- Historic Sites
Frederick Winslow Taylor
The Messiah of Time and Motion
August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
But Taylor permitted neither hedge-moving nor golf to interfere seriously with his missionary work for scientific management. In 1903 he presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers a paper called Shop Management , later published as a monograph, in which he set forth systematically the ideas he had been working out for twenty years. It gradually gained him a number of converts, and elicited a stream of letters from manufacturers, military officers, government officials, and others eager to learn more about his theories and their application. Many of these inquiries drew from Taylor an invitation to visit him in Chestnut Hill. Singly and in groups those so favored would be shown into the great living room at Boxly, with its two huge Taylor-designed picture windows, where Taylor would lecture them for two hours. Interruptions were frowned on, visitors being provided with scratch-pads on which to jot down, for later asking, questions that might occur to them along the way. Later the visitors were sent off to tour two Philadelphia factories that had been Taylorized under the watchful eye of the master. Taylor’s ideas also began to attract attention at universities. Dean Edwin F. Gay of Harvard’s new Graduate School of Business Administration, who had been a visitor to Boxly, decided to make scientific management the keystone of the first-year curriculum, and invited Taylor to give a series of lectures at the school. Yet despite such recognition Taylor remained a rather obscure figure, unknown to the general public and thought of by most manufacturers, if they had heard of him and bothered to think of him at all, as just the sort of crank one would expect to find lecturing at Harvard.
Then, quite suddenly, he became a national hero. The agent of his transformation was Louis D. Brandeis. The railroads of the eastern half of the country had asked the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to raise their freight rates, and Brandeis had agreed to represent, without charge, a group of shippers who were protesting the increase. It occurred to Brandeis that it might impress the ICC if he could show that the railroad owners would not need higher rates if they would only manage their properties more efficiently. Hehad read Shop Management , and he now went to Boxly, where Taylor gave him the standard two-hour lecture, holding up a warning finger whenever Brandeis tried to break in with a question. “I quickly recognized,” Brandeis said later, “that in Mr. Taylor I had met a great man—great not only in mental capacity, but in character.”
After further meetings with Taylor, and talks with several of his followers, Brandeis was convinced that he had found the right weapon with which to batter down the railroads’ defenses. The ICC had begun hearings on the proposed increases, and in November, 1910, Brandeis fired his first salvo. He announced that he had witnesses who would prove that scientific management could save American railroads at least a million dollars a day. This statement, and the testimony of the engineers and industrialists whom Brandeis put on the stand, were prominently featured in the newspapers and—the railroads’ sour demurrals notwithstanding—warmly hailed by editorial writers. Athough Taylor did not himself testify before the ICC (which eventually ruled against the railroads), most of Brandeis’ witnesses generously acknowledged him as their guide and teacher.
Soon pilgrims were showing up at Boxly in bands of twenty-five or more, and the press was filled with accounts of Taylor and his work. The Philadelphia North American , swelling with local pride, printed an appreciation, headed “A Great Philadelphian.” In it, Taylor was praised as “the economic … revolutionist whose gospel may prove to be the hitherto undiscovered means of remedying all the industrial wrongs against which socialism is a protest.” The Outlook , more restrained, allowed that he had organized “a new and important force in American industrial and social life.” The March, 1911, issue of The American Magazine carried an editorial titled “The Gospel of Efficiency,” followed by a laudatory sketch of Taylor written by the one-time muckraker Ray Stannard Baker. The sketch was followed by the first installment of a book by Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management , which he had been working on for years, and which turned out to be perhaps the most influential work on management ever published.