Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Gilbreth in 1921
Born Lillie Evelyn Moller[1]
(1878-05-24)May 24, 1878
Oakland, California
Died January 2, 1972(1972-01-02) (aged 93)
Phoenix, Arizona
Residence United States
Nationality American
Alma mater University of California
Brown University
Occupation Ergonomics expert
Management consultant
Known for Seminal contributions to human factors engineering and ergonomics
Spouse(s) Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr.
Children Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr.
Anne M. Gilbreth
Mary Elizabeth Gilbreth
Martha B. Gilbreth
William Gilbreth
Lillian M. Gilbreth, Jr.
Frederick M. Gilbreth
Daniel B. Gilbreth
John M. Gilbreth
Robert M. Gilbreth
Jane M. Gilbreth
Awards National Academy of Engineering (elected 1965)
Hoover Medal (1966)

Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth (May 24, 1878 – January 2, 1972) was an American psychologist and industrial engineer. One of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D., she is held to be the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. were efficiency experts who contributed to the study of industrial engineering in fields such as motion study and human factors. The books Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes (written by their children Ernestine and Frank Jr.) tell the story of their family life with their twelve children, and describe how they applied their interest in time and motion study to the organization and daily activities of such a large family.[2]


Gilbreth was born in Oakland, California on May 24, 1878. She was the second of eleven children of William Moller, a builder's supply merchant, and Annie Delger. Both parents were of German descent. She was educated at home until she was nine years old, when her formal schooling began at a public elementary school, where she was required to start from the first grade (although she was rapidly promoted through the grades).[3] She attended Oakland High School, where she was elected vice president of her senior class; she graduated with exemplary grades in May 1896.[4]

Gilbreth started college at the University of California, Berkeley shortly after, commuting by streetcar from her parents' Oakland home.[5] She graduated from the University of California in 1900 with a bachelor's degree in English literature and was the first female commencement speaker at the university.[6] She originally pursued her master's degree at Columbia University, where she was exposed to the subject of psychology through courses under Edward Thorndike.[7] However, she became ill and returned home, finishing her master's degree in literature at the University of California in 1902. Her thesis was on Ben Jonson's play Bartholomew Fair.[8]

She met her future husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. in June 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts, and married him on October 19, 1904, in Oakland. Gilbreth completed a dissertation and attempted to obtain a doctorate from the University of California in 1911, but was not awarded the degree due to noncompliance with residency requirements for doctoral candidates; this dissertation was later published as The Psychology of Management.[9] Instead, since her immediate family had relocated to New England by this time, she attended Brown University and earned a Ph.D in psychology in 1915. She was the first of the pioneers of industrial management to receive a doctorate.[10] Her second dissertation, on efficient teaching methods, is titled Some Aspects of Eliminating Waste in Teaching.[11]

She died on January 2, 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona.[12]


Lillian Gilbreth combined the perspectives of an engineer, a psychologist, a wife, and a mother; she helped industrial engineers see the importance of the psychological dimensions of work. She became the first American engineer ever to create a synthesis of psychology and scientific management. By applying the principles of scientific management to household tasks, Gilbreth "sought to provide women with shorter, simpler, and easier ways of doing housework to enable them to seek paid employment outside the home."[13] She also co-authored multiple books with her husband and business partner, Frank Sr., however, due to publishers' concerns about the books credibility with a female author (despite the fact that Lillian had earned a doctorate while her husband never attended college) she wasn't named as such. [14]

Dr. Gilbreth was a pioneer of what is now known as Industrial and organizational psychology. [15] She and her husband were certain that the revolutionary ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, as Taylor formulated them, would be neither easy to implement nor sufficient; their implementation would require hard work by both engineers and psychologists to make them successful. Both Lillian and Frank Gilbreth believed that scientific management as formulated by Taylor fell short when it came to managing the human element on the shop floor.[16] The Gilbreths helped formulate a constructive critique of Taylorism; this critique had the support of other successful managers.[17]

Her work included the marketing research for Johnson & Johnson in 1926 and her efforts to improve women’s spending decisions during the first years of the Great Depression. She also helped companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Macy's with their management departments. In 1926, when Johnson & Johnson hired Lillian as a consultant to do marketing research on sanitary napkins,[18] the firm benefited in three ways. First, it could use her training as a psychologist in the measurement and analysis of attitudes and opinions. Second, it could give her the experience of an engineer who specializes in the interaction between bodies and material objects. Third, she would be a public image as a mother and a modern career woman to build consumer trust.[19]

