Read Cheaper by the Dozen Online

Authors: Frank B. Gilbreth,Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Tags: #General, #Humor, #History, #Women, #United States, #Industrial Engineers, #Gilbreth; Lillian Moller, #Business, #Gilbreth; Frank Bunker, #20th Century, #Marriage & Family, #Family Relationships, #Family - United States, #Topic, #Family & Relationships, #Personal Memoirs, #Industrial Engineers - United States, #Biography & Autobiography, #Biography

Cheaper by the Dozen

BOOK: Cheaper by the Dozen
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

by the


by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.

and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Illustrations by Donald McKay

To Dad

who only reared twelve children


To Mother

who reared twelve only children


Mother and Dad, Lillian Moller Gilbreth and Frank Bunker Gilbreth, were industrial engineers. They were among the first in the scientific management field and the very first in motion study. From 1910 to 1924, their firm of Gilbreth, Inc., was employed as "efficiency expert" by many of the major industrial plants in the United States, Britain, and Germany. Dad died in 1924. After that, Mother carried the load by herself and became perhaps the foremost woman industrial engineer. But that's another story. This book is about the Gilbreth family before Dad died.



Whistles and Shaving Bristles
Pierce Arrow
Orphans in Uniform
Visiting Mrs. Murphy
Mister Chairman
Touch System
Skipping Through School
Kissing Kin
Chinese Cooking
Motion Study Tonsils
Have You Seen the Latest Model?
Flash Powder and Funerals
Gilbreths and Company
Over the Hill
Four Wheels, No Brakes
Motorcycle Mac
The Party Who Called You...


Chapter 1

Whistles and Shaving Bristles

Dad was a tall man, with a large head, jowls, and a Herbert Hoover collar. He was no longer slim; he had passed the two-hundred-pound mark during his early thirties, and left it so far behind that there were times when he had to resort to railway baggage scales to ascertain his displacement. But he carried himself with the self-assurance of a successful gentleman who was proud of his wife, proud of his family, and proud of his business accomplishments.

Dad had enough gall to be divided into three parts, and the ability and poise to backstop the front he placed before the world. He'd walk into a factory like the Zeiss works in Germany or the Pierce Arrow plant in this country and announce that he could speed up production by one-fourth. He'd do it, too.

One reason he had so many children—there were twelve of us—was that he was convinced anything he and Mother teamed up on was sure to be a success.

Dad always practiced what he preached, and it was just about impossible to tell where his scientific management company ended and his family life began. His office was always full of children, and he often took two or three of us, and sometimes all twelve, on business trips. Frequently, we'd tag along at his side, pencils and notebooks in our hands, when Dad toured a factory which had hired him as an efficiency expert.

On the other hand, our house at Montclair, New Jersey, was a sort of school for scientific management and the elimination of wasted motions— or "motion study," as Dad and Mother named it.

Dad took moving pictures of us children washing dishes, so that he could figure out how we could reduce our motions and thus hurry through the task. Irregular jobs, such as painting the back porch or removing a stump from the front lawn, were awarded on a low-bid basis. Each child who wanted extra pocket money submitted a sealed bid saying what he would do the job for. The lowest bidder got the contract.

Dad installed process and work charts in the bathrooms. Every child old enough to write—and Dad expected his offspring to start writing at a tender age— was required to initial the charts in the morning after he had brushed his teeth, taken a bath, combed his hair, and made his bed. At night, each child had to weigh himself, plot the figure on a graph, and initial the process charts again after he had done his homework, washed his hands and face, and brushed his teeth. Mother wanted to have a place on the charts for saying prayers, but Dad said as far as he was concerned prayers were voluntary.

It was regimentation, all right. But bear in mind the trouble most parents have in getting just one child off to school, and multiply it by twelve. Some regimentation was necessary to prevent bedlam. Of course there were times when a child would initial the charts without actually having fulfilled the requirements. However, Dad had a gimlet eye and a terrible swift sword. The combined effect was that truth usually went marching on.

Yes, at home or on the job, Dad was always the efficiency expert. He buttoned his vest from the bottom up, instead of from the top down, because the bottom-to-top process took him only three seconds, while the top-to-bottom took seven. He even used two shaving brushes to lather his face, because he found that by so doing he could cut seventeen seconds off his shaving time. For a while he tried shaving with two razors, but he finally gave that up.

