August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
The Messiah of Time and Motion
Toward the end of the last century an idea took form in the mind of a Philadelphia factory engineer that was destined to change, in profound and troubling ways, the nature of work in the modern world. The engineer was Frederick Winslow Taylor, a brash and eccentric young man whose most notable prior accomplishment had been the invention of a crook-handled tennis racquet, shaped like a giant teaspoon, with which he had taken the measure of a number of the leading players of the day. The idea that came to Taylor was that just as there was a science of metals (metallurgy) and a science of machines (mechanics), there must be a science and technology of work, whose laws could be discovered by observation and experiment. He was soon convinced—and he was to spend the rest of his life trying to convince others—that only by requiring workers to submit to the authority of those laws, and thereby to surrender all claims to autonomy or discretion in their work, could the full potential of the industrial revolution at last be realized.
The key element in Taylor’s new technology of work, to which he later gave the name of “scientific management,” was the time-and-motion study. This was, and is, a technique for determining how fast a job can reasonably be performed, and for identifying, and eliminating, inefficient and time-wasting practices. Its symbol and principal tool is the stop watch, and its end product is an instruction sheet specifying the exact sequence of operations to be followed in doing a given job, and the exact time, to the second, in which each operation is to be completed. Workers, Taylor wrote, “must do what they are told promptly and without asking questions or making suggestions. … It is absolutely necessary for every man in an organization to become one of a train of gear wheels.”
In factories where Taylor’s ideas were put into effect, output doubled or even tripled, and profits soared. Wages went up too, for it was a fixed principle with Taylor that workmen meeting the new production standards were entitled to bonuses of 30 to 60 per cent or more. Such striking demonstrations of what scientific management could do eventually caught the public fancy, and in the last years of Taylor’s life—he died in 1915—magazines and newspapers competed in praising him. The popular journalist Will Irwin, writing in The Century , observed, for example, that efficiency was “a kind of religion” for Taylor and his disciples. Their object, he added, “is not only the increase of production, but the ultimate happiness of the world—satisfied stomachs, shod feet, light hearts, untroubled souls.” Taylor’s admirers included a number of the leading reformers of the day, among them Louis D. Brandeis and Herbert Croly, the founder of the New Republic , who saw scientific management as a magical device for enriching labor without impoverishing capital.
Capital and labor, however, were slower than the general public and the reformers to embrace Taylor’s ideas. For many years, factory managers, with a few notable exceptions, refused to make the sweeping changes in the way they ran their plants that Taylor insisted were j ust as important as time-and-motion studies if the full benefits of scientific management were to be reaped. Union leaders, for their part, denounced Taylorism as a new form of the speed-up, and as a scheme for turning men into machines.
But the principles of factory management laid down by Taylor—principles whose most spectacular application was the modern assembly line, with its meticulously planned flow of parts and materials, and its complete subordination of man to machine—were too potent to be resisted very long. Within a few years of Taylor’s death, the unions largely had ceased to oppose his ideas—who could oppose efficiency?—demanding only that they be given say in determining what was to constitute a fair day’s work. A new generation of managers, many of whom had been trained, like Taylor, as engineers, impatiently rooted out the wasteful practices and the permissive attitudes toward work that Taylor had deplored, and took pride in transforming their factories into huge, intricately articulated production machines. Scientific management soon took root in other countries besides the United States, notably in France, where, in 1918, Premier Georges Clemenceau ordered all factories under control of the Ministry of War to begin at once to put Taylor’s ideas into operation. In the same year Lenin took note of “the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation” that he said was a mark of scientific management, but went on to say that Russians must nevertheless “systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends.” By the 1930’s Taylor’s ideas were regarded by practical men everywhere as revealed truth.
Recently, to be sure, those ideas have come under increasing attack. The attackers include, for example, the Marxist writer Harry Braverman, whose influential Labor and Monopoly Capital, subtitled The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century , is taken up largely with a bitter critique of the Taylorian gospel. Scientific management is also out of favor with many business school professors. Some corporate executives have even become disenchanted to the point of supporting heretical experiments in the organization of work on non-Taylorian lines. In the United States and Europe, notably in Norway and Sweden, workers have been grouped into teams whose members are freed from the tyranny of time-and-motion studies and are permitted to arrange among themselves how best, for example, to put together an automatic transmission.
