Frederick Winslow Taylor
and the "Taylorization" of America
story of Frederick Winslow Taylor's rise, fall and phoenix-like
rise again is a fascinating tale of conflicting ideologies,
labor-management disputes and strikes, Congressional investigations
and, ultimately, great human drama. "What Taylor did was
come in and analyze the smallest pieces of work, tease
them apart and break them down into fractions of a minute,"
says Robert Kanigel, author of The One Best Way: Frederick
Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, the book
on which the program is based. "He would determine how
much a man can do in the course of, not just a day, not
in eight or ten hours, but what he can do in a fraction
of a minute."
Taylor started his first job in 1878, workers learned
their professions in much the same way they had in the
Middle Ages: through years of apprenticeship. Taylor's
scientific management system turned that system upside
down, breaking down every trade and profession into smaller
elements that anyone could learn in a single day.
himself was an enigmatic figure. The son of a privileged
family, he was expected to attend Harvard and take his
place in the leisurely upper class. However, Taylor eschewed
that path and learned a trade by becoming a working-class
machinist. Yet he could not abide by the status quo and
began working on ways to induce workers to be more productive
- ultimately developing his scientific shop management
system and alienating most workers.
1880, at the Midvale Steel plant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Taylor began his first experiments. Although he developed
a reputation as an unyielding controller in the workplace,
yet he was constantly late for meetings and had a penchant
for cross-dressing. He claimed his shop management system
would bring greater happiness to workers' lives and professed
great respect for laborers yet repeatedly said he did
not want them to think on the job. And he believed that
any worker who disagreed with his system was simply ignorant.
by 1910 Taylor's ideas had taken hold of America and he
became a household name. Housewives adopted his scientific
management principles, rearranging their kitchens to "save
steps" and to be more efficient. Scholars and labor experts
featured in Stopwatch indicate that Taylorism was
applied to many social activities, including the management
homes, farms, businesses, churches, philanthropic institutions
and government. Trotsky, Lenin and Mussolini all embraced
Taylor's theories, and US Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis hailed him as brilliant.
a workers' strike in Watertown, Massachusetts, and a subsequent
Congressional investigation into Taylor's management system
put his ideas to a severe test. Labor leaders such as
Samuel Gompers viewed Taylor as the devil incarnate, and
author Upton Sinclair publicly criticized him. Bitter
and angry after enduring the long Congressional investigation
process, Taylor finally withdrew from the public arena,
retiring to his home to conduct other studies, including
one that literally involved watching grass grow. When
he died of complications from a cold at age 59, he was
working on a project to grow the perfect putting-green
Taylor himself died a broken and discouraged man, labor
leaders could not stem the tide of "Taylorism" or the
efficiency movement. From auto-production plants that
plan each task workers perform to fire fighting companies
that use Taylor's theories to reduce their response time,
Taylorism permeates the modern workplace. Even fast-food
restaurants use his theories, where signs tell workers
how much time they should need to put a hamburger on a
may have died in ignominy," says producer Michael Schwarz,
"but he probably had the last laugh, because his ideas
about efficiency have come to define the way we live today,
not just at work but in our personal lives as well."
Frederick Winslow Taylor and the "Taylorization"
of America is a co-production of Kikim Media and Quest
Productions and is presented by KQED. Producers are Bill
Jersey and Michael Schwarz. Associate Producer is Mark
Page. The documentary is based on the book, The One
Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency,
by Robert Kanigel. Funding provided by the Alfred
P. Sloan Foundation.
One Best Way:
Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency
Robert Kanigel (Viking Press 1997)
Principles of Scientific Management
Frederick Winslow Taylor (Inst. of Industrial Engineers
W. Taylor :
The Father of Scientific Management - Myth and Reality
Charles Wrege, Ronald Greenwood (Irwin Professional Pub
(out of print)
Taylor & the Public Administration Community:
Hindy Lauer Schachter (State Univ. of New York Press 1989)
(hard to find)
Winslow Taylor Collection
Information about the collection at the Stevens Institute
of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey.
The Principles of Scientific Management
Student paper provided by Eric Eldred.
Biography by Mary Ellen Papesh.