Frank Bunker Gilbreth

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Frank Bunker Gilbreth
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Frank Bunker Gilbreth was born on July 7, 1868 in Fairfield, Maine, USA. He was one of the representatives of the Industrial Engineering trend. His career began as a journeyman in the construction industry and hence his first observations and research concerned the improvement of the organizational work of masons. He died on June 14, 1924 in Montclair, New Jersey at the age of 55.

Private life


FB Gilbreth was one of the three children of John Hiram Gilbreth and Martha Bunker Gilbreth. His mother was a teacher, and his father owned a hardware store. At the age of 3, he was orphaned by his father who suddenly died of pneumonia. The family moved to Boston, where Martha Gilbreth opened a boarding school because she was unable to support her own family from a teacher's salary. Gilbreth did not learn very well. At some point in his education, his mother even convinced him to study at home. It only changed when he went to high school. Then he became interested in science and mathematics. He even took the initial exams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but decided to go to work to support the family financially.


Gilbreth married Lillian Evelyn Moller, who was a psychologist by profession, on October 19, 1904 in Oakland, California.


The pair had thirteen children, one of which died before birth.


Gilbreth died of a heart attack on June 14, 1924 at the age of 55. His wife lived as a widow for 48 years.

Scientific work

Together with his wife Lilian Moller Gilbreth, they have developed a method for examining the course and duration of working movements. Initially, they applied the cyclographic method. The worker was equipped with small bulbs connected with an electric current source for joints and elbows. The worker was photographed with a long exposure camera, while working in a darkened room. On the plate, glowing bulbs marked the path of work movements. Analysis of such photos allowed them to study and improve the spatial course of work movements, but did not show movements in time. They introduced some improvements: they included a current chopper into the electrical circuit, working with a high, known frequency. After this modification, the course of the work movements appeared on the film not in a continuous but intermittent line. Knowing the chopper frequency, they could determine the duration of elementary movements with great accuracy. That's how the chronocyclographic technique was created.

The next modernization was the use of a film camera for research, in order to:

  • identify movements, necessary and unnecessary operations that should be eliminated,
  • combine movements, which shortened the time taken to perform the operation,
  • determine the correct order of performed activities.

As a result of research and operations, the Gilbreths developed a classification of elementary movements, which included 17 micromovements, They are called therbligs.

The Gilbreths in their "Management psychology", put a special emphasis on the issues concerning employee training , they considered them the basic tools to increase efficiency and cooperation in work processes. According to them, the main means of teaching model work methods are:

  • written explanations,
  • oral explanations,
  • illustrative methods.

Also in the same work they raise the problem of motivation to work, they distinguish:

  • Material incentive system ( share in profits, remuneration methods).
  • Psychological motivation system:
    • recognition from management,
    • co- operation,
    • competition (competition with colleagues, with own achievements and with the norm).

In The Study of Tiredness, they analyzed and assessed the phenomenon of industrial fatigue, which they divided into:

  • unavoidable fatigue which is the result of normal work
  • unnecessary fatigue, which is caused by improper conditions of the material working environment (e.g. noise, lack of proper work clothing, bad lighting).

According to Gilbreth unnecessary fatigue should be eliminated completely, and in relation to inevitable fatigue its culmination should be prevented. The leisure time system could help, instead of one break throughout the business day.