April 1 1911


April 1 1911


Rarely has a chance remark caused such wide and sudden interest, says Will Irwin in the Century, as one dropped last December by Louis D. Brandeis. He was arguing the case of the shippers against

the railroads before the Interstate Commerce Commission. “By the application of scientific management,” he said, “the railroads of this country might save a million dollars a day.” That sentence—it hap-

pencil to be a quotation from Harrington Emerson’s work on scientific efficiency— buzzed over the country, bringing to a large part of the public the first informathat that a new principle had entered into industry. Still less did the public know that this principle is likely to accomplish a change in business comparable only to the shift from hand labor to machine production. Yet the thing is not new. Its beginnings go back thirty years; and for the last eight or ten years a corps of experts, under the leadership of Frederick W. Taylor, the Edison of scientific management, have been installing it in factor/ after factory.

Briefly stated, this new principle is the application of that scientific method which Darwin brought into the world, first, to the individual operations of men in industry, and, second, to their collective operations.

To understand the matter more fully, it may serve best to follow scientific management from its simple beginning up to those complex processes too involved for description in any single treatise. In the eighties, Mr. Taylor, an honor graduate of Exeter and of Stevens Institute, who had left Harvard on account of impaired evesight, worked up from journeyman machinist at the Midvale Steel Works to be foreman of his room. In his experience at his machine he had discovered that the workmen were not doing what he considered a fair day’s work. They were “soldiering on the job,” wasting half their powere. Taylor tried to “speed up” the men in the regular, old, hit-or-miss way. He met with opposition all along the line. However, the management was with him. By finding ways to eliminate waste effort, by offering bonuses to those who passed a certain minimum which he set for them, he doubled the output of this machine. Somewhere along the line of this work, his great idea took form in his mind. Why not study men as well as machines? Had any one ever applied the methods of modern science to the problem of eliminating waste effort from labor? 6

Something like these questions lias perhaps flitted through the mind of many and many a former athlete as he watched a gang of shovelers or wheelbarrow-men at work. Natural speed is only half a runner s capacity. The rest is a system,

improved by generations of trainers, for getting the most out of natural speed, The length of the stride, the method of lifting and setting down the feet, enter into the calculation of the trainer; and most potently enters the question of pace. Let a good man “sprint” the first hundred yards, and a mere tyro can beat him at the mile. For example, on such study of the application of power to motion, trainers in a generation have raised the record for the sixteen-pound hammer from less than 100 feet to more than 175 feet. Why, the former athlete has languidly asked himself, did not some laborer try to increase his efficiency by study of motion and pace? This, expressed in other terms, was Taylor’s idea. Only he set out to study the problem with a scientific thoroughness of which an athletic trainer never dreamed.

He began in the shops and yards of the Midvale Steel Works, Philadelphia, with some of the simplest processes known to labor—lifting weights, pulling on winches, shoveling, etc. Employers had always proceeded on the theory that the only way to increase the work of a loading gang was to get stronger men or to work the gang to death. Taylor selected two healthy laborers of about average strength, and offered them double pay “to do any fool thing you’re asked, and play square.” For months, the men lifted, carried, pushed, and pulled, at the word of command from two young college men with stop-watches. These experimenters worked their subjects at various paces and with various rests, and recorded absolutely all the data. Moreover, they kept constant and scientific account of the physical condition of the men. When, after the first series of experiments, they assembled and digested the data, they found their results unsatisfactory. They tried again; and this time discovered the puzzling factor which they had ignored before. It was a question of physiology. Fatigué produces toxins in the body. For these, the human system makes its own serums during the periods of rest. In merely mechanical labor, involving stress on the arms, the relation between the rest period and the stress period is as important SSL pace. From these last experiments, Taylor worked out a formula and a marvel. He raised the capacity to load pig-iron of

the average laborer from twelve and a half tons a day, the old mark, to fortyseven tons a day ! In short, he multiplied each man’s capacity by four, and did it without unduly taxing the man’s powers. All he needed to accomplish this result in any gang of pig-iron men was a foreman trained to proper timing, and a few pacemakers accustomed to the method.

