Frederick Taylor is affectionately referred to as the “Father of Scientific Management.” The modern systems of manufacturing and management would not be the examples of efficiency that they are today, without the work of Taylor. Frederick Taylor was instrumental in bringing industry out of the dark ages by beginning to revolutionize the way work was approached. Taylor was able to increase wages, productivity and reduce per piece costs at the same time. Taylor’s work was eventually adopted in a wide array of applications. Taylor’s ideas had a significant influence on the industrial life of all modernized countries. Even Lenin went as far as to publish an article in Pravda, “Raising the Productivity of Labour,” based on the writings of Taylor. Thus Taylor changed the way the world conducted business. Taylor’s work was an extension of technology. It was a marriage of human work and technology. His Principles of Scientific Management was conceived to be free of value judgment.

The Younger Years

Frederick W. Taylor was born into a well-to-do family in Philadelphia in 1856.  His family was not wealthy, but they were well exposed to the high culture of the local society. Growing up it was expected that Taylor would study to become an attorney. Taylor attended Phillips-Exeter Academy. He was a devout student, doing very well with his studies. To achieve good grades, Taylor studied many long hours. It was quite unfortunate that Taylor was to miss Harvard Law School due to bad eyes that doctors attributed to studying in the poor light of a kerosene lamp.  In later years it was realized that his eye problem was actually caused by stress, as it improved after he left Phillips. Taylor moved back home after graduating from Phillips. He realized that he should take up a trade and got a job as an apprentice machinist and pattern maker. Having spent four years learning his trade, Taylor got a job as a yard laborer at Midvale Steel Company. Taylor realized that at this point he needed to continue his education. He convinced the people at Stevens Institute of Technology to allow him to attend classes long distance. He would study in his spare time in Philadelphia and go to the school in New Jersey to take his exams. In June of 1883, Taylor graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree. He subsequently joined the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Midvale Steel Company

The Midvale Steel Company was part of the post Civil War expansion of industrialized Philadelphia.  They made steel railroad tires. Due to poor management, Midvale failed in 1873.  Fortunately for Taylor, the company was sold and prospered under the direction of the new owners.  There were two reasons for the success of the company. The first was that the company was able to improve their scientific processes. The second reason was they were to receive contracts to manufacture Naval gun forgings. By the 1890’s, Midvale was one of the country’s largest defense contractors. The company was in period of rapid growth. Taylor advanced quickly at Midvale. In eight years he would be promoted from ordinary laborer through the ranks of time keeper, machinist, gang boss, foreman, assistant engineer to chief engineer of the plant. Taylor was promoted to gang boss due to the business turn around and the subsequent influx of orders. As gang boss Taylor was well aware that the workers could be producing at much higher levels than they were.  As Taylor tried to increase production, he met a lot of resistance from the workers.  This fight to increase production gave Frederick Taylor his first look at the unsystemized managerial methods commonplace in industry.  Typically the fly by the seat of the pants approach was used to manage manufacturing facilities.  Taylor realized that there was a scientific approach to technical problems.  Yet, the current approach to dealing with production problems such as worker behavior was destructive. There needed to be a way to combine scientific techniques with constructive management. Conditions were favorable for Taylor to begin his studies in management. First, his chief, William Sellers, was an engineer who supported research. The second beneficial condition was that the machines his men were using worked on heavy locomotive parts. The operating times on these machines were long, distinct and easily measured. After his appointment to gang boss, Taylor began to put pressure on the men to increase production.  The ensuing struggle caused Taylor to realize that the basis for the conflict was that management did not understand a proper day’s work.  Thus Taylor set out to evaluate a “fair day’s work.” By 1885 Taylor had devise a system of production controls. He had introduced stopwatch time studies, that he conducted to set production standards. A differential piece rate system was set up to mandate that men increase production.  In order to get the men to increase their production and be happy about it, Taylor devised an incentive wage. This scientific piecework system reconciled the managers desire for increased production and the workers desire for a higher wage. Taylor found that on a task where production should have been 10 per day, when a worker was paid 50 cents per unit that the worker finished only 4 or 5 pieces each day. Taylor set a new per piece pay rate of 35 cents if the worker made 10 or more pieces.  If the worker produced 9 pieces or less, his piece rate was only 25 cents.  Anyone who refused to cooperate was terminated.  For two or three years, Frederick Taylor discharged some workers and lowered the wages of others. All through this period, he always had the support of upper management. This differential piece rate system was applied to every task from unloading pig iron and sand, white washing walls, painting, and even changing light bulbs. This system was the answer to the inefficiencies of workers performing manual tasks.  The company was able to pick the best workers available, since the worker would be earning a higher than average wage. Taylor was also conducting a trial and error search for a set of laws governing the application of cutting tools. He was experimenting with different combinations of material, speed and angles, the rate of feed and the power required. The results of this study had management hooked. Taylor was allowed to hire Henry L. Gantt, a classmate at Stevens, as an assistant.  There were three significant results of the combined efforts of Taylor and Gantt.        1883- The starting of a set of experiments on belting 1884- Construction of a room for storing and issuing tools already ground to the men. 1885-1889- The making of a series of practical tables for a number of machines…[by] which it was possible to give definite tasks each day to the machinists who were running machines. Taylor.”Art of Cutting Metals,” p38 Taylor writes of four steps to utilize standard information. The first basic step is to experiment. The initial managerial procedure is to continually measure, classify and file standards related information. The second step is the formulation of manufacturing laws of economy, standards. The use of standards removes all variability from the process and the need for guesswork. The third step is to plan the work. One must establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). This step will eliminate idle times and misapplied efforts. The fourth step is to maintain the standards. To achieve this one would establish a system of control. These controls would establish procedures for inspection of conditions and performance and compare them to the standards.


Until 1885, Frederick Taylor’s experiments were conducted only as a gang boss trying to improve his crew’s performance. He would study problems as