Time, motion and fatigue study

She and her husband were partners in the management consulting firm of Gilbreth, Inc., which performed time and motion study. Additionally, the Gilbreths did research on fatigue study, the forerunner to ergonomics.[20]

Domestic management and home economics

The Gilbreth children often took part in the experiments. Gilbreth was instrumental in the development of the modern kitchen, creating the "work triangle" and linear kitchen layouts that are often used today.[21] She is credited with the invention of both the foot pedal trash can and the shelves on the inside of refrigerator doors, including the butter tray and egg keeper She also filed numerous patents, including ones on improving the electric can opener and one for the wastewater hose for washers. When she was an industrial engineer working at General Electric, she "interviewed over 4,000 women to design the proper height for stoves, sinks, and other kitchen fixtures as she worked on improving kitchen designs".[22]

In addition to having twelve children, writing books, helping companies with their management skills, and managing women consumers, Lillian was instrumental in the design of a desk in 1933 (in cooperation with IBM) for display at the Chicago World's Fair.[23]

Volunteer work and government service

Her government work began as a result of her longtime friendship with Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover, both of whom she had known in California;[24] Gilbreth had presided over the Women's Branch of the Engineers' Hoover for President campaign.[25] At the behest of Lou Henry Hoover, Gilbreth joined the Girl Scouts as a consultant in 1929, later becoming a member of the board of directors, and remained active in the organization for more than twenty years.[26]

A photograph of Gilbreth distributed during the Great Depression

Under the Hoover administration, she worked on and headed the women's section of the President's Emergency Committee for Employment in 1930, where she worked to gain the cooperation of women's groups for reducing unemployment.[27] During World War II, she was an advisor to several governmental groups, providing expertise on education and labor (particularly women in the workforce) for organizations such as for the War Manpower Commission, the Office of War Information,[28] and the United States Navy.[29] In later years, she served on the Chemical Warfare Board[30] and on Harry Truman's Civil Defense Advisory Council.[31] During the Korean War, she served on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.[32]


Gilbreth had always been interested in teaching and education; as an undergraduate she took enough education courses to earn a teacher's certificate,[33] and her second doctoral dissertation was on efficient teaching methods.

While residing in Providence, Rhode Island, she and husband taught free two-week summer schools in scientific management from 1913 to 1916.[34] They later discussed teaching the "Gilbreth system" of motion study to members of industry, but it was not until after her husband's death that she created a formal motion study course. This system she presented at the 1. PIMCO – First Prague International Management Congress in Prague on July 1924. Her first course began in January 1925, and it offered to "prepare a member of an organization, who has adequate training both in scientific method and in plant problems, to take charge of Motion Study work in that organization."[35] Coursework included laboratory projects and field trips to private firms to witness the application of scientific management.[36] She ran a total of seven motion study courses out of her home in Montclair, New Jersey until 1930.[37]

Meanwhile, Gilbreth had been lecturing at Purdue University since 1925, where her husband had previously given annual lectures.[38] This led to a visiting professorship in 1935, when she became the first female engineering professor at Purdue; she was granted full professorship in 1940, dividing her time between the departments of industrial engineering, industrial psychology, home economics, and the dean's office where she consulted on careers for women.[39] In the School of Industrial Engineering, she helped establish a time and motion study laboratory, and transferred motion study techniques to the home economics department under the banner of "work simplification".[40] She retired from Purdue in 1948.

Besides teaching at Purdue, she was also appointed Knapp Visiting Professor at the University of Wisconsin's School of Engineering,[41] and taught at other universities including the Newark College of Engineering (1941–43),[42] Bryn Mawr College, and Rutgers University.[43] She became resident lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964, at the age of 86.[44]

Marriage and family

Lillian first met her future husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. in June 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts, en route to Europe with her chaperone, who was Frank's cousin.[45] The couple married on October 19, 1904, in Oakland, California. As planned, they became the parents of thirteen children (one was still-born in 1915), eleven of whom lived to adulthood.[46][47]

The children of Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth were:[48]

Awards and achievements

During her career, Gilbreth received numerous awards and honors, including 23 honorary degrees from such schools as Princeton University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan. She was named 1954 Alumna of the Year by the University of California's alumni association.[56] She was accepted to the membership of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926, becoming its second female member; the society later awarded both her and her husband (posthumously) the Henry Laurence Gantt Medal in 1944 for her contributions to industrial engineering.[57][58] In 1950, she was the first honorary member of the newly created Society of Women Engineers.[59]

