of the Gilbreths’ first set of micromotion
study films, which they promoted as the
“good exception” (to Taylor) in scientific
Precision and speed weren’t the
Gilbreths’ only goals. They were also
interested in broader aspects of the
psychology of work. While Frank was
a self-taught industrialist and the
company’s primary promoter and
technician, Lillian was the company’s
authority on industrial psychology (then
called “industrial management”). She
trained at the University of California,
Berkeley, but finished her doctoral
degree in 1913 at Brown University.
Studying the work of Edward Thorndike,
Hugo Münsterberg and John Dewey,
Lillian believed that the key to efficiency
lay in worker satisfaction, good training
and understanding habit formation. She
wanted to increase worker safety and
happiness, while limiting boredom and
When asked by skeptical employees
what they would do about the “soul
killing, grinding monotony” that
manufacturing work, the Gilbreths
wrote, “The monotony of housework, or
farming, or different kinds of industrial
work in the plant lies not in the fact
that the work is habitual, but that it is
uninteresting. The problem is not to
break up habits, but to supply interests.”
The Gilbreths created factory libraries
and suggestion box systems (with
monthly prizes for the best ideas) to
encourage employee interest, but the use
of micromotion films quickly became
their primary tool.
• Gilbreth, F.B., & Gilbreth, L.M. (1917). Applied Motion Study.
A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial
Preparedness. New York: Sturgis & Walton Company.
• Gilbreth, F.B. Jr., & Carey, E.G. (1948). Cheaper by the Dozen.
N. Y.: Thomas Crowell.
• Lancaster, J. (2004). Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth, A
Life Beyond “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Boston, M.A.: Northeastern
• Sammond, N. (2006). Picture this: Lillian Gilbreth’s industrial
cinema for the home. Camera Obscura 63. 21( 3), 103–131. Duke
University Press. DOI 10.1215/02705346-2006-013.
evaluated the work process to find ways
to make it safer, simpler, faster and more
ergonomically correct. They developed
and filmed these new procedures and
used those films to retrain the factory
Films taken at the NEBC
demonstrate the workers’ initial
curiosity in micromotion study. For
instance, some of the female office
workers would dress up for their
performances. Others would find
ways to make surprise appearances in
the films. In a study of one- and two-handed methods for sorting bolts,
an inquisitive manager strays into
the shot. While the worker diligently
performs the task, the manager strolls
about supervising — apparently
oblivious to the fact that he is being
filmed. Suddenly, becoming aware of
his circumstances, he glances over as
if surprised to see the camera there.
Smiling, he nods his approval and
departs the scene. The employee
performing in the study never deviates
from his task.
Workers reportedly loved seeing
themselves projected onto the big screen,
and the Gilbreths set up an exhibition
room to periodically screen the films.
Lillian believed that these screenings
improved morale and output while
promoting a unification phenomenon
she called “happiness minutes.”
Happiness minutes were the total
amount of time each day that workers
felt satisfied with their jobs. Lillian
believed this to be an essential element
of efficiency, although they only gauged
employee happiness through subjective
methods (such as their suggestion box
system and general impressions obtained
from talking to the workers), and never
conducted formal psychological surveys.