to its fruitage. Such a man is Frank B. Gilbreth who tells in this book just how he wrought this wonder. For years he has closely watched workers at tasks of all kinds ; he has discovered how much they lose by moving unprofitably hither and thither, by neglecting to take the shortest and easiest paths. In the ancient trade of bricklaying he has increased the output almost four-fold by doing only what must be done, and using a few simple devices of his own invention.
    • George Iles (1917) in: "Introduction" of Applied Motion Study.
  • The things which concerned him more than anything else were the what and the why--the what because he felt it was necessary to know absolutely what you were questioning and what you were doing or what concerned you, and then the why, the depth type of thinking which showed you the reason for doing the thing and would perhaps indicate clearly whether you should maintain what was being done or should change what was being done.
    • Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1962) Conference and Convention Proceedings American Institute of Industrial Engineers. p. 21.
  • Management practitioners today largely ignore Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, possibly because the principles of motion study they pioneered are now very unfashionable. Motion study entailed the detailed examination of the movements individual workers made in the process of carrying out their work. It was, however, just one of the concepts the Gilbreths developed. Through Frank's concerns that the efficiency of employees should be balanced by an economy of effort and a minimisation of stress, and Lillian's interest in the psychology of management, their work laid the foundations for the development of the modern concepts of job simplification, meaningful work standards and incentive wage plans.
    • Editors Of Perseus Publishing (2002) Business: the ultimate resource. p. 994.

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