frederick winslow taylor, taylorism, manufacturing

Frederick Winslow Taylor is known as the Father of Scientific Management, which also came to be known as “Taylorism.” Taylor believed that it was the role and responsibility of manufacturing plant managers to determine the best way for the worker to do a job, and to provide the proper tools and training. He also believed in providing incentives for performance.

To determine the best way to do a job, he broke each activity down into very small motions and timed each motion with a stopwatch. He would then analyze the action to eliminate unnecessary motion, which created the most efficient method of performing an assigned task. Each worker was trained to perform the task in exactly the same way, leading to an efficient operation that resulted in consistent quality and output.

Who was Frederick Winslow Taylor?

Taylor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1856 and died there at the age of 64 on March 21, 1915. He graduated from Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire in 1872, but was forced to give up his plans to attend Harvard when he lost his eyesight.

By 1875, Taylor’s vision had recovered enough that he became an apprentice pattern maker and machinist at the Enterprise Hydraulic Works in Philadelphia. Shortly after, he moved to the Midvale Steel Plant as a machinist. He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Chief Engineer in 1884, after earning a degree from Stevens Institute of Technology by attending classes at night.

In 1881, he introduced his theory of time and motion study to the Midvale plant. This theory formed the basis of his subsequent theory of management science. The theory held that close observation of time and motion and elimination of wasted motions would result in the most efficient method of production.

Taylor was a highly creative individual, with more than 40 patents filed under his name. However, his interest in time and motion study caused him to leave Midvale in 1890 to become general manager of The Manufacturing Investment Company. It was during his time at the Manufacturing Investment Company that he created an entirely new profession: that of consulting engineer in management.

He worked with many prominent companies of the day, including Bethlehem Steel, where perhaps his most famous experiment occurred. Taylor observed workers using various implements to move coal into the furnaces, and determined the exact size and shape of shovel, and the amount of the load per shovelful, that resulted in the greatest productivity. Bethlehem Steel equipped the workforce with these shovels and enjoyed a significant increase in productivity as a result.

Taylor retired at the age of 45 to focus on promoting the scientific management method. He received an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania and was elected president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1906.

The Foundation of Scientific Management

Throughout his professional life, Taylor’s work focused on increasing productivity and therefore, profitability, and his goal was to raise productivity without driving workers too hard. Taylor believed in finding the right job for the right worker and paying that worker well for the increased output rather than simply paying for the job.

In 1910, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis cited Taylor’s work in U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission hearings as a progressive management technique that could raise pay and reduce the physical strain on workers while simultaneously increasing profits for business owners. It was Brandeis who created the term “scientific management” to refer to Taylor’s research. Taylor summed up his own work with these words: “true scientific management requires a mental revolution on the parts of management and of workers.”

Taylor’s methods have been used in industries ranging from manufacturing to education to medicine, with excellent results. While his work has been frequently misinterpreted, the reality is that his ideas are very similar to the principles of lean manufacturing that business so reveres today.

Taylor espoused finding the best way to accomplish a task, similar to benchmarking. He advocated for eliminating waste, especially wasted motion, similar to process redesign or continuous improvement.

In fact, many knowledgeable people credit Taylor with inventing the concept of continuous improvement. W. Edwards Deming reportedly said that Taylor’s principles were the foundations of his own management theories. Even though widely misunderstood, Frederick Taylor’s contribution to modern manufacturing methods cannot be overstated. He was a true visionary and a tireless advocate for the worker as well as management.

In what ways has Taylorism shaped your business principles? Discover other Heroes of Manufacturing and learn more about the visionaries that transformed the world of manufacturing.