Frank B. Gilbreth (1868-1924)
Motion Studies (1910 - 1924)
Gilbreth, born in Fairfield, Maine to Joseph Hiram and Martha (ne 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., Bill, Lillian, Fred, 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 18 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.