Frederick W. Taylor – the first Management Consultant

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915)

Frederick Winston Taylor (1856-1915)

On March 20, 1856, American mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor was born. Taylor is known as the father of scientific management, who sought to improve industrial efficiency. He was one of the first management consultants. Taylor summed up his efficiency techniques in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management. His pioneering work in applying engineering principles to the work done on the factory floor was instrumental in the creation and development of the branch of engineering that is now known as industrial engineering.

“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.”
– Frederick W. Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management, 1911.

Youth and Education

Taylor was born to a Quaker family in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his father, Franklin Taylor, being a Princeton-educated lawyer, who built his wealth on mortgages. Educated early by his mother, Taylor studied for two years in France and Germany. In 1872, he entered Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, with the plan of eventually going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer like his father. In 1874, Taylor passed the Harvard entrance examinations with honors. However, due allegedly to rapidly deteriorating eyesight, Taylor chose quite a different path and with sight restored in 1875 became an apprentice patternmaker and machinist, gaining shop-floor experience at Enterprise Hydraulic Works in Philadelphia.

In 1878, after finishing his apprenticeship, Taylor became a machine-shop laborer at Midvale Steel Works, where he was quickly promoted to time clerk, journeyman machinist, gang boss over the lathe hands, machine shop foreman, research director, and finally chief engineer of the works.

Introducing Time Study

In 1881, at 25, he introduced time study at the Midvale plant. Early on at Midvale, working as a laborer and machinist, Taylor recognized that workmen were not working their machines, or themselves, nearly as hard as they could and that this resulted in high labor costs for the company. When he became a foreman he expected more output from the workmen. In order to determine how much work should properly be expected, he began to study and analyze the productivity of both the men and the machines. His focus on the human component of production Taylor labeled scientific management. Though the Taylor system provoked resentment and opposition from labour when carried to extremes, its value in rationalizing production was indisputable and its impact on the development of mass-production techniques immense.[1]

Inventing a New Profession

Taylor became a student of Stevens Institute of Technology, studying via correspondence and obtaining a degree in mechanical engineering in 1883. The following year he became chief engineer at Midvale and completed the design and construction of a novel machine shop. Taylor might have enjoyed a brilliant full-time career as an inventor — he had more than 40 patents to his credit — but his interest in scientific management led him to resign his post at Midvale and to become general manager of the Manufacturing Investment Company of Philadelphia (1890–93), a company that operated large paper mills in Maine and Wisconsin, which in turn led him to develop a new profession, that of consulting engineer in management.[1]

Bethlehem Steel and Retirement

In 1898 he joined Bethlehem Steel in order to solve an expensive machine-shop capacity problem. As a result, he and Maunsel White, with a team of assistants, developed high speed steel, paving the way for greatly increased mass production. Taylor was forced to leave Bethlehem Steel in 1901 after discord with other managers. Taylor retired at age 45 but continued to devote time and money to promote the principles of scientific management through lectures at universities and professional societies. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers elected him president in 1906, the same year that he was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree by the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

The Principles of Scientific Management

In spite of this honor and his success among engineers, Taylor’s work was rarely known outside of the community of industrial engineers until lawyer, reformer, and future U.S. Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis tapped his ideas to help in the Interstate Commerce Commission hearings concerning railroad rates. He used Taylor’s scientific management methods as an example of progressive management techniques that could ease the strain on workers even as it raised their pay and increased profits for owners.[2] Talyor’s scientific management borrowed freely from other managerial programs to increase worker productivity without constant riding by managers. Applicators of Taylor’s system first studied a job with attention to the minimum necessary steps needed to complete the task. Each step was then scientifically studied in order to determine the most time efficient means of performing it. Managers could total the time it would optimally take to perform a job by adding the time it should take to perform every step. Workers who could not meet this optimum time would be removed from the job.[2]

“The art of management has been defined, “As knowing exactly what you want men to do, and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way.” No concise definition can fully describe an art, but the relations between employers and men form without question the most important part of this art. In considering the subject, therefore, until this part of the problem has been fully discussed, the remainder of the art may be left in the background.”
— Frederick W. Taylor, Shop Management (1903)

In 1911, Taylor introduced his The Principles of Scientific Management paper to the American mechanical engineering society. Taylor eventually became a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. In early spring of 1915 Taylor caught pneumonia and died.

R. Duncan, M. Pelly, Introduction to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Book,
Principles of Scientific Management, and Taylorism, [7]

References and Further Reading:

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