- Historic Sites
Frederick Winslow Taylor
The Messiah of Time and Motion
August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
The first requirement, Taylor decided, was to end the wrangling over what constituted a fair day’s work by determining how each job could be done most efficiently, and by establishing daily output standards from which there would be no appeal because they would be, as he saw it, completely scientific. But as he went about analyzing how the machinists did their jobs, he was impressed by the amount of time wasted because of improper (or improperly sharpened) tools, or because spare parts or materials were not at hand and had to be hunted up. He concluded that if Midvale were to get the most out of its machinists, there would have to be changes in the way the shop was run. Work would have to be planned, for instance, so that the right tools and materials would be available when and where they were needed. In short, management as well as labor would have to learn to go about its work in a scientific way. The problem remained of persuading the machinists to accept the new order. His solution was to offer them a big raise, along with assurances that since the new arrangment was “scientific,” and since it was profitable to employer as well as to employees, there would be no reason for management ever to alter it.
Taylor’s fellow managers viewed his stop-watch experiments as symptoms of mild insanity. He was permitted to carry them out, his biographer suggests, mainly because Midvale’s owners were ready to indulge the whims of a man who had been able to get more work out of the company’s machineshop hands even without a stop watch—and who, moreover, was contributing to Midvale’s profits by his talents as an inventor of new and more efficient metal-working machinery. But gradually Taylor was able to show that his work with the stop watch was paying off. “Eventually,” Copley writes, “they all had to concede that in the madness of a man who gets two forgings turned where only one had been turned before, there must be a gleam of method, and that it might be a good thing for the works in general to go crazy to this extent.”
Word of what Taylor had accomplished at Midvale had begun to get around by 1893, and he decided to set himself up as a new kind of consulting engineer, offering to install his management system in any plant whose owners were prepared to pay him thirty-five dollars a day and to do exactly as he told them. Among the clients who agreed to this arrangement was Bethlehem Steel, which retained Taylor at the urging of Joseph Wharton, the Philadelphia financier and philanthropist, who was one of the company’s major stockholders. Taylor spent three years in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he rode a bicycle to work and was known as “Speedy.”
Bethlehem’s huge plant was the scene of two feats of scientific management of which Taylor was particularly proud. One was his success in boosting, in some instances by 300 per cent, the tonnage handled each day by the laborers whom the company employed to load pig iron onto railroad cars. (For Taylor’s fanciful but revealing account of how this was done, see page 33.) He also saved Bethlehem large sums of money by introducing science into shoveling. In 1898, when Taylor went to work for Bethlehem, some five hundred men were employed by the company to shovel coal, iron ore, coke, and other materials. With a view to increasing their efficiency, Taylor set out to discover, by experiment, exactly how much a shoveler should pick up each time he stuck his shovel into a pile of iron ore or coal. It turned out that the shovelers worked most efficiently, moving the greatest amount of material in the course of a day, when each shovel-load weighed no more and no less than twenty-one and a half pounds. To make sure that a shoveler picked up exactly twenty-one and a half pounds, no matter what he happened to be shoveling, Taylor had the company lay in various sizes and shapes of shovels, ranging from a very small flat shovel for shoveling ore, to an immense scoop for lightweight rice coal. He also worked out rules for shoveling. Shovelers were shown, for instance, exactly how to use their body weight, instead of just their arm muscles, when pushing a shovel into a pile of iron ore, and they were required to develop, and stick to, the proper shoveling form.
At the end of three years one hundred and forty shovelers were doing the work formerly done by five hundred. Even after taking into account a 60 per cent pay increase for the shovelers, and a sharp rise in overhead costs—the payroll now included shoveling instructors, as well as work planners whose jobs included seeing to it that the right shovels were on hand at the right places—Taylor had succeeded in reducing by 50 per cent Bethlehem’s cost of handling materials.