"I can save forty-four seconds," he grumbled, "but I wasted two minutes this morning putting this bandage on my throat."

It wasn't the slashed throat that really bothered him. It was the two minutes.

Some people used to say that Dad had so many children he couldn't keep track of them. Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.

"Didn't have any trouble except with that one over there," he replied. "But a spanking brought him into line."

Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.

"That's not one of ours, dear," she said. "He belongs next door."

None of us remembers it, and maybe it never happened. Dad wasn't above stretching the truth, because there was nothing he liked better than a joke, particularly if it were on him and even more particularly if it were on Mother. This much is certain, though. There were two red-haired children who lived next door, and the Gilbreths all are blondes or red heads.

Although he was a strict taskmaster within his home, Dad tolerated no criticism of the family from outsiders. Once a neighbor complained that a Gilbreth had called the neighbor's boy a son of an unprintable word.

"What are the facts of the matter?" Dad asked blandly. And then walked away while the neighbor registered a double take.



But Dad hated unprintable words, and the fact that he had stood up for his son didn't prevent him from holding a full-dress court of inquiry once he got home, and administering the called-for punishment.

Dad was happiest in a crowd, especially a crowd of kids. Wherever he was, you'd see a string of them trailing him—and the ones with plenty of freckles were pretty sure to be Gilbreths.

He had a way with children and knew how to keep them on their toes. He had a respect for them, too, and didn't mind showing it.

He believed that most adults stopped thinking the day they left school—and some even before that. "A child, on the other hand, stays impressionable and eager to learn. Catch one young enough," Dad insisted, "and there's no limit to what you can teach."

Really, it was love of children more than anything else that made him want a pack of his own. Even with a dozen, he wasn't fully satisfied. Sometimes he'd look us over and say to Mother:

"Never you mind, Lillie. You did the best you could."

We children used to suspect, though, that one reason he had wanted a large family was to assure himself of an appreciative audience, even within the confines of the home. With us around, he could always be sure of a full house, packed to the galleries.

Whenever Dad returned from a trip—even if he had been gone only a day—he whistled the family "assembly call" as he turned in at the sidewalk of our large, brown home in Montclair. The call was a tune he had composed. He whistled it, loud and shrill, by doubling his tongue behind his front teeth. It took considerable effort and Dad, who never exercised if he could help it, usually ended up puffing with exhaustion.

The call was important. It meant drop everything and come running—or risk dire consequences. At the first note, Gilbreth children came dashing from all corners of the house and yard. Neighborhood dogs, barking hellishly, converged for blocks around. Heads popped out of the windows of near-by houses.

Dad gave the whistle often. He gave it when he had an important family announcement that he wanted to be sure everyone would hear. He gave it when he was bored and wanted some excitement with his children. He gave it when he had invited a friend home and wanted both to introduce the friend to the whole family and to show the friend how quickly the family could assemble. On such occasions, Dad would click a stopwatch, which he always carried in his vest pocket.

Like most of Dad's ideas, the assembly call, while something more than a nuisance, made sense. This was demonstrated in particular one day when a bonfire of leaves in the driveway got out of control and spread to the side of the house. Dad whistled, and the house was evacuated in fourteen seconds—eight seconds off the all-time record. That occasion also was memorable because of the remarks of a frank neighbor, who watched the blaze from his yard. During the height of the excitement, the neighbor's wife came to the front door and called to her husband:

"What's going on?"

"The Gilbreths' house is on fire," he replied, "thank God!"

"Shall I call the fire department?" she shouted.

"What's the matter, are you crazy?" the husband answered incredulously.

Anyway, the fire was put out quickly and there was no need to ask the fire department for help.

Dad whistled assembly when he wanted to find out who had been using his razors or who had spilled ink on his desk. He whistled it when he had special jobs to assign or errands to be run. Mostly, though, he sounded the assembly call when he was about to distribute some wonderful surprises, with the biggest and best going to the one who reached him first.

So when we heard him whistle, we never knew whether to expect good news or bad, rags or riches. But we did know for sure we'd better get there in a hurry.

Sometimes, as we all came running to the front door, he'd start by being stern.

"Let me see your nails, all of you," he'd grunt, with his face screwed up in a terrible frown. "Are they clean? Have you been biting them? Do they need trimming?"

BOOK: Cheaper by the Dozen
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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