Taylor's World Pt. 1: Training in Frederick Winslow Taylor's Social Networks

This is a guest blog post written by Daniel Wojciehowski. Today is the first day of Stevens Institute of Technology's Taylor's World conference on the life and legacy of the "Father of Scientific Management" Frederick Winslow Taylor. This year marks one hundred years since Taylor's death. Taylor's personal papers, furniture, and other objects have been in the Stevens archives for decades, and this conference is a fitting way to mark the potentials of this scholarly resource.

This past summer, in anticipation of the conference, I began a multi-year research project along with two undergraduate students in the Stevens Scholars program, Margaret "Amy" DiGerolamo and Daniel Wojciehowski. Amy and Dan have entered about a thousand pieces of Taylor's correspondence into a database, including multiple pieces of metadata (such as to, from, the subject of the letter, addresses, and the industry under discussion). Once the database is complete, we will make it public as well as use it for research and educational purposes at Stevens.

As part of their research, the students also completed a personal research project. The students were already doing a great deal of work, so I did not make them wade into secondary literature, so these studies could doubtlessly be better connected to existing work. But what we see here is young, smart minds beginning to think through the social scientific study of technology and society.

Dan began using the database to do qualitative research on Taylor's social networks. (You can see a diagram that Dan made of Taylor's social network below.) In this post, Dan focuses on how Taylor used his personal connections to create training regimes around scientific management and, in turn, used training to increase his influence.

If you've ever had an idea for saving time and being more efficient with a repetitive task, then congratulations! You're following in the footsteps of Frederick Winslow Taylor, commonly known as the "Father of Scientific Management," a system based around efficiency in speed and motions. Taylor's ideas were simple - if a worker's routine could be made more efficient, then not only will he be more productive to the company, but he will also be less fatigued by unnecessary actions. In his own words, “The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.” Taylor sought to implement his ideas into the workforce through a process he called "time studies." A time study essentially involved timing a worker's performance and thinking of ways to make him faster. Many times, this was done by cutting out unnecessary movements (for example, moving a box of nails closer to avoid reaching further); other times, by simply pressuring the worker into moving faster.

            Taylor believed that in an ideal world, workers would be trained in how to do their job well, and would be paid according to how much work they did. If one worker was able to complete ten products in an hour, and another was able to complete fifteen in an hour, then the second worker would be paid more, but the first worker would become motivated to try harder the next time, and would try to find ways to work faster.

            However, being the practical engineer he was, Frederick Winslow Taylor knew he could not single-handedly perform every time study in every factory that wanted his system of scientific management. Luckily for him, there were other engineers who were also interested in improving the efficiency of labor. Taylor thus began his quest of spreading the ideas of scientific management to people, rather than factories. Among his associates were other famed engineers of the early 20th century, including Morris Cooke, Carl Barth, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, Henry Gantt, and Henri Le Chatelier. Taylor knew that if he could get more people to be taught the methods and details of scientific management, then not only would converting factories become easier, but scientific management could spread beyond engineering into other fields, such as medicine, the military, and even sports. His dream was for the whole world to operate as efficiently as possible, since he believed that under the Taylor system, the only way a worker would be unhappy in his job was if he did not want to be working at all.

 A Diagram of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Social Network as Reflected in His Correspondence, by Daniel Wojciehowski.

A Diagram of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Social Network as Reflected in His Correspondence, by Daniel Wojciehowski.

            Frederick Taylor was a very specific man, and it showed in his work. He was always interested in the exact amount of time it would take a man to do even the most mundane task, such as moving his hand across a table. It’s only natural, then, that this attention to detail extended to his training of other engineers in his methods of scientific management. He would only consider a man to be “trained” if they had worked directly under someone Taylor trusted, such as Cooke at the Plimpton Press, or H.K. Hathaway at the Tabor Mfg. Co. Engineers would often spend up to a year, or even more working in factories which already employed scientific management, observing the effects of successful time studies, before Taylor would consider them ready. Sometimes, factories found this observation intrusive and disrupting to the workday, but Taylor would always sort it out with them. Optimally, Taylor would have liked to train everyone personally, but even a man as good with time as he was could not add more hours into a day.

            One notable example is Hollis Godfrey, an engineer and teacher, who wished to apply scientific management to his own teaching methods. He wrote to Taylor in 1911, asking to speak with him about the ideas behind the system. Over several correspondences, the two agreed that Godfrey would spent some time working under Cooke, before working with Hathaway and later James M. Dodge at the Link-Belt Engineering Co. Godfrey spent a year working at these three places, earning not only Taylor’s approval to work with scientific management, but also personal respect from Taylor and Cooke for his intelligence and creativity. Taylor would later recommend to others that they could hire Godfrey as a consultant on scientific management, and Godfrey testified before a House of Representatives Committee on scientific management.

            Perhaps the most enthusiastic of Taylor’s followers were Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian Gilbreth. The two, both engineers and parents to twelve children, idolized Taylor and his ideas. However, when first introduced, Frank Gilbreth had trouble understanding exactly what scientific management entailed. He was managing a bricklaying company in New York and Rhode Island, and initially contacted Taylor to see about getting his own company converted to scientific management. Due to his mistaken belief that the system was a simple adjustment, rather than the complete overhaul it actually was, Gilbreth was chastised by Taylor, Cooke, and Sanford Thompson, the owner of a cement company who worked closely with Taylor. Gilbreth recognized his mistakes, however, and sought to teach himself scientific management. He was also the man to suggest that Taylor rewrite his paper, “Principles of Scientific Management,” into the form of a textbook, so that it could be studied in schools. Gilbreth would later become one of the biggest proponents for the advancement of scientific management, and worked to promote it well after Taylor’s death with numerous societies, such as the Taylor Society, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He would even write a book, “Primer on Scientific Management,” which was designed as an introduction to the basics of the system, and answered many of the questions Gilbreth found himself frequently being asked.

            With Taylor’s system quickly growing more popular, it came as no surprise that other countries became interested, as well. Charles de Freminville, a French railroad and automobile engineer, and Gaston de Coninck, a French shipbuilder, both came to America to train in scientific management with Taylor, before returning home, where, alongside Henri Le Chatelier, famed chemist, they worked to promote the advancement of scientific management in France. Taylor also trained engineers from China, Germany, Finland, Denmark, and England, who all worked to promote the system in their own countries.  Additionally, Taylor’s book, “Principles of Scientific Management,” started being translated into many different languages, and when it was endorsed by engineers in other countries (such as Le Chatelier writing a foreword in the French edition), its credibility would be greatly boosted within that country.

            Over time, the system grew with such rapidity that even industries outside of engineering wanted to make use of it, and there was no reason they couldn’t. Dr. Judson Daland, who treated Taylor’s wife when she was sick for several years, often spoke with Taylor about applying scientific management to hospitals, and the Gilbreths sometimes visited hospitals where scientific management was in demand. Walter C. Camp, a college football coach and army trainer, spoke with Taylor on occasion about applying scientific management to his training methods, and Taylor had several friends in the military and government who often came to him for advice, including Admiral Caspar Goodrich, and General William Crozier. Taylor also became associated with numerous other societies interested in his work, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophy Society.

            Frederick Winslow Taylor is often called a genius because he is the “father of scientific management,” but that’s only considering his technical genius, and not the genius in how he helped the system advance and grow. If Taylor had simply kept on converting factories by himself, the system would never have grown beyond those few factories. Instead, Taylor chose to spread the system to people, as they could then spread it beyond themselves. If Taylor hadn’t been an engineer, he would have had a fantastic career in marketing, since his system grew further than anyone ever expected it to, and now is the basis for most, if not all modern businesses.