Taylor's World Pt. 2: F. W. Taylor's Expanding Social Networks

This is a guest blog post written by Margaret "Amy" DiGerolamo . Today is the second and final 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.

Amy traced how the character of Taylor's social networks changed over time by tracing the nature of the organizations that contacted him and/or invited him to give lectures. Unsurprisingly, she finds that his social world expanded a great deal from his beginnings in mechanical engineering. Fascinatingly, however, Amy describes how Taylor bridled and put up resistance when his colleagues sought to form a special organization dedicated to Scientific Management, an organization that eventually became the Taylor Society.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an influential thinker of the early 20th century. While he frequently won others over, he also was very specific—to the point of stubbornness—about how others should follow his method and about what his ideas entailed. . For example, Taylor started his notable work while he was an engineer at the Bethlehem Steel Company, and he was the co-creator of the Taylor-White Process, which created a harder, more effective tool. When the Committee of Science and Arts in the Franklin Institute was awarding Taylor with the Elliot Crescent Medal, Taylor felt compelled to send them a letter because the write-up for the award insinuated that his discovery may a have been more of an accident than a calculated experiment. The letter requested that they correct their wording of that sentence (Taylor, 1902).  Even though Taylor was difficult at times, this attitude eventually allowed him to spread and enforce his new principals of Scientific Management.

            As Taylor’s career progressed from the invention of the Taylor-White Process, he started undertaking a revolution in the way that the industrial world worked. He explored how to increase productivity by using workers’ time more efficiently. Instead of the old process of one worker taking on the production from raw materials to final product, he split up the work so that one worker would be in charge of one part of the process, and, in turn, the process would go much faster.

            This was a giant leap from the way that factories had been run, and trying to prove that this was the right way was a large challenge for Taylor. Therefore, he was forced into a systematic process of disseminating these ideas. Part of this process included speeches about Scientific Management. Taylor would not speak on the terms of others. He would only agree to speak at a, “considerable length, because a short address leaves people antagonistic instead of friendly towards Scientific Management” (Taylor, 1914). Taylor would not give talks unless allotted at least two hours.

            Besides needing a large amount of time to speak, Taylor was also very strategic when it came to his professional organizations in which he participated. Logically, Taylor started off in societies focused on mechanical engineering, and from there he extended his involvement into organizations that were further away from his original area of expertise. He moved from just engineering societies to societies focus on a range of topics like education, philosophy and history. After establishing his concept of Scientific Management, Taylor wanted to spread his ideas and the best way to do that was to get involved in societies of varying focuses. 

            Taylor saw the potential to apply his focus on efficiency from Scientific Management to many areas. In the education field, he collected data from different colleges to analyze the efficiency of different physics classes (Taylor 1909). He was consulted on the best way to test cost versus effectiveness of classes. He took great interest in the US Navy Yards , which created significant as he moved into government work (Taylor 1909). The reach of Taylor’s ideas expanded to philosophy, history, and psychology. The American Philosophical Society asked Taylor to speak about Scientific Management and moving pictures (Keen 1913), and he was also invited to join the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as he was considered a “most prominent citizen” (Keen 1912). At one point the Society of Applied Psychology sent him a booklet entitled, “Attainment of Mind Control” (The Applied Psychology 1914). Scientific Management was a concept that crossed over many different fields of interest because at its core it was just about efficiency and people.

Amy DiGerolamo created this table using the database of Taylor's correspondence. The dark colored organizations are close to Taylor's roots in mechanical engineering. The light ones are more distant, such as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. What Amy finds is that Taylor resisted the society at the bottom, which he saw as a withdrawal into a private world of Scientific Managers, rather than influencing others.

Amy DiGerolamo created this table using the database of Taylor's correspondence. The dark colored organizations are close to Taylor's roots in mechanical engineering. The light ones are more distant, such as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. What Amy finds is that Taylor resisted the society at the bottom, which he saw as a withdrawal into a private world of Scientific Managers, rather than influencing others.

            Taylor was also active in the broader field of engineering, especially through participation in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He believed that societies that were too specific were not as effective. For example, when he was approached by the American Society for Promoting Efficiency, he not only refused to be a part of the society, he did not want to be associated with the group at all (Taylor 1911).

His method was challenged again when his colleagues decided that Scientific Management should have a society for its own. Taylor believed that the best forum for the continued expansion of Scientific Management was the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Other prominent figures in the field of Scientific Management disagreed. They believed that the American Society of Engineer’s, “decided that the greater service would be rendered by emphasizing pure engineering, and consequently study and discussion of management found its opportunity restricted,” (Brown 1925). This group of men included James M. Dodge, Frank B. Gilbreth, Robert T. Kent, Conrad Lauer, Carl G. Barth, Morris L. Cooke and H. K. Hathaway. They began meeting regularly as the Society to Promote the Science of Management.

Taylor, on the other hand, wanted to focus on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He believed that it would be more productive to convince this large group of individuals to follow the ways of Scientific Management than it would be to meet with people who are already advocates of the practice (Taylor 1910). Taylor wanted nothing to do with the Society to Promote the Science of Management in the beginning. He refused to look through the constitution that Sanford E. Thompson sent him (Taylor 1911). Taylor fought its formation and then refused to be associated to it, until it was pointed out that regardless of whether he joined, the fate of the society was connected to the fate of the concept of Scientific Management (Thompson 1911). Therefore, he eventually had limited involvement and accepted an honorary membership in the society (Taylor 1914).

Over the years, this story has been muddled. People often assume that Taylor was an advocate for this society, especially after it was renamed the Taylor Society posthumously. Some historians misinterpret his reluctant surrender as support, but Taylor was clear that he was not at all supportive. He only joined to defend his legacy.

In the end, Taylor’s overall strategy was still extremely successful. Through his lengthy speeches and the broad dissemination of ideas through various societies, Taylor laid a foundation that made Scientific Management a key ideal in the industrial world. As he managed his relations with others and his position within larger social networks, the made himself the “Father of Scientific Management.”


 

 

Bibliography

Frederick W. Taylor to A. H. Blanchard, 13 November 1914, Box 1, Folder 5C (24), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to H. F. J. Porter, 6 November 1911, Folder 5F (5), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to Henry L. Gantt, 11 November 1910, Folder 6L (9), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to Henry S. Pritchett, 24 March 1909, Box 1, Folder 5H (10), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to Henry S. Pritchett, 19 April 1909, Box 1, Folder 5H (12), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to Sanford E. Thompson, 2 May 1911, Folder 6L (7), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Frederick W. Taylor to William H. Wahl, 26 August 1902, Box 1, Folder 5M (18), Fredrick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Gregory B. Keen to Frederick W. Taylor, 13 March 1912, Folder 5P (3), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

H. S. Person to Frederick W. Taylor, 28 October 1914, Folder 6L (25), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

Percy S., Brown. "The Work and Aims of the Taylor Society." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in Modern Industry 119 (1925): 134-35. Accessed July 19, 2015. http://www.jstor.org.

Sanford E. Thompson to Frederick W. Taylor, 21 April 1911, Folder 6L (13), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

The Applied Psychology Press, 1914, Folder 6K (1), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.

W. W. Keen to Frederick W. Taylor, 28 February 1913, Folder 5E (21), Frederick Winslow Taylor Collection, Stevens Institute Archives, Samuel C. Williams Library.