Frederick Winslow Taylor (March 20, 1856 - March 21, 1915), widely known as F. W. Taylor, was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. A management consultant in his later years, he is sometimes called "the father of scientific management." He was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement and his ideas, broadly conceived, were highly influential in the Progressive Era. He believed that the workplace encompassed two mutually dependent groups, managers and laborers. It was up to the managers to relay to the laborers their responsibilities rather than requiring them to learn the technicalities themselves. Cooperation was key between the two groups, who make unions obsolete and thus help to maximize product output, which was the main goal of industry. This would lead to optimal workplace efficiency. Taylor's ideas were influential during his lifetime and have been put into practice by successors to his views as well.
Workplace efficiency is positive, improving productivity and at least potentially increasing profits, which may benefit both labor and management. However, Taylor's views may be too naive in terms of the relationship between workers and management. Management does not necessarily pass profits on to workers and greater efficiency can lead to even greater demands. Unions, which Taylor disliked, have played a crucial role in ensuring fair wages and decent working terms and conditions for labor. Unions may sometimes be excessive in their combative attitude towards management but they fulfill a necessary function in ensuring that workers are treated with respect, not as expendable commodities. In Taylor's system, labor is reduced to performing unthinking, mechanical, taught tasks which few would enjoy or regard as dignified work. Experiments in involving labor in management (in some systems, workers are part-owners of the companies they work for), too, blurs the distinction between different levels of the workforce. As technology automates many repetitive, mechanical tasks, the day draws closer when no human will have to engage in drudgery to earn their living but all people will find meaningful, worthwhile employment.
Taylor was born in 1856, to a wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. He wanted to attend Harvard University, but poor eyesight forced him to consider an alternative career. In 1874, he became an apprentice patternmaker, gaining shop-floor experience that would inform the rest of his career. He obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering while holding a full time job through a highly unusual (for the time) series of correspondence courses at the Stevens Institute of Technology where he was a Brother of the Gamma Chapter of Theta Xi, graduating in 1883. He began developing his management philosophies during his time at the Midvale Steel Works, where he rose to be chief engineer for the plant. Later, at Bethlehem Steel, he and Maunsel White (with a team of assistants) developed high speed steel. He eventually became a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
Taylor believed that the industrial management of his day was amateurish, that management could be formulated as an academic discipline, and that the best results would come from the partnership between a trained and qualified management and a cooperative and innovative workforce. Each side needed the other, and there was no need for trade unions.
Louis Brandeis, who was an active propagandist of Taylorism coined the term scientific management in the course of his argument for the Eastern Rate Case, which Taylor used in the title of his monograph The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911. His approach is also often referred to, as Taylor's Principles, or frequently disparagingly, as Taylorism. Taylor's scientific management consisted of four principles:
Taylor had very precise ideas about how to introduce his system:
"It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adaption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adaption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone."
Workers were supposed to be incapable of understanding what they were doing. According to Taylor this was true even for rather simple tasks. "'I can say, without the slightest hesitation,' Taylor told a congressional committee, 'that the science of handling pig-iron is so great that the man who is … physically able to handle pig-iron and is sufficiently phlegmatic and stupid to choose this for his occupation is rarely able to comprehend the science of handling pig-iron.'"
The introduction of his system was often resented by workers and provoked numerous strikes. The strike at Watertown Arsenal led to the congressional investigation in 1912.
Taylor promised to reconcile labor and capital. "With the triumph of scientific management, unions would have nothing left to do, and they would have been cleansed of their most evil feature: The restriction of output. To underscore this idea, Taylor fashioned the myth that "there has never been a strike of men working under scientific management," trying to give it credibility by constant repetition. In similar fashion he incessantly linked his proposals to shorter hours of work, without bothering to produce evidence of "Taylorized" firms that reduced working hours, and he revised his famous tale of Schmidt carrying pig iron at Bethlehem Steel at least three times, obscuring some aspects of his study and stressing others, so that each successive version made Schmidt's exertions more impressive, more voluntary and more rewarding to him than the last. Unlike [Harrington] Emerson, Taylor was not a charlatan, but his ideological message required the suppression of all evidence of worker's dissent, of coercion, or of any human motives or aspirations other than those his vision of progress could encompass."
Taylor thought that by analyzing work, the "One Best Way" to do it would be found. He is most remembered for developing the time and motion study. He would break a job into its component parts and measure each to the hundredth of a minute. One of his most famous studies involved shovels. He noticed that workers used the same shovel for all materials. He determined that the most effective load was 21½ lb, and found or designed shovels that for each material would scoop up that amount. He was generally unsuccessful in getting his concepts applied and was dismissed from Bethlehem Steel. It was largely through the efforts of his disciples (most notably H.L. Gantt) that industry came to implement his ideas. Nevertheless, the book he wrote after parting company with Bethlehem Steel, Shop Management, sold well.