But most factory managers and industrial engineers, in Russia and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe as well as in the noncommunist world, are inclined to look on such experiments as softheaded do-goodism. By and large, Taylor’s truth is still mighty and prevails. Indeed, as Peter Drucker, a leading student of business management, has suggested, scientific management “may well be the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalist Papers.”
Frederick Taylor was born in Germantown, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, in 1856, and very early in life displayed two closely related traits that were strongly to mark his career. According to his admiring biographer, Frank Barkley Copley, these were “a passion for improving and reforming things,” and “a divine discontent with anything short of the one best way .” “Even a game of croquet was a source of study and careful analysis with Fred,” a boyhood friend recalled years later, adding that, on cross-country tramps, Taylor “was constantly experimenting with his legs” to discover the most efficient method of walking.
Taylor grew up in easy circumstances, his father having come into enough money as a young man so that he could give up the practice of law and devote himself to reading poetry and the classics, and performing good works. In his teens young Fred Taylor traveled in Europe with his family for three years, during which he briefly attended schools in Germany and France. Later he went to Exeter, where he captained the baseball team and, in his senior year, ranked first in his class. He had planned to go to Harvard and, eventually, to become a lawyer. Instead, for reasons that are obscure—Taylor himself used to speak unconvincingly of a need to rest his eyes after too much night study at Exeter—he went to work as an apprentice pattern-maker and machinist in a small Philadelphia pump factory. He stayed there four years, leading a double life as a machine-shop hand by day and a proper Philadelphian by night. He belonged to the Young America Cricket Club, sang in a choral society, acted in amateur theatricals—he was particularly admired for his skill in impersonating young women—and went to dances where he discharged his debt to Philadelphia society by choosing half (but no more) of his partners from a group of wallflowers whose names he had listed for himself in advance.
In 1878, having completed his apprenticeship, he took a job with another Philadelphia firm, the Midvale Steel Company, where he rose, over the next six years, from lathe-hand to machineshop foreman, master mechanic, and chief works engineer. He had not been at Midvale long before he was seized with an urge to improve and reform things there. To fit himself better for the task he persuaded Stevens Institute, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to let him take its regular course in mechanical engineering on a home-study basis. Since he was working six and sometimes seven days a week at Midvale, he had to do most of his studying at night or early in the morning. For a while he got up at 2:00 A.M. , studied until 5:00, and then napped for half an hour to freshen himself for his day at Midvale, which began at six-thirty. But for most of the astonishingly short time that it took him to earn his engineering degree—he got it in two and a half years—he studied each evening from nine until midnight, and then cooled himself out mentally by taking a half hour’s run through the streets of Germantown. “Sometimes,” Copley writes, “he would be seen stopping under a street lamp to consult a paper or a blank-book; apparently even he who runs may study.”
Taylor got his degree from Stevens in 1883, and it was around this time that he began timing jobs with a stop watch. His aim was to get a fair day’s work out of the men in Midvale’s machine shop, who he was convinced could easily double or triple their daily output but chose instead to “soldier” on the job—thereby, in Taylor’s view, sinning not only against their bosses, but against themselves and society at large. Taylor recognized, however, that it was not easy to persuade men to produce more when experience had taught them that, if they did, the piece rates governing the amount of their wages would sooner or later be cut, and they would end up doing more work for the same pay.
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.
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.
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.
Public fascination with scientific management was heightened by its association with a new religion of efficiency. While Taylor himself was concerned almost exclusively with efficiency in industry, bookstores were soon filled with books explaining how to apply the principles of scientific management to one’s personal life. Some of these inspirational works were written by ex-ministers, and some by established producers of success literature, like Elbert Hubbard and Orison Swett Harden, who knew a good thing in the success line when they saw it. Churchmen spoke of making worship more efficient. “People,” one minister explained, “like to be tied up to progressive, wide awake, and going concerns.” A proposal was made to introduce efficiency into higher education by encouraging professors to establish central banks of standardized lecture notes. Books appeared with titles like The New Housekeeping and Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home . One writer suggested setting up a chain of housekeeping experiment stations to develop and test “principles of domestic engineering.”