In 1965, she became the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.[60][61] The next year, she received the Hoover Medal, an engineering prize awarded jointly by five engineering societies, for her "contributions to motion study and to recognition of the principle that management engineering and human relations are intertwined.... Additionally, her unselfish application of energy and creative efforts in modifying industrial and home environments for the handicapped has resulted in full employment of their capabilities and elevation of their self-esteem".[62]


In 1984, the United States Postal Service issued a 40¢ Great Americans series postage stamp in Gilbreth's honor,[63] and she was lauded by the American Psychological Association as the first psychologist to be so commemorated. Psychologists Gary Brucato Jr. and John D. Hogan later questioned this claim, noting that John Dewey had appeared on an American stamp in 1968 (17 years earlier). However, they also emphasized that Gilbreth was the first female psychologist to be so honored.[64] A comprehensive international list of psychologists on stamps (compiled by psychology historian Ludy T. Benjamin) indicates that Gilbreth was the second female psychologist commemorated by a postage stamp in all the world, preceded only by Maria Montessori in India in 1970.[65]

Multiple engineering awards have been named in her honor. The Lillian M. Gilbreth Lectureships were established in 2001 by the National Academy of Engineering, to recognize outstanding young American engineers.[61] The highest honor bestowed by the Institute of Industrial Engineers is the Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award, for "those who have distinguished themselves through contributions to the welfare of mankind in the field of industrial engineering".[66] At Purdue University, the Lillian M. Gilbreth Distinguished Professor is an honor bestowed on a member of the industrial engineering department.[67] Additionally, the Society of Women Engineers awards the Lillian Moller Gilbreth Memorial Scholarship to deserving female engineering undergraduates.[68]

Lillian and husband Frank have a permanent collection in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History,[69] and her portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.[70] Their papers are housed in The Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Library of Management at Purdue University.[71]

In 1941, Dr. Gilbreth was made an honorary member of Mortar Board by the Purdue University chapter of the esteemed national honor society.

