Frank Gilbreth Papers on Microfilm

Collection Number: 5424 mf

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library


Frank Gilbreth Papers on Microfilm, 1910-1924
Collection Number:
5424 mf
Gilbreth, Frank
4 microfilm reels
Forms of Material:
Papers (documents), microfilm.
Kheel Center for Labor- Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
Selected papers pertaining to industrial engineering by Frank Gilbreth.
Collection material in English


Frank Gilbreth was born in Fairfield, Maine in 1868, to John Hiram and Martha (nee Bunker) Gilbreth, and had no formal education beyond high school.
At age 3, his father passed away, it was after this that his family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He became a bricklayer apprentice after high school, which led to him becoming a building contractor, an inventor with several patents and lastly a management engineer. He also became an occasional lecturer at Purdue University, where his papers are housed. Gilbreth married Lillian Evelyn Moller on October 19, 1904 in Oakland, California; they had 12 children, 11 of whom survived him.
As a result of Gilbreth trying to make his bricklaying job faster and easier, he and his wife, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, came up with an idea to study the work habits of manufacturing and clerical employees in all sorts of industries. They worked to find ways to increase output and make the jobs easier. They founded a management consulting firm, Gilbreth, Inc.
Gilbreth served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He was charged with finding quicker and more efficient means of assembling and disassembling small arms. According to Claude George (1968), Gilbreth reduced all motions of the hand into some combination of 17 basic motions. These included grasp, transport loaded, and hold. Gilbreth named the motions therbligs, "Gilbreth" spelled backwards with the th transposed. He used a motion picture camera that was calibrated in fractions of minutes to time the smallest of motions in workers.
According to George the Gilbreths were, most of all, scientists who sought to teach management that all parts of the workplace should be constantly questioned, and continuely updated. Their emphasis on the 'one best way' and the therbligs predates the development of continuous quality improvement (CQI), and the understanding that repeated motions can lead to workers experiencing repetitive motion injuries.
Gilbreth was a first with many of his ideas, such as positioning a 'caddy' for surgeons instruments, so they could be handed them more efficiently and easily. He also devised a standard technique for armies to train their recruits how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons even when blindfolded or in total darkness.
Gilbreth died of a heart attack on June 14, 1924, at age 55, his wife Lillian outlived him by 48 years.


Selected papers pertaining to industrial engineering. Original materials are held by Purdue University. Microfilm copied purchased from Purdue University in April 1968.

Gilbreth, Frank B. (Frank Bunker), 1868-1924.

Form and Genre Terms:
Papers (documents)


Access Restrictions:
Access to the collections in the Kheel Center is restricted. Please contact a reference archivist for access to these materials.
Restrictions on Use:
This collection must be used in keeping with the Kheel Center Information Sheet and Procedures for Document Use.
Cite As:
Frank Gilbreth Papers on Microfilm #5424 mf. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library.


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