Meanwhile, demand was rising for the services of engineers trained by Taylor. By 1914, scientific management, while it could not be described as widespread, was being practiced to some degree in eighty industries, including naval construction, printing, and mining, and the manufacture of typewriters, locomotives, clothing, glass, shoes, soap, and textiles. To Taylor’s gratification, moreover, his belief that scientific management was as good for the workers as it was for their bosses was shared by many progressives like Brandeis and the young socialist writer Walter Lippmann. In their eyes, scientific management beautifully exemplified the kind of benevolent expertise with which they hoped to bring about social harmony and material progress without overthrowing the capitalist order.
Yet for all the attention his ideas were finally receiving, Taylor’s last years were not happy ones. More and more often he fell prey to the conviction that he was being martyred on the altar of ingratitude and greed. The perpetrators of his martyrdom, as he saw it, included false prophets of scientific management—”a crowd of industrial patent medicine men,” as they were described by Professor Robert F. Hoxie of the University of Chicago—who promised instant salvation to manufacturers afflicted by low output and low profits.
Taylor was less hurt, however, by the corruption of his ideas, and by the eagerness with which business men were buying worthless nostrums instead of the genuine article, than he was by the hostility of organized labor. Addressing his fellow workers in 1911 on the evils of scientific management, President Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor wrote sarcastically, “So there you are, wage-workers in general, mere machines.… Hence, why should you not be standardized and your motion-power brought up to the highest possible perfection in all respects, including speed? Not only your length, breadth, and thickness as a machine, but your grade of hardness, malleability, tractability … can be ascertained, registered, and then employed as desirable. Science would thus get the most out of you before you are sent to the junkpile.”
Taylor publicly denounced Gompers as one of the country’s “most blatant demagogues.” But he could not so scornfully dismiss objections of intelligent workmen like A. J. Portenar, a union printer (and the author of a book about labor) who had visited Boxly, and who thoughtfully set forth his criticism of scientific management in a letter to Taylor that he composed directly on a linotype. In reply, Taylor noted plaintively that the time and money he had devoted to the cause had been spent “entirely with the idea of getting better wages for the workmen—of developing the workmen coming under our system to make them all higher class men—to better educate them—to help them live better lives, and, above all, to be more happy and contented.”
Such protestations of good intentions did not disarm Taylor’s labor critics. They not only shared Gompers’ revulsion at the prospect of men being turned into robots by the Circe’s wand of Taylorism, but attacked scientific management on other grounds as well. They scoffed at the claim that work standards derived from stopwatch studies were scientific. In practice, they argued, such standards reflected the time-study man’s entirely subjective estimate—or his boss’s estimate—of how hard a man should be expected to work. Time-and-motion studies could thus be used as justification for driving workers to exhaustion, and there was little comfort to be had from Taylor’s protests that any manager who improperly speeded up his workers was a traitor to scientific management. Skilled workers, who made up the bulk of union members at the time, were further alarmed by the prospect that, as jobs became Taylorized—that is, split up among several workers, each performing a relatively simple and rigidly specified task-traditional skills would lose their market value. Taylor himself conceded the truth of this argument. No machine-shop boss should be satisfied, he wrote, “until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller calibre and attainments, and who are therefore cheaper than those required under the old system.”
Union men also derided Taylor’s assertion that the bonuses offered to workers for meeting the new goals set by their scientific managers were scientifically determined. The only fixed rule governing the size of such bonuses, they suggested, was that however much a worker might benefit from scientific management, his employer should benefit even more. This point was neatly made by the socialist Upton Sinclair in a letter to The American Magazine , which had carried Taylor’s account of the prodigies performed under his tutelage by Bethlehem’s pig-iron handlers. “[Taylor] tells how workingmen were loading twelve and a half tons… and he induced them to load forty-seven tons instead,” Sinclair wrote. “They had formerly been getting $1.15; he paid them $1.85.… I shall not soon forget the picture which he gave us of the poor old laborer who was trying to build his pitiful little home after hours, and who was induced to give 362 [sic] per cent more service for 61 per cent more pay.” Taylor was provoked into answering in words that betrayed—indeed, proclaimed—the condescension, often tinged with contempt, that underlay his attitude toward workingmen. Citing “a long series of experiments,” about which he gave no details, he wrote that it had been established that when men of the caliber of pig-iron loaders were given much more than a 60 per cent bonus “many of them will work irregularly and tend to become more or less shiftless, extravagant and dissipated. Our experiments showed, in other words, that for their own best interest it does not do for most men to get rich too fast.”