Selected works


  1. Lancaster 2004, p. 21.
  2. "That Most Famous Dozen". David Ferguson. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  3. Lancaster 2004, pp. 38-39.
  4. Lancaster 2004, p. 41.
  5. Lancaster 2004, p. 46.
  6. Lancaster 2004, p. 50.
  7. Lancaster 2004, p. 55.
  8. Lancaster 2004, p. 57.
  9. Wood 2003, p. 125.
  10. Lancaster 2004, pp. 157–159.
  11. Lancaster 2004, p. 363.
  12. "Dr. Lillian Gilbreth Dies". Associated Press. January 3, 1972. Retrieved 2008-07-09. The real-life mother in the book and movie. 'Cheaper by the Dozen,' Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, died Sunday at a local nursing home. She was 93.
  13. De Léon, Michael A. (2000). Angela M. Howard and Frances M. Kavenik, ed. Handbook of American Women's History (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. p. 220. ISBN 0761916350.
  14. Held, Lisa. "Lillian Gilbreth - Psychology's Feminist Voices". Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  15. Held, Lisa. "Lillian Gilbreth - Psychology's Feminist Voices". Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  16. Graham 1998, pp. 49, 54.
  17. Hartness, James (1912). The Human Factor in Works Management. New York and London: McGraw-Hill. p. 159 pages. Republished by Hive Publishing Co (Hive management history series, no. 46) (ISBN 978-0879600471).
  18. "Discussion of the Report of Gilbreth, Inc. to the Johnson & Johnson company, 1 January 1927.". Museum of Menstruation. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  19. Graham 1998, p. 218.
  20. Dempsey, P.G. (2006). "Scientific Management Influences on Ergonomic Analysis Techniques". In Waldemar Karwowski. International Encyclopedia of Ergonomics and Human Factors. 3 (2nd ed.). CRC Press. pp. 3354–3356. ISBN 978-0-415-30430-6.
  21. Lange, Alexandra (2012-10-25). "The Woman Who Invented the Kitchen". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  22. Giges, Nancy (May 2012). "The American Society of Mechanical Engineers". Lillian Moller Gilbreth. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  23. Graham 1998, p. 188, citing "Planned Motion in the Home," The Gilbreth Management Desk pamphlet, c. O f. NE, N-File, Gilbreth Collection at Purdue University.
  24. Gilbreth, Frank B.; Carey, Ernestine Gilbreth. Belles On Their Toes. HarperCollins. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-06-059823-5.
  25. Lancaster 2004, p. 273.
  26. Lancaster 2004, p. 281.
  27. Lancaster 2004, p. 286.
  28. Wood 2003, p. 128.
  29. Lancaster 2004, p. 315.
  30. Lancaster 2004, p. 309.
  31. Eugene, Rabinowitch, ed. (Sep 1951). "CD appropriations face further cut". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc. 7 (9): 285. ISSN 0096-3402.
  32. Morden, Betty J. (1990). The history of the Women's Army Corps, 1945-1978. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 72.
  33. Lancaster 2004, p. 47.
  34. Lancaster 2004, p. 140.
  35. Graham 1998, p. 96, citing Lillian Moller Gilbreth, typescript of an advertisement for Gilbreth, Inc., c.134 f. 0830-20, N-File, Gilbreth Collection at Purdue University.
  36. Graham 1998, p.98.
  37. Graham 1998, pp. 100.
  38. Graham 1998, p. 104.
  39. Graham 1998, p. 234.
  40. Graham 1998, p. 236.
  41. Lancaster 2004, p. 339.
  42. Want to Learn More About Pioneering Female Engineer Lillian Gilbreth, Subject of the Once-Again Rising Best-Seller, Cheaper by the Dozen? press release. New Jersey Institute of Technology. Feb. 13, 2004.
  43. Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century, Volume 1. New York: Routledge. p. 502. ISBN 978-0-415-92038-4.
  44. Kimble, Gregory A.; Boneau, C.; Wertheimer, Alan Michael (1996). Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology, Volume 2. Psychology Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-8058-2198-7.
  45. Lancaster 2004, pp.63–64.
  46. Saxon, Wolfgang (February 20, 2001). "Frank Gilbreth Jr., 89, Author Of 'Cheaper by the Dozen'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-09. Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr., a journalist whose life-with-father memoir Cheaper by the Dozen became a best seller and a popular movie of the same title, died on Sunday in Charleston, S.C., where he had lived for the last 50 years. He was 89 and also had a home in Nantucket, Mass.
  47. Ferguson, David. "That Most Famous Dozen". The Quest, fall 2000 issue.
  48. "Gilbreth Family Tree". Cheaper and Belles. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
  49. Leimbach, Dulcie (6 November 2006). "Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, 98, Author of Childhood Memoir, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  50. "In Memory Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. 1911-2001". The Gilbreth Network. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  52. "Frederick M. Gilbreth Obituary". Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  53. "Mrs. Frederick (Jessie Blair) Gilbreth". Larchmont Gazette. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  54. "Cheaper By The Dozen - The Dozen". eRead Me Vegas. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  55. "Robert Moller Gilbreth". Wilkinson-Beane Funeral Home. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  56. "Alumnus/a of the Year Recipients". Cal Alumni Association. Retrieved 23 April 2011.
  57. "Norden Is Honored For His Inventions ... Other Award Winners Include E.G. Budd, R.E. Flanders and Dr. Lillian Gilbreth". The New York Times. November 30, 1944. Retrieved 2012-09-29. Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, management engineer, received the Gantt Memorial ...
  58. Graham 1998, p. 105.
  59. "The SWE Story... timeline of achievement". Society of Women Engineers.
  60. Finken, De Anne (Spring 2005). "Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Ph.D.: A Legend in her own time - and now!" (PDF). SWE Magazine. Society of Women Engineers. pp. 16–22. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  61. 1 2 "National Academy of Engineering Armstrong Endowment for Young Engineers - Gilbreth Lectures". National Academy of Engineering. April 2011.
  62. "ASME - Past Hoover Medal Recipients". American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
  63. "Women On Stamps - Publication 512". United States Postal Service. April 2003.
  64. Brucato Jr., Gary; John D. Hogan (Spring 1999). "Psychologists on postage stamps". The General Psychologist. 34 (1): 65.
  65. Benjamin, Ludy T. (2003). "Why Can't Psychology Get a Stamp?". Journal of applied psychoanalytic studies. 5 (4): 443–454.
  66. "The Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award". Institute of Industrial Engineers. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  67. "Purdue College of Engineering -- Distinguished Professors". Purdue University. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  68. "SWE - Undergraduate Scholarships". Society of Women Engineers. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  69. "Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Collection". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  70. "American Women: A selection from the National Portrait Gallery - Lillian Moller Gilbreth". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  71. "The Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Library of Management: The N-File". Purdue University Libraries. Retrieved 2011-04-16.


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