Taylor was president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) from 1906 to 1907. While president, he tried to implement his system into the management of the ASME but was met with much resistance. He was only able to reorganize the publications department and then only partially. He also forced out the ASME's long-time secretary, Morris L. Cooke, and replaced him with Calvin W. Rice. His tenure as president was trouble-ridden and marked the beginning of a period of internal dissension within the ASME during the Progressive Era.
In 1912, Taylor collected a number of his articles into a book-length manuscript which he submitted to the ASME for publication. The ASME formed an ad hoc committee to review the text. The committee included Taylor allies such as James Mapes Dodge and Henry R. Towne. The committee delegated the report to the editor of the American Machinist, Leon P. Alford. Alford was a critic of the Taylor system and the report was negative. The committee modified the report slightly, but accepted Alford's recommendation not to publish Taylor's book. Taylor angrily withdrew the book and published Principles without ASME approval.
In France, Le Chatelier translated Taylor's work and introduced scientific management throughout government owned plants during World War I. This influenced the French theorist Henri Fayol, whose 1916 Administration Industrielle et Générale emphasized organizational structure in management. In the classic General and Industrial Management Fayol wrote that "Taylor's approach differs from the one we have outlined in that he examines the firm from the "bottom up." he starts with the most elemental units of activity—the workers' actions—then studies the effects of their actions on productivity, devises new methods for making them more efficient, and applies what he learns at lower levels to the hierarchy…"He suggests that Taylor has staff analysts and advisors working with individuals at lower levels of the organization to identify the ways to improve efficiency. According to Fayol, the approach results in a "negation of the principle of unity of command." Fayol criticized Taylor's functional management in this way. "…the most marked outward characteristics of functional management lies in the fact that each workman, instead of coming in direct contact with the management at one point only …receives his daily orders and help from eight different bosses…" Those eight, Fayol said, were (1) route clerks, (2) instruction card men, (3) cost and time clerks, (4) gang bosses, (5) speed bosses, (6) inspectors, (7) repair bosses, and the (8) shop disciplinarian. This, he said, was an unworkable situation, and that Taylor must have somehow reconciled the dichotomy in some way not described in Taylor's works.
In Switzerland, the American Edward Albert Filene established the International Management Institute to spread information about management techniques.
In the USSR, Lenin was very impressed by Taylorism, which he and Stalin sought to incorporate into Soviet manufacturing. Taylorism and the mass production methods of Henry Ford thus became highly influential during the early years of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless "[…] Frederick Taylor's methods have never really taken root in the Soviet Union."  The volunteeristic approach of the Stakhanovite movement in the 1930s of setting individual records was diametrically opposed to Taylor's systematic approach and proved to be counter-productive. The stop-and-go of the production process—workers having nothing to do at the beginning of a month and 'storming' during illegal extra shifts at the end of the month—which prevailed even in the 1980s had nothing to do with the successfully Taylorized plants, for example, of Toyota which are characterized by continuous production processes which are continuously improved.
"The easy availability of replacement labor, which allowed Taylor to choose only 'first-class men,' was an important condition for his system's success." The situation in the Soviet Union was very different.
Because work is so unrythmic, the rational manager will hire more workers than he would need if supplies were even in order to have enough for storming. Because of the continuing labor shortage, managers are happy to pay needed workers more than the norm, either by issuing false job orders, assigning them to higher skill grades than they deserve on merit criteria, giving them "loose" piece rates, or making what is supposed to be "incentive" pay, premium for good work, effectively part of the normal wage. As Mary Mc Auley has suggested under these circumstances piece rates are not an incentive wage, but a way of justifying giving workers whatever they "should" be getting, no matter what their pay is supposed to be according to the official norms.
Taylor and his theories are also referenced (and put to practice) in the 1921 dystopian novel, We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Taylor believed that an informed workforce was key to successful production and efficient operation. In order to achieve maximum output, workers needed to be instructed as to their tasks by managers rather than attempting to learn the correct procedures by themselves. Laborers were not expected to be highly knowledgeable of the work that they were completing. Instead, scientific principles had to be put in place in order to ensure that the most effective and labor saving methods were utilized so as to ultimately maximize production and minimize waste. Taylor distrusted unions and felt that they served as an unnecessary middleman in the overall scheme of things. Taylor was truly a pioneer in the innovative study of industrial efficiency. His techniques continue to be of great influence throughout the global economy. This approach cannot be said to allow much scope for workers to innovate and can reduce labor to a meaningless, automatic task that could be performed by a machine.
Taylor's life and work was discussed in Cynthia Crossen's "Deja Vu" column in the Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2006.
All links retrieved May 10, 2017.
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