In 1912 Taylor testified at length before a congressional committee looking into scientific management. The investigation had been authorized after a group of molders employed at the army’s arsenal at Watertown, Massachusetts, had walked off the job rather than submit to the “humiliating” and “un-American” ordeal of being timed with a stop watch. The committee chairman, a former miners’ union official, allowed union representatives to question all witnesses, and when it came Taylor’s turn to face them, he blew up. “At the close of his testimony,” his biographer, Copley, writes, “he was deliberately baited by his labor-leader opponents. Two of them went at him at the same time with insults and sneers. Insofar as the plan was to make him lose his temper, to destroy his self-control, it was a success. With flushed face, he hurled denunciations at his opponents and made accusations which in the nature of things he could not prove. For a time it appeared as if blows would be struck.” Exactly what was said is unknown, since the interchange was stricken from the record. According to Copley’s account, “Taylor’s friends who were there present viewed the scene with emotions such as one might experience upon seeing a magnificent stag worried and brought low by a pack of wolves.”
Over the next three years Taylor’s friends had more and more reason to worry about his state of mind. “While he gave many signs of a mellowing nature,” Copley writes, “there at the same time were symptoms of increasing nervous instability. Men who had business relations with him could not be sure in what mood they would find him. He who all along had been an inspiration now sometimes depressed people, giving them a sense of fearful strain.” For comfort Taylor turned repeatedly to an uplifting essay called “The Dreamers,” by a writer named Herbert Kaufman, which read, in part, “They are the architects of greatness.… They are the chosen few—the Blazers of the Way—who never wear Doubt’s bandage on their eyes—who starve and chill and hurt, but hold to courage and to hope.” In the late winter of 1915 Taylor caught pneumonia, and on March 21, one day after his fifty-ninth birthday, he died. He was buried on a hill overlooking the Schuylkill River, and his grave was marked with a stone inscribed “Frederick W. Taylor, Father of Scientific Management.”
In one way time has vindicated Taylor. His ideas are now taken as much for granted, by most planners and organizers of factory and office work, as the idea of the division of labor that so powerfully influenced the Industrial Revolution. If Taylor had not invented scientific management, it would have been invented by someone else. The engineering principles that had been applied with such success to the design of industrial machines were certain to be applied, sooner or later, to the men who operated them.
But Taylor’s vision of an era in which managers and the managed would work together in harmony and mutual respect was not to be fulfilled. Nor could it have been fulfilled, since Taylor, for all his obviously genuine protestations of concern for the workingman, looked at the world of work through the eyes of the employer. As Braverman argues convincingly in Labor and Monopoly Capital , Taylor did not develop a science of work, but something quite different: a science of management that would enable employers to get the most possible work out of their employees.
It is true that factory workers, partly through the power of the unions that Taylor so hated and mistrusted, have secured a share of the fruits of their increased productivity. But there have been unmistakable signs—absenteeism, carelessness, sabotage, wildcat strikes—of a mounting conviction that the price exacted from them for their relative prosperity has been much too steep. The recent experiments in job enlargement, offering workers more variety and autonomy on the job, mark a recognition that applying Taylorism in its undiluted form may not, after all, be the best way to maximize profits.
But such palliatives seem inadequate to restore significantly the reliance on individual knowledge and skill that Taylor taught employers to regard as an impediment to higher profits. That these profits were to be achieved by condemning industrial workers to a spiritual and psychological hell was clear to, among others, Taylor’s printer correspondent, A. J. Portenar. “It depresses me horribly,” Portenar wrote after reading Taylor’s Shop Management . “The whole thing looms up vaguely before me as an inhuman inexorable machine, gliding smoothly on its way, but crushing not only all in its way, but sapping the vitality of all connected with it.” The years have confirmed the validity of Portenar’s fears, and exposed the naivete of the 1912 progressives who so warmly embraced Taylor and Taylorism. For today it is hard to take seriously any general scheme for human betterment that does not seek to revive the pride in craftsmanship, and the sense of control over one’s work, that Taylor was at such pains to do away with in the name of progress.