Frank Bunker Gilbreth (July 7, 1868-June 14, 1924), born in Fairfield, Maine, was a proponent of Taylorism and a pioneer of time-motion studies. With his wife and collaborator, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, he sought to understand the work habits of industrial employees and to find ways to increase their output. He and Lillian were partners in their own management consulting firm, Gilbreth, Inc., which focused on such endeavors.
Writing in The History of Management Thought, Claude George (1968) said that Gilbreth refined the hand motions into 17 basic motions. These included “grasp,” “transport loaded,” and “hold.” Gilbreth named the motions therbligs, which is Gilbreth spelled backwards with the “th” transposed. The emphasis “on the one best way” including the 17 basic motions unaware of the late 20th century understanding that repeated motions can lead to physical repetitive motion disorders of the worker. He also used a motion picture camera, that was calibrated in fractions of minutes to time the smallest of motions in workers; however, George also observed that the Gilbreths were above-all, scientists and who sought to teach managers that everything should be constantly questioned and feasibility and applicability should be discarded if an improvement is found. It is a quest for the one best way, that predates the development of continuous quality improvement (CQI). (Reference, (George, C. S. Jr. (1968). The History of Management Thought. Engle Wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. P. 98)
Gilbreth was a prolific researcher and often used his large family (and himself) as guinea pigs in his experiments. Their exploits are lovingly detailed in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, which was written by his son Frank Jr. and daughter Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and published in 1948. The book has since inspired two movie versions, one in 1950 and the second in 2003. The first, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, is considered by many to be superior to the 2003 version, which stars comedians Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt but bears no resemblance to the original book except that both feature a family with twelve children.
Gilbreth died suddenly of heart failure in Montclair, New Jersey on June 14, 1924, leaving behind 11 surviving children and a wife, who subsequently raised the children on her own. Their subsequent adventures are outlined in a second book by Frank Jr. and Ernestine, Belles on Their Toes, which was published in 1950.