Frederick Winslow Taylor
Article abstract: Taylor studied the functions and practices of men and machinery in minute detail and drew up detailed plans for saving time and increasing productivity. Many of the principles upon which he worked have formed the basis of modern managerial practice.
Frederick Winslow Taylor was born March 20, 1856, just outside Philadelphia in the affluent community of Germantown. Both his father’s and his mother’s families were of old New England stock. Taylor’s father was a lawyer who was interested more in literature than in the expansion of his practice. His mother was a prominent reformer—abolitionist, Transcendentalist, and female suffragist. It was from her that Taylor’s early education came. Her qualities were transmitted to the young Taylor through rigorous drilling and training. From his mother, Taylor learned to be spartan, exacting, methodical, and extremely competitive. In the Taylor household, everyone had specific jobs. Throughout his life, Taylor was a most intense individual with an extraordinary power to arouse and inspire others, but he was temperamental, difficult to work with, and intolerant of the skepticism of others concerning his own theories. Friends testified to his great sense of humor, amiability, sociability, and sensitivity.
For three and a half years, Taylor’s parents took him around Europe to complete the first stage of his education. While there, he became a fluent speaker of German. Upon their return to the United States in 1872, Taylor entered Philips Exeter Academy to prepare for Harvard Law School. Despite gaining honors in the entrance examination to Harvard, Taylor abandoned further study because of eye trouble. An independent young man, Taylor chose his own path and obtained a job as an apprentice with the Enterprise Hydraulics Works in Philadelphia, whose owners were family friends. Within four years, Taylor was a skilled machinist and pattern-maker.
At the age of twenty-two, Taylor embarked upon his career in industry as a common laborer for the Midvale Steel Company of Philadelphia. His rise was meteoric. After only two months, he went from laborer to clerk, machinist, and gang boss. Within six years, he was promoted to foreman of the machine shop, master mechanic in charge of repairs and maintenance throughout the entire works, chief draftsman, and finally, chief engineer. In that time, Taylor developed a system of shop management never before known.
At first, Taylor merely goaded workers into working harder and producing more through a system of threats, wage cuts, fines, and inspirational exhortations. During his time as gang boss and foreman, Taylor was subjected to death threats, but because of his combination of imperiousness, personal courage, and rigorous honesty, as well as the power he could wield, he got his way: Machinery was speeded up and production increased.
Taylor observed minutely each function of work and set standards and times for each. If a man did not reach Taylor’s standards, it was, according to Taylor, because the man was physically or mentally unfit for the job or because the man was shirking. It was during his time with Midvale that Taylor invented the time-and-motion study. It was the function of management, Taylor believed, to plan, and the function of workers to execute management’s directives. There was no place in Taylor’s scheme for the worker to have any role other than to do exactly as he was told. If he cooperated, then the worker should be well rewarded. Increases in production should be accompanied by increases in wages. Indeed, as a result of his systematic study, Taylor was able to increase production by three hundred percent and to raise wages by twenty-five to one hundred percent. During his time at Midvale, Taylor also produced a number of inventions which made improvements on machinery and on manufacturing methods. His outstanding achievement was the design and construction of the largest steam hammer ever built in the United States.
Shortly after he became chief engineer at Midvale, Taylor was married, on May 3, 1884, to Louise Spooner, a doctor’s daughter and a friend since childhood. Taylor was of average height, blond, blue-eyed, about 145 pounds, with a slim, athletic build. Indeed, in 1881, he and a brother-in-law had won the United States National Championship in tennis. Typically, Taylor had used a racket of his own invention.
In 1890, Taylor resigned from Midvale to become general manager of the Manufacturing Investment Company, which operated large paper mills in Maine and Wisconsin. Taylor attempted to put his ideas into practice, but opposition from both workers and his group of financial backers made his job frustrating. In 1893, he opened his own consultancy business. His business card read “Systematizing Shop Management and Manufacturing Costs a Specialty.” The business was not noticeably successful; he had few clients.
In 1898, another phase in Taylor’s career began when he was retained exclusively by the Bethlehem Steel Company. It was at Bethlehem that he perfected his system and completed, with J. Maunsell White, a study he had begun while at Midvale of the treatment of tool steel. The resulting Taylor-White process increased steel-cutting capacities by between two hundred and three hundred percent and won national and international awards. The daily struggle which Taylor faced at Bethlehem, however, made the introduction of his system virtually impossible. He was not allowed the free rein he had demanded as a condition of accepting employment with the...
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