- Historic Sites
Frederick Winslow Taylor
The Messiah of Time and Motion
August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
Despite such achievements, Taylor was far from popular at Bethlehem. Some resistance to his ideas was to be expected, since he was bent not only on shaking up comfortable old routines, but on transferring authority from oldline department heads and foremen to a new hierarchy of production planners, specification writers, and other technical specialists. But Taylor made things much harder for himself by the tongue-lashings he administered to anyone at Bethlehem who had the gall to question his orders. A visitor to his office later recalled the terms in which Taylor, at the time of his arrival, was bawling out a hapless works manager. “Now look here,” Taylor told his victim, “I don’t want to hear anything more from you. You haven’t got any brains, you haven’t got any ability—you don’t know anything. You owe your position to your family pull, and you know it. Go on and work your pull if you want to, but keep out of my way, that’s all.” Taylor made little effort to hide his scorn for Bethlehem’s president, Robert Linderman. Once when he was scheduled to meet with Linderman and other company officials he allegedly showed up half an hour late, swinging a golf club, and insisted on talking about golf. Linderman, for his part, complained to Taylor’s patron, Joseph Wharton, that Taylor’s bullheadedness was disrupting operations. Eventually Wharton gave in. One day in April, 1901, Taylor found a note on his desk, signed by Linderman, which read, in full: “I beg to advise you that your services will not be required by this Company after May 1st, 1901.”
Over the years Taylor had made money in successful business deals as well as from his inventions, and he had invested his money shrewdly. As a result, by the time he was fired by Bethlehem he was in a position to support himself, his wife, and three young adopted children in a more than comfortable style even if he never earned another dollar. He therefore decided, at the age of forty-five, to get out of the consulting business and to spend the rest of his life as an unpaid proselytizer for scientific management, ready to offer free counsel to anyone genuinely interested in his ideas. The task of putting those ideas into effect, for which Taylor must now have recognized that he was temperamentally unsuited, was to be left to disciples who had worked with him at Bethlehem and other companies.
This decision enabled Taylor to end the peripatetic life he and his wife had been leading, and to move back to Philadelphia to stay. Buying an eleven-acre estate in Chestnut Hill, to which he gave the name “Boxly” after the century-old box hedges that were one of its most striking features, he flung himself into the job of improving his new property. Large sections of the hedgerows were relocated by means of a gigantic transplanting machine of Taylor’s devising, and a hill was leveled to improve the view from the newly built Southern Colonial mansion into which the Taylors moved in 1904. Taylor took personal charge of the leveling, applying his customary methods not only to the twenty-odd laborers employed on the job, but to the horses that pulled the excavating scoops. “We found out,” he used to tell visitors, “just what a horse will endure, what percentage of the day he must haul with such a load, how much he can pull, and how much he should rest.” The house itself contained special features designed by Taylor. The circular conservatory, for example, was equipped with a moving platform that ran on a high circular track, so that the man charged with caring for the flowers could stand above them and pull himself around the room.
After settling at Boxly, Taylor had more time for golf, which he had taken up as therapy but had come to love. He played the game well—he once shot an impressive seventy-six on the championship Ekwanok course in Manchester, Vermont—but in a thoroughly unorthodox fashion, using clubs of his own design. When teeing off he customarily employed a driver nearly a foot longer than other people’s, and started his swing with his back turned to the ball. His boldest innovation was a two-handled putter, which he swung between his legs, like a croquet mallet, and which he used with excellent results until it was outlawed by the U.S. Golf Association. Taylor was as dissatisfied with conventional putting greens as he was with conventional putters, and at Boxly he conducted elaborate, and ultimately successful, experiments aimed at shortening by years the time needed to produce a first-class putting surface.