Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Biography of Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Lillian Moller Gilbreth Biography

Lillian Moller Gilbreth was a psychologist and engineer, whose works were developed mainly in the area of ​​Industrial Engineering. She was also one of the first female engineers to obtain a Ph.D., and the first female industrial/organizational psychologist. Lillian was born on May 24, 1878, in Oakland-California (United States).

Lillian studied English literature, foreign language, and philosophy at the University of Berkeley. Lillian Moller Gilbreth would complete her bachelor’s and master’s degree in literature at the University of Berkeley and begin her doctoral studies. In 1904 she would get married to Frank Bunker Gilbreth.
Her husband, Frank, was involved in the construction business and was always very interested in saving time and doing tasks in a simpler way. He developed methods to increase the efficiency of industrial employees, mainly with the study of times and movements.

She started getting more interested and joined Frank’s work for efficiency in the workplace, both collaborating by applying the social sciences to industrial management, emphasizing the worker rather than non-human factors. Her method of studying time and movement harmonized a systematic way of identifying, analyzing the number of movements and the amount of time needed to complete a specific task.

In 1911, Lillian made the first important publication of her research: “Study of the movement”. In 1915, she obtained her doctorate in ​​psychology at Brown University. Her psychological experience complemented the physiological and mechanical knowledge of Frank Gilbreth in her later writings: “Fatigue Study” in 1916 and “Applied Motion Study” in 1917.

One of her main jobs was as the official economic adviser to the presidents: Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lindon Johnson, with the latter, worked in civil defense, and production of war material.

She worked with her husband in the direction of the company Jonshon and Jonshon carrying out two different studies: time and movement and fatigue which later was called ergonomics. This studies helped to improve industrial efficiency and find a way to eliminate spare time.

After the death of her husband in 1924, Lillian Moller Gilbreth assumed the presidency of her consulting firm and remained active in research, teaching, and writing. She held teaching positions at Purdue University (1935-1948), at the University of Engineering in Newark (1941-1943) and at the University of Wisconsin (1955). Lillian would write four books and gave Industrial Engineering courses at several schools including Bryn Mawr and Rutgers. She was part of the Emergency Committee for Unemployment and created a national program called “Share the Work”. During the Second World War, she worked as a consultant for the government.

Lillian also invented several objects such as The pedal trash bin and the shelves of the refrigerator door.

Lillian Moller died on January 2, 1972, at 94 years of age, in Phoenix, Arizona.



In the early twentieth century, Lillian Moller and Frank Gilbreth in search of a more efficient method to develop manual tasks developed a classification of 17 movements with which you can subdivide any work activity to analyze the motor productivity of a worker in his position of work and that classification of movements they called it Therbligs. They established that, once the worker is assigned a task, it can be divided into the necessary Therbligs so that it is carried out correctly.

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





  • She is known as the “Mother of Industrial Management” and the “First Lady of the United States of America of Engineering.” She was the first psychologist to obtain a seal with her own photograph and also to be a member of the Industrial Society of Engineers, she also had 20 honorary awards.
  • As a tribute, there is a permanent exhibition in a room exclusively dedicated to Gilbreth marriage, in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., in the American history section and her portrait is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.
  • “National Hall of Fame for Women” (American Institution created in 1969 in the city of Seneca Falls-New York).


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