75 years of Innovators: Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Jan. 8, 2004
Lillian Gilbreth and her husband Frank sought the "one best way" to perform tasks to boost efficiency and productivity in Frank's construction company. They eventually sold the company to focus on developing methods of scientific management.

In the 75 years since Machine Design began publication, here are some of the people who have changed the way we live.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth
Mother of scientific management

Having graduated with a bachelor and master's degree in English literature, Gilbreth received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 1915. Her dissertation "Psychology of Management," had already been published in 1914. Her ideas stood out because she was the first to integrate psychology into concepts of industrial management. She and Frank also helped develop more efficient surgical techniques and rehabilitation methods for people with physical handicaps.

When Frank suddenly passed away in 1924, Lillian was left to care for their 12 children. The consulting business the two of them founded failed when many companies were unwilling to do business with a woman. Lillian held workshops at her home so she could care for the children. As her reputation grew, she was hired as a consultant for many businesses including Macy's where she so improved productivity the company asked her to train its executives.

After Macy's she was inundated with requests from other firms and began teaching at universities including Rutgers, Purdue, and Bryn Mawr. Gilbreth became a full professor at Purdue and continued on there until her retirement at age 70.

During the Depression, President Hoover asked her to join the Emergency Committee for Unemployment. It was here she created a nationwide program called "Share the Work" to create new jobs. During World War II she worked as a consultant for the government, advising military bases and war plants.

She also focused on efficiency techniques for the American homemaker. She developed important inventions such as the foot-pedal trash can, shelves inside refrigerator doors, and an electric food mixer.

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