The next subject to which the knowledge gained by years of experimenting was applied, was shoveling, a grade higher in mechanical skill. At once, the problem grew more complex. It involved not only pace and rhythm, but size of load and the “thrust” into the pile. Any one knows that if he is shoveling coal, it serves him best to “scoop” along the ground at the bottom of the pile, and that loose dirt gives least resistance if he thrusts in his shovel obliquely. But what, asked Taylor, was the exact rule, and what was the rule of a dozen other substances? And what load on the shovel would give the best result in a day’s work? On the scientific method of the stop-watch and the equation, he worked out the laws of shoveling. For a man of average strength, the best load was twenty-one pounds. Hitherto, the laborers at the Bethlehem works had been using the same shovels for all substances. On fine coal, the load was three and one-half pounds; on iron ore, fifty pounds. The management made new shovels for every substance which they handled in their yards, each designed to carry, when full, a load of twenty-one pounds. From the toolhouse they issued every day the proper shovels for the proper work. That planning-room, where all this was worked out, grew into a “labor office,” from which three men handled like chess-players the 140 laborers of the Bethlehem yards. Taylor had begun by giving a bonus to such workmen as accomplished the results which he expected. Each received at the end of the day a white slip informing him of the morrow’s task. A yellow slip with it meant that he had not worked well enough to earn the bonus. The deficients were taken in hand by “teachers,”—for such Taylor called his foremen,—and instructed in the right method. With a bonus of sixty per cent, to successful laborers, with an increased number of foremen, the average wage to the man was

higher, of course. But the results were fairly incredible. A hundred and forty men were doing the work of six hundred. The others had gone on to other departments, higher or lower, where the work was better suited to their powers. Formerly it had cost seven to eight cents a ton to handle material in that yard. Now it cost three and a half cents a ton. And this experiment in scientific management saved the company more than $75,000 a year.

The principle was now established; and the group of business savants working under Taylor set themselves to carry it up into the more complex departments of industry, especially the machine processes. Here, the history of the movement grows too complex for us to follow much further in detail. Let the first great experiment, the cutting of steel, stand for the rest. Here was a fairly complicated process involving both a man and a machine. In the all-important matters of “feed” and “speed,” machinists had hitherto worked by rule of thumb. The problem was how, with least wear on man, machine, and tool, to get most out of a given amount of power and labor. As a matter of pure mathematics, this problem involved twelve variants—an equation impossible of solution by mathematics alone. In their early experiments, these explorers of industry were troubled by the uneven quality of their material, which rendered experiment after experiment useless. It was necessary to make a special grade of steel, annealed like the barrel of a great gun. In years of patient experiment they turned 800,000 pounds of this expensive material into chips. First, they improved the tool. The point which steel-cutters had used since the birth of modern industry was not of the best shape. A simple curve on its edge greatly increased its efficiency. As the data from the machines came in, an expert mathematician correlated them. From his tables he made a slide rule for steel-cutting machines by which every operative may learn in less than a minute how best to set and use his machine for any and every size and quality of material. Again the magic result: according to the work in hand, the system multiplied the capacity of an operative and of a machine from two to nine times.

I wander afield lor another illustrative example. Years afterward, when the apostles of scientific management were spreading the system through the business wond, Frank B. Gilbreth, a New York contractor, became interested. Gilbreth began life as a bricklayer. This trade had stood still for 4,000 years. Pharaoh’s workman at Thebes and Gilbreth’s workman at New York used the same kind of bricks, the same composition of mortar, the same motions on the part of the workman. Gilbreth began to use his mind on the processes of his trade. “What is the first motion I make?” he asked himself. “I take a step to the right. Is that necessary?” To eliminate that step, he needed only to bring the pile nearer to his hand. “What is the second motion?” he inquired. “I stoop and pick up a brick. Tnat means lowering and raising 200 pounds two feet. Need I do that?” Bring the pile up to one’s hand by some mechanical means, and the workman need not stoop. “What is the next process?” he inquired again. “I look the brick over, so that I may get no chipped surface on the outside. How can I eliminate that?” The answer to this third problem was the answer to all. Gilbreth, counseled by his wife, devised first an ad-

tustable scaffold and then a carrier for ricks. Cheaply paid helpers arranged bricks and mortar in the carrier. The materials, all inspected and sorted, came up to the workman at his waist-level. He could take up brick and mortar with one simultaneous motion of both hands. In brief, Gilbreth reduced the number of motions in laying a brick from eighteen to five or six.

