Frank And Lillian Gilbreth: Biography And Contributions

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were a couple of American industrial engineers who dedicated their careers to the study of movement and scientific organization in industrial and commercial settings.

Both characters had already developed a professional career in different areas before getting married. 
However, being together they participated with greater influence in the study of new scenarios in industrial engineering and the development of elements and proposals to maximize certain processes.

Frank Gilbreth

Frank is known for having specialized in the study of displacement in the industrial field, while Lillian developed work more related to industrial psychology.

Lillian gilbreth

Studies of both allowed a new interpretation of the importance of increasing production while reducing the effort to achieve it.

Apart from their specialized publications, they are also known for being the protagonists of Cheaper by the dozen , a novel written by Frank Gilbreth Jr., in which his father and mother embody characters with a family of children to care for.

This novel is considered very popular and has had several film adaptations.

Article index

  • one


    • 1.1

      Early years

    • 1.2


    • 1.3


    • 1.4

      Consulting firm

  • two

    Key contributions from Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

    • 2.1

      – Study of basic movements

    • 2.2

      – Scientific management and study of fatigue

    • 23

      – Household management and home economics

  • 3



Early years

Frank Gilbreth was born in 1868, in Maine, where he lived for only three years. After her father’s death, she moved with her mother and siblings to Massachusetts.

In Boston he attended basic education, although he was not considered a great student. To support her mother with the family’s sustenance, she decided to go to work instead of entering a university.

Lillian Gilbreth was born in California in 1878. She was raised in a large family and was homeschooled until the age of nine, when she entered school and had to attend every year from the beginning.


His university studies were at the University of California, Berkeley, where he obtained a degree in English literature, to pursue a specialization in psychology.

Frank started out working at age 17 as a laborer on various construction sites, and it took him only five years to get promoted to superintendent.

By this time he had been interested in the different techniques and levels of efficiency of certain stages of construction, such as block foundations. From that moment he began to develop the best way to carry out each task.


The two met in Boston in 1903, and married a year later. By this time Frank was already considered an inventor with several patents to his name, contractor and engineer.

As a couple, Frank and Lillian collaborated together to observe and discover measures that would maximize the effectiveness of applied engineering techniques.

While Frank addressed the technical aspect, Lillian reflected on the psychological implications of those who carried out such actions.

Consulting firm

Together they founded a consulting firm called Gibreth Inc., under which they worked for many years. Through it, they participated in industrial and infrastructure projects in which they applied their concepts from the beginning, to guarantee an adequate internal functioning.

Suddenly, Frank Gilbreth died of a heart attack at the age of 55, in 1924. Lillian, on the other hand, would live 48 years longer than her husband: he died in 1972 at the age of 93. They both died in the United States. They had 13 children together.

Main contributions of

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

– Study of basic movements

Frank proposed and developed a series of basic movements for the effective performance of any task.

These are 17, and each one represents a scenario and the action to take to overcome it. Each one contains in itself an action that must be attached to the internal work flow of the company or industry.

In order, these actions or movements are: find, select, take, reach, move, hold, drop, position, preset, inspect, assemble, disassemble, use, unavoidable delay, avoidable delay, plan and rest.

This series of steps was put into practice by the Gilbreths through the application of a series of cards that specify and rate the merits of the workers according to their stage or level of work within the proposed flow.

– Scientific management and study of fatigue

The Gilbreths applied the scientific method to consolidate their proposals. His philosophy was based on increasing effectiveness by performing the fewest possible movements in a technique or a work stage.

Due to the psychological character that Lillian provided, their joint approach manifested a greater concern for the well-being of the worker within the production process.

From this, once the techniques were applied, they were able to obtain a better perspective on how the reduction of movements had a positive influence on the physical and moral exhaustion of the worker during a day.

Among its efforts to reduce fatigue were techniques such as the reduction of necessary movements, the redesign of tools, the placement of parts and parts, the height and comfort of work seats, among others.

– Household management and home economics

This contribution can be attributed in large part to Lillian; however, Frank’s participation and influence is also present in this proposal.

Frank’s death led Lillian to focus her vision of work on the domestic environment, leading her to rethink new arrangements and proposals that would maximize the use of space, for example, a domestic kitchen.

With the support and participation of her children, Lillian was able to design a series of spatial arrangement proposals for the installation and use of kitchen elements.

Her professional affinity for the domestic led her to do some in-depth research to ensure the perfect oven design.

Like her husband, she was an inventor and patented objects of great domestic utility, such as the pedal trash can and the egg and butter compartments of the refrigerators; He is also credited with the invention of their internal doors.


  1. Jr., CS (1980). History of Administrative Thought. Mexico: Prentice Hall International.
  2. Ponce, AR (1992). Modern Administration. Mexico: Editorial Limusa.
  3. Price, B. (1989). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and the Manufacture and Marketing of Motion Study, 1908-1924. In Business and Economic History (p. 12). The Business History Conference.
  4. UNAM. (October 16, 2017). Faculty of Engineering . Obtained from the National Autonomous University of Mexico:
  5. Wood, MC, & Wood, JC (2003). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, Volume 1. New York: Routledge.

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