Frank Gilbreth

Biography of Frank Gilbreth
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Frank Gilbreth Biography

Frank Bunker Gilbreth, known as Frank Gilbreth, was an American industrial engineer who defended the scientific organization. Gilbreth is recognized as the pioneer in the study of movements and the father of the authors of “Cheaper by the Dozen” (1948). Together, with his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth were experts in the efficiency of work, they stood out for giving great contributions to the study of movements and human factors. Frank was born in Fairfield, Maine on July 7, 1868, and was the son of John Hiram and Martha Gilbreth.

Frank Gilbreth did not do formal education beyond high school. After finishing high school, he found a job as a bricklayer’s apprentice, then as a construction contractor then was an inventor and finally became an engineer. At that time, he also worked as a professor at Purdue University. On October 19, 1904, he married Lillian Evelyn Moller, in Oakland, California.

Frank Gilbreth found out his vocation while working as a contractor, as he began to think of easier and more efficient ways of structuring the bricks for construction. The previous analyzes resulted in the formal study he did with his wife, which was related to habits in the manufacturing and office work in all types of industries. The goal of theses studies was to find ways to increase profits and do the work easier. In addition, he and his wife created the consulting firm, Gilbreth Inc.

Lillian and Frank also participated in the design development of Simmons Hardware Company of Sioux City Warehouse. In this project, Gilbreth, applied the time and movement theory for construction with bricks and transportation was applied.



Frank Gilbreth served in the United States Army during the First World War. His job was to find faster and more efficient ways to arm and disarm weapons. Consequently, in the first years of the twentieth century, he and his wife, in search of a more efficient method to develop manual tasks, developed a classification of 17 movements with which any work activity can be subdivided to analyze the motor productivity of a worker in their job. The classification of movements was called “Therbligs”. They stated that once the worker is assigned a task, it can be divided into the necessary therbligs so that it is done with success.

The therbligs also classified two groups: the efficient ones, that manage to add value to a task, and the inefficient ones that generate costs.

After finishing the study of movements, Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller found that the strategy to improve work efficiency was to reduce unnecessary movements that caused fatigue to employees. Their work to reduce fatigue was based on the reduction of movements, redesign tools and the height at which some pieces were located. The work of the couple refers to what is now known as “ergonomics”.

Besides the movements research, Gilbreth and his wife developed the personnel card system used in the current merit rating systems. In addition, they emphasized in the written instructions to avoid confusion, considered as the most outstanding disciples of Taylor, they used techniques of scientific management to reduce the waste of manual and bodily movements at work. Also, they conducted experiments on the design and use of machines and correct tools to optimize the performance in work. They also invented the micro stopwatch, which records the time in 1/2000 of a second.

Frank Gilbreth died on June 14, 1924, at the age of 55, due to a heart attack while talking on the phone at the Lackawanna train station in Montclair, New Jersey.


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