While testing his improvement, G breth made the first step toward adjusth the inevitable differences between scie tifie management and union labor. 1 was putting up a building in Boston. T bricklayers’ union, there as elsewhere, b a maximum scale.” No member of t union may set more than a certain nui ber of bricks each day. Gilbreth saw t leaders. “If I can’t have the bricks la my wav, I’ll make my building of i enforced concrete,” he said. “At tl rate, bricklaying promises to become a 1( art. If you will waive your maximui §lve your men $6.50 a day inste; of $4.50, and I won’t overwork thei

either.” The union agreed. This was a, twelve-inch wall with two kinds of bricks and “drawn joints.” The best record for that class of work had been 120 bricks an hour to the man. In the last half of the job, Gilbreth’s gang, working under teachers on the new method, laid 350 an hour to the man.

The work of the individual laborer haa been compared to the course of a runner. A large business, and specially a manufacturing business, may be compared to a football team. Not only must the individual get the best out of his powers; but he must correlate his efforts to that of his fellows. Upward from scientific study of individual effort to scientific study of combined effort rose the experiments of these apostles of efficiency. To run the thread of practice through the web of theory in such individual processes as steel-cutting, taxed higher mathematics. To correlate all these processes, in establishments involving twenty or thirty operations, demanded every resource of scientific method. “Many of our ideas,” says Taylor, “we appropriated from some one. else.” Business had already its systematizers and its system experts. These methods, however, proceeded largely by rule of thumb ; they were the practical work of exceptional men. In taking a hint from this system expert and that, the expérimentera were careful always to reduce it to law, to make it a formula, so that the ordinary mind might profit by the discoveries of the exceptional. Viewed in one light' scientific method, whether applied to business or to bacteriology, is nothing else than that. Besides evolving thousands of formulas and hundreds of laws, they evolved the principle upon which production, and perhaps distribution, must in future proceed. -

That principle is expressed in no one phrase or formula; but here is a brief statement of it : the workman does the real work of industry. This sounds like a platitude, and it is ; but in a matter so complex platitudes strike sometimes with the force of discoveries. In the nature of things, the actual worker, whether journeyman or machine operative, is the unoriginal part of the body industrial. He who, by his imagination and his initiative, is capable of introducing improvements into the method of doing the work, usual-

ly forces himself up from the ranks, leaving his fellows to go along in the same old way. These graduates of the trade constitute the management. Hitherto, the management has worked from above, trying to stimulate the workman by threats or incentives, but doing nothing to help him solve his problems or improve his methods. Under the new system, the management is working from below, lifting up the workman. The superior officers of the management are planning out his work, co-ordinating it with the work of others; the inferior officers are standing beside the workbench or the machine teaching him “how to do it” cn scientific lines, and seeing that he obeys the teaching. Under the old system one foreman directed perhaps twenty workmen. Under this system, one “teacher” helps every four or five. Under these conditions, fewer men, on a salary-roll increased slightly, if at all, double, treble, and quadruple the output. This is not “slave-driving.” A cardinal principle of scientific management is to work the man within his permanent strength. It is not cutting the wages of the workroom to increase the salaries of the office. Regular increase of wages, as a reward for applying the system, is part of the plan.

“The results,” says Louis D. Brandeis, who has long applied the system to shoe factories under his receivership, “are magic.” In one of these establishments,

seventy-five men and twenty teachers have replaced one hundred men and five foremen—and they have multiplied the output by two and a half. In the Tabor machine works at Philadelphia, which Taylor uses as a kind of demonstration-room, the manufacture of one highly specialized machine formerly took eight months. Now the Tabor workmen complete it in six weeks. The profits have increased enormously, the hours of labor remain the same, and the average wage is thirty-three per cent, higher. The system is highly complicated; and the demand for young engineers who understand it exceeds the supply. It has failed here and there because the men who installed it were not skilled enough. But wherever it has got a foothold, it has given the same magical result in multiplying product.

These are the essential facts, briefly stated, about a new movement in American industry—rather, in world-industry, since France is already trying the system and Germany is asking questions. Each among several aspects of scientific management is worth a separate treatise; but one has a social and political importance so great that it cannot be slighted. That is the workman’s part in this new organization of industry. For if scientific management becomes the rule, labor and capital, the laborer and the capitalist, Socialism and Conservatism, must shift front and reach new adjustments of new issues.