Taylor, Frederick Winston

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Frederick Winston Taylor (18561915), known as the "Father of Scientific Management," pioneered the occupation of time study in industrial management. His love for perfection and control, carried arguably to extremes in the industrial workplace, led to his invention of hundreds of ways to increase worker productivity. He believed his efforts would promote harmony between management and labor. As an industrial engineer he introduced efficiency techniques in factory operations which Henry Ford (18631947) made famous on his assembly line. Taylor's ideas were welcomed by those seeking efficiency in production, but denounced by many, including unionists, who feared it would degenerate into a factory "speed up" system, where a worker's humanity would be diminished and the employee would become merely another cog in the wheel of the factory machine.

Frederick Taylor was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on March 3, 1856, the second of three children born to Franklin and Emily Taylor. Taylor's father was a lawyer and a poet who had inherited considerable wealth from the family's ownership of farms and other properties in the Philadelphia area. His mother was a staunch abolitionist, working to end slavery in the United States. She was a strict disciplinarian, and she worked to create an orderly environment around her. The young Taylor adopted much of his mother's thinking about order and control. An example of such desires to control his environment was demonstrated at age 12he suffered from frequent nightmares, which he believed were caused by sleeping on his back. To prevent this he put together a harness device that would wake him up if he rolled onto his back.

Taylor attended the private Germantown Academy while living in Pennsylvania, and at age 13 he traveled with his parents to Europe. He spent three years there, studying under tutors in France and Germany. When Taylor returned to the United States in 1872, he was enrolled at the Phillips Exeter Academy, a private college-preparatory school in New Hampshire. He left the Academy in his senior year, claiming problems with his eyesight. He never went on to college but instead he began to work as a machinist; he embraced the work ethic vigorously and seemed to prefer working at a job rather than spending his time at college.

Taylor completed an apprenticeship as a machinist and began to work for Midvale Steel Co. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While working at Midvale, he pursued a self-study program in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute and graduated with an engineering diploma in 1883 at age 27. He became the chief engineer at Midvale Steel and obtained a patent for his invention of the largest steam hammer ever built in the United States. Later, in 1898, while working at Bethlehem Steel Corp., Taylor and a colleague, J.M. White, invented the Taylor-White processa method for the heat treatment of tool steel. This process yielded increased cutting and hardness capacities of 200 to 300 percent, and by the late 1990s was used in practically every machine shop in the world. Yet it was scientific industrial management that Taylor adopted as his primary occupation. In 1903 he started as a self-employed industrial consultant, specializing in managing businesses with the greatest time-cost efficiency.

Taylor promoted his ideas about efficiency engineering of both people and machine processes that would help speed up work. He likely did not realize his ideas would be used to claim management was making the employee into a kind of dehumanized robot. Such reforms in manufacturing as Taylor advocated became known as "Taylorism." According to Taylorism, by scientific study (time-management study) of every step and operation in a manufacturing plant, data could be obtained as to the fair and reasonable production capacities of both man and machine. The application of that data in an effort to increase productivity would abolish the antagonism between employer and employee. For five years Taylor successfully applied his theory in a variety of establishments, administrative and sales departments, and shops.

Convinced of the correctness of his theory, Taylor devoted the remainder of his life to expounding those principles. He often gave his services free of cost, and wrote a book promoting his ideas on efficiency engineering titled Principles of Scientific Management. He also traveled extensively, lecturing about his theory.

Taylor's legacy has been controversial. In the early twentieth century he personified the efficiency movement of modern management. In the 1930s and 1940s he was known as the creator of modern industrial work methods, and by mid-century he became targeted by social scientists that said his methods were dehumanizing. (The 1970s regarded his methods often as ways to exploit employees.) Overall, Taylor and his supporters are likely best recalled for their work in publicizing the possibilities of a careful, systematic approach to industrial time-and-motion study to enhance industrial efficiency.

Frederick Taylor died in 1915, at age 59. He left an estate of over $1 million, all of which he earned in his lifetime.

See also: Productivity


Haber, Samuel. Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 18901920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.

Kaker, Sudhir. Frederick Taylor: A Study in Personality and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970.

Kanigal, Robert. The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. New York: Viking, 1997.

Nelson, Daniel. Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Schracter, Hindy L. Frederick Taylor and the Public Administration Community. Buffalo, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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Taylor, Frederick Winston