Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Frederick Taylor, Father of Scientific Management, Class of 1883
by Margaret DiGerolamo

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an influential thinker of the early 20th century and credited as the father of  Scientific Management which contributed to a revolution in the way that the industrial world worked. He explored how to increase productivity by using workers’ time more efficiently. Instead of the old process of one worker taking on the production from raw materials to final product, he split up the work so that one worker would be in charge of one part of the process, and, in turn, the process would go much faster. While he could be persuasive, he also was very specific—to the point of stubbornness—about how others should follow his method and about what his ideas entailed. One example occurred at the Bethlehem Steel Company, where he co-created the Taylor-White Process, which created a harder, more effective tool. When the Committee of Science and Arts in the Franklin Institute was awarding Taylor with the Elliott Cresson Medal, Taylor felt compelled to send them a letter because the write-up for the award insinuated that his discovery may have been more of an accident than a calculated experiment. The letter requested that they correct their wording of that sentence (Taylor, 1902).  

Bethlehem Steel Company
This was a giant leap from the way that factories had been run, and trying to prove that this was the right way was a large challenge for Taylor. As a result, he was forced into a systematic process of disseminating these ideas. Part of this process included speeches about Scientific Management. Taylor would not speak on the terms of others. He would only agree to speak at a “considerable length, because a short address leaves people antagonistic instead of friendly towards Scientific Management” (Taylor, 1914). Taylor would not give talks unless allotted at least two hours.
Besides needing a lot of time to speak, Taylor was also very strategic when it came to his professional organizations in which he participated. Logically, Taylor started off in societies focused on mechanical engineering, and from there he extended his involvement into organizations that were further away from his original area of expertise. He moved from engineering societies to societies focused on a range of topics like education, philosophy and history. The chart below shows a record of the diversity of industries that Taylor was involved in. Over time Taylor shifted from just engineering and mechanics organizations to more broad industries (represented by the dark to light purple).
After establishing his concept of Scientific Management, Taylor wanted to spread his ideas and the best way to do that was to get involved in societies of varying disciplines.
Taylor saw the potential to apply his focus on efficiency from Scientific Management to many areas. In the education field, his associates collected data from different colleges to analyze the efficiency of different physics classes (Taylor, 1909). He was consulted on the best way to test cost versus effectiveness of classes. He took great interest in the U.S. Navy Yards, which became very controversial as he moved into government work (Taylor, 1909). The reach of Taylor’s ideas expanded to philosophy, history, and psychology. The American Philosophical Society asked Taylor to speak about Scientific Management and moving pictures (Keen, 1913), and he was also invited to join the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as he was considered a “most prominent citizen” (Keen, 1912). At one point the Society of Applied Psychology sent him a booklet entitled “Attainment of Mind Control” (The Applied Psychology, 1914). Scientific Management was a concept that crossed over many different fields of interest because at its core it was just about efficiency and people.
     Taylor also remained active in the broader field of engineering, especially through participation in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He believed that societies that were too specific were not as effective. For example, when he was approached by the American Society for Promoting Efficiency, he not only refused to be a part of the society, he did not want to be associated with the group at all (Taylor, 1911).
His method was challenged again when his colleagues decided that Scientific Management should have a society for its own. Taylor believed that the best forum for the continued expansion of Scientific Management was the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Other prominent figures in the field of Scientific Management disagreed. They believed that the American Society of Engineers “decided that the greater service would be rendered by emphasizing pure engineering, and consequently study and discussion of management found its opportunity restricted” (Brown, 1925). This group of men included James M. Dodge, Frank B. Gilbreth, Robert T. Kent, Conrad Lauer, Carl G. Barth, Morris L. Cooke and H. K. Hathaway. They began meeting regularly as the Society to Promote the Science of Management.
Taylor, on the other hand, wanted to focus on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He believed that it would be more productive to convince this large group of individuals to follow the ways of Scientific Management than it would be to meet with people who are already advocates of the practice (Taylor, 1910). Taylor wanted nothing to do with the Society to Promote the Science of Management in the beginning. He refused to look through the constitution that Sanford E. Thompson sent him (Taylor, 1911). Taylor fought its formation and then refused to be associated with it, until it was pointed out that regardless of whether he joined or not, the fate of the society was connected to the fate of the concept of Scientific Management (Thompson, 1911). Therefore, he eventually had limited involvement and accepted an honorary membership in the society (Taylor 1914). This society is the explanation for the outlier of the dark purple box in the last box of the chart above, it was not part of his strategy.
Over the years, this story has become muddled. People often assume that Taylor was an advocate for this society, especially after it was renamed the Taylor Society posthumously. Some historians misinterpret his reluctant surrender as support, but Taylor was clear that he was not at all supportive. He only joined to defend his legacy.
In the end, Taylor’s overall strategy was still extremely successful. Through his lengthy speeches and the broad dissemination of ideas through various societies, Taylor laid a foundation that made Scientific Management a key ideal in the industrial world. As he managed his relations with others and his position within larger social networks, he made himself the “Father of Scientific Management.”


The Samuel C. Williams Library and the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology are pleased to invite you to participate in our upcoming conference celebrating the achievements and legacy of Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), to be held on September 24-25, 2015.
Click the image for more information and to register!

No comments: