Fredrick Taylor: A Mad Man the Business Would Come to Love.


Fredirick Taylor (1884–1915): The Father of Time Management, and Scientific Management.



       While the Gilded Age brought forth many innovations in regards to business and economic change, one of the most important innovations to be invented was the idea of scientific management. Fredrick Winslow Taylor was the one of the first people to look at the work process scientifically, through how work was performed, and how it would affect productivity. He published “The Principles of Scientific Management”, which would be used for years to come in evolving the business world, and be a benchmark for efficiency for any corporation. Although his methods were revolutionary for the time, they weren’t without controversy, with many employees hating their treatment and work conditions. This paper will shed light on the genius, and madness that defined Fredrick Taylor as one of the biggest innovators in the practice of modern business. 

       Taylor was born in 1856 to a family of Quakers, where his father Franklin, a lawyer specializing with mortgages educated at Princeton, and his mother Emily was an abolitionist, whose family had come across on the mayflower hundreds of years earlier. While his family where well off considerably, most of his childhood education was implemented by his mother, he spent his teenage years studying in both France and Germany before enrolling in Phillips Exeter Academy in 1872. Leading his classmate’s scholastically, he began making plans to enroll in Harvard, to study as a lawyer like his father, but ultimately abandoned his plans to matriculate, since his eyesight began to fade as a result from years of late night studying in poor lighting, but in 1875, with his eyesight being restored, he became an apprentice learning the trades of machinists and patternmakers and the Enterprise Hydraulic Works of Philadelphia, where pumps where manufactured, and the owners were old friends of the Taylor family. 

       After six months, he left to join a group of machine tool manufacturers in Philadelphia’s centennial exposition. With four years under his belt, he was hired as a machine shop laborer for Midvale Steel Works, where he rose up the ranks of the company, learning many different operations within the company, and finally becoming the Chief Engineer, while maintaining the title of foreman. Though his work ethic and determination were driving forces for his assent, his success was also accredited to his family’s relationship with Edward Clark, the owner of Midvale. In 1881, while Fredrick Taylor was 25 years old, he introduced the idea of Time Study to Midvale, which created a new system in which the operations would run, based off of time needed to complete tasks, and formed the foundation of his theories on scientific management. The idea was that in order to understand the system in which work is done, one must observe ever individual worker and their contribution to the final product. This led to less time wasted, and the discovery of the operations motion in the value chain. Although productivity went up, the work conditions proved to harvest resentment and outrage from the workers when implemented to the extreme. What was learned from this impacted mass-production technique proved valuable to the business world, but continued the harsh treatment of workers common in the Gilded Age.

Workers in the Guilded Age

As the industrial era continued to grow, so did the demand for workers in the facoties. Immigrates and farmers found plenty of worker to go around, but the issue facing most companies was the fact that each worker worked at a different rate, leading to uncertain comapny forecasts moving forward. When Taylor finally began to gain recognition for his studies, compnaies clearly saw a change in their labor productivity once implimenting scientific managment.

       During this time while studying at night, Fredrick Taylor received a degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1883. This led to promotion to chief engineer at Midvale, in which his first order of business was to design a novel machine shop. Taylor became a fulltime inventor, with over 40 patents under his belt, but in order to follow his dream of perfecting scientific management, he resigned from Midvale Steel Works after seven years, and became the general manager of Manufacturing Investment Company in 1890. During this time, he developed a new profession: engineering management consulting, in which he serviced many major firms, include Bethlehem Steel Corporation. 

Bethlehem Steel

Bethlehem Steel (pictured) was the largest steel producer in the Unitied States during the gilded era, with a monopoly in their industry. While making more money than most industries, Fredirick Taylor Was brought in to make the company as a whole more efficient.

       He solved Bethlehem’s expensive machine shop problems, as well as helping develop high speed steel. This was done by combining different materials, heating them up the higher temperatures than considered at the time, and documenting every test result to create a better understanding of what was being done. He also began studying the capacity of shovels used to shovel coal into furnaces, and figured out the perfect size to create the best possible efficiency for shoveling, increasing productivity. Another production flaw that Taylor solved was the issue with pig iron. The workers at the time were moving 12 ½ tons per day, and Taylor felt they could be incentivized to move 47 ½ tons of pig iron per day, although left on their own they would become exhausted quickly and in doing so fail measurably, but if the time needed to rest could be calculated, then workers could attempt such a feat. Taylor also took into account the timing for lifting would need to be calculated as well. He found that not all workers could move 47 ½ tons, but the possibility of 1/8 of the workforce capable of moving that much wait helped Taylor select the best people possible for specific positions, based not on their standing in society, but their physical capabilities. While bringing the company millions in profit every year, Taylor was forced to leave after constant falling outs with other managers.


       After leaving Bethlehem Steel, Frederick Taylor spent all his time and effort promoting his machining and management methods. This was done through writing, lectures, and consulting on the side. While slowly growing his fame through these mediums, he became internationally known during the Eastern Railroad’s rate case in 1910, when the railroad company purposed an increase in freight rates. This was to compensate for losses suffered by operation costs, and inefficiencies. Many believe that since the railroad was a vital lifeline for the United States, that it was unfair for a company to approach the government to allow them to raise prices, because they couldn’t run their company efficiently. While in court, the lawyer representing the general public, Louis D. Brandeis stated that the cure for Eastern Railroad’s illness was scientific management, which referred to Taylor’s “Shop System”. The jury summoned Taylor, and used as an expert witness in the case. While explaining his system, it was stated that by using Taylor’s system, Eastern Railroad could save one million dollars a day in inefficiencies. As a result of the press Taylor received, the scientific management method was protruded as the magic cure for industrial firms, While Brandeis would later go on to sit as a justice in the supreme court.



       Taylor’s scientific management consisted of four major principles, replace rules guided by experience with methods based of scientific study done for the task at hand, train every employee instead of having them learn through application, provide instruction and supervision of performance in each given task, and divide work equally amongst managers and workers, so managers can plan the work needed to be done, and the workers can perform the task. Taylor believed that only through enforcement could faster work could be achieved, and that the only people that could understand this were managers, with again led to workers revolting against the system implemented, and most of the time cause strikes. Frederick’s main concern was moving operation power as far away from the worker as possible, hoping that planning and executing work could be two separate entities. He also believed that a worker was only worth what he could produce on his own, and that pay was linked to productivity, which wasn’t an idea shared with workers doing day to day activities. The great majority of workmen still believed that if they were to work at their best speed they would be doing a great injustice to the whole trade by throwing a lot of men out of work, and yet the history of the development of each trade shows that each improvement, whether it be the invention of a new machine or the introduction of a better method, which results in increasing the productive capacity of the men in the trade and cheapening the costs, instead of throwing men out of work make in the end work for more men.

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

This shows the working conditions born fomr Taylor's scientific managment. Chalie Chaplin stared in this film depicting the assembly line, pressures from managers to follow the method of time motion, and speed in which products should be produced. All of the strain on Chaplins charactor provided comedic escape to many factory worker's realities.

       Taylor felt the by reviewing work done, a solution would present itself through investigation of the problem as a hole. He is also remembered for his use of the stopwatch during his consulting days, timing every part of the process, and which leads back to his study of shovels. While shovels in the work place were used to carry all types of materials, he found that the exact load needed to maximize efficiency was a shovel that could carry 21 ½ lb. This was heavy enough to get the most material moved, but light enough so the workers wouldn’t tire easily. Although considered trivial at the time, many companies began using these shovels, and found positive results within production.

       While many would come to sing Frederick Taylors Praises, others came to question his methods. The main concern was the social benefits, and the destruction of social values. Companies might produce record amounts of product, but the moral and spirit of the worker would almost be nonexistent. When Ford began using scientific methods to increase the volume of output of their assembly line, the working conditions became so demanding on the workers, that many described it as “almost living in hell.” This did lead to higher wages over the years for employees working in grueling conditions, but the amount of people that would show up to work day to day began to decrease as shop systems became more common. The main Quarrel against Taylor is this dehumanizing approach in regards to the worker. Work under Taylorism was "specifying not only what is to be done but how it is to done and the exact time allowed for doing it" is seen as leaving the individual worker no room to attempt to excel or think. The argument was mainly made in later writing rather than during the period, since many companies already held the opinion of the average worker in low regard. Taylor's work as Taylor stated "The task is always so regulated that the man who is well suited to his job will thrive while working at this rate during a long term of years and grow happier and more prosperous, instead of being overworked." Taylor's Motivation of his employees left something to be desired when compared to techniques used later. His ideology behind motivation started and finished with monetary incentives. Although while working in the system under Taylor, the separation of management and the workforce began to take on the "us "and "them" mentality, the workforce and employers he tried to find a common ground between the working and managing classes.


       Although retiring at 45, Frederick Taylor continued to promote his principles through lectures at universities as professional societies, leading to his election as president of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1906. That year he was also given an honorary science degree from the University of Pennsylvania. During his presidency he wrote many books documenting his methods for maximum production, including “Notes on Belting”, “Piece-rate System”, and his bestselling book “The Principles of Scientific Management.” He would argue that the most basic of jobs could be planned in a way to increase productivity, and that initiative and incentive did little in comparison to his scientific method. Taylor would argue that incentivizing and putting performance based pay on the worker didn’t guarantee that worker operating to the best of their abilities. 

       "In the past man has been first. In the future the System will be first," predicted Frederick Winslow Taylor, the first efficiency expert and model for all the stopwatch-clicking engineers who stalk the factories and offices of the industrial world. Taylor influenced Ford's assembly line, and was known to be a driving factor in Lenin's Soviet Russia. A known management expert Peter Drucker believed Taylor could be held in the same conversation as both Freud and Darwin as an innovator of the modern world. His ceaseless quest for "the one best way" changed the very texture of twentieth-century life. Many innovators of business would come to learn, perfect, and respect the ground work that Frederick Taylor laid out for the world to see.


       According to Hans D. Pruijt in his 1997 book "Job Design and Technology: Taylorism Vs. Anti-Taylorism", "Taylorism" is considered a management strategy that separates thinking from doing, as managers think and plan, and workers execute orders. There were many critics of Taylor's ideas, and according to some, he was ruthless when recommending that people be fired, yet many of the effects of Taylorism as changed business.


       Harvard University was one of the first American universities offering a business management degree, in which the curriculum was founded on Taylor’s scientific management in 1908. Carl B. Barth, with the help of Fredrick Taylor, created the slide rules to calculate speed-and-feeds (two separate velocities in machining, for cutting speed and feed speed), which not surprisingly aided efficiency to new levels, and in the end Carl became one of the first teachers of scientific management at Harvard.


       Harrington Emerson, who became familiar with Taylor’s work, was hired by Eastern Railroad to help their efficiencies after their hearings in court over increased freight rates. Emerson would come to help Taylor keep his promise of a scientific management system that would save Easter Railroad one million dollars every day. Through trial and tribulation these innovators changed many companies into profitable organizations, all of them were in one way or another inspired by Frederick Taylor. "It is not a question of producing physical changes," Taylor wrote in a piece published after his death, "but rather of working a great mental revolution in large numbers of men, and any such change demands time, and a large amount of time."


       In 1915 an associate of Taylor named Morris Cooke, tried to reminded readers concerning the application of scientific management to governmental institutions that "nothing has been so sufficiently studied as to have reached even an approximately scientific standard. All that can be said is that we have started on the long road." Taylor took 26 years just to studying the cutting of metal, so in order to find the application for other fields, it would take at least that long. In 1940, CIO vice-president Philip Murray felt that the methods of scientific management offered insight into management, as well as the social aspect of the workforce, stating that "This book is published at a period of world-wide disillusionment. In one field after another the devastating conclusion has been reached that former ways of doing things have been the wrong ones, with results sometimes worse than futile. Certainly no one viewing the American industrial scene dispassionately can avoid the conclusion that there is a better way." Taylorism, which many managers believed in whole heartedly, pointed the way to a better workplace and a better society.

Ford's Assembly Line (1913)

Henry Ford would become the first mass producer of automobiles during the early 1900's, using taylor's methods of labor efficency.

       In closing Fredrick Winslow Taylor influenced the business world in ways that are still felt today. From the shop system, to the scientific method, time management, the motion of the value chain, machining and engineering efficiency, and business management in general, Taylor didn’t let the loss of his sight, multiple firings, and outraged shop workers stop him from chasing his dream of creating a system of ultimate time efficiency. To millions today who feel they give up too much to their jobs, Taylor is the source of that fierce, unholy obsession with "efficiency" that marks modern life. The assembly line; the layout of our kitchens; the ways our libraries, fast-food restaurants, and even our churches are organized all owe much to this driven man, who broke every job into its parts, slice and trimmed and timed them, and remolded what was left into the work of the twentieth century. While time is always moving, and names are forgotten with age, having a legacy for impacting something as large and global as business is the goal in everyone’s life, and Frederick Taylor did just that.  Many people in the business world use in some shape or another one of Taylors methods for production on a daily basis. While his treatment of workers on the assembly line were controversial, the information received on scientific management prove to be priceless.

Taylorism on ABC World Report

Frederick Taylor is known as the Father of Scientific Management. He is also a graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology where is manuscript and book collection reside today.

Annotated Bibliography:


- Macrosty, Henry W., and Clarence Bertrand Thompson. "Scientific Management: A Collection of the More Significant Articles Describing the Taylor System of Management." The Economic Journal 27, no. 107 (1917): 858

- Beard, Charles A. The Industrial Revolution. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

- Wrege, Charles D., and Ronald G. Greenwood. Frederick W. Taylor, the Father of Scientific Management: Myth and Reality. Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin, 1991.

- Stevens, W. S. "Reviews: PARKHURST, F. A. Applied Methods of Scientific Management. Pp. Xii, 325. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1912; Addresses and Discussions at the Conference on Scientific Management, Held October 12, 13 and 14, 1911. Pp. Xi, 388. Hanover, N. H.: Tuck School, Dartmouth College, 1912." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 45, no. 1 (1913): 285-86.

- Haig, Robert Murray, and Robert Franklin Hoxie. "Scientific Management and Labor." Political Science Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1916): 641.

- "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. September 2009. Accessed March 27, 2016.

- "Frederick Taylor & Scientific Management." Frederick Taylor & Scientific Management. Accessed March 27, 2016.

- Pruijt, Hans D. Job Design and Technology: Taylorism vs. Anti-Taylorism. London: Routledge, 1997.

- Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Scientific Management; Comprising Shop Management, the Principles of Scientific Management Testimony before the Special House Committee. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972. Page 14-16

Business and Economics
Fredrick Taylor: A Mad Man the Business Would Come to Love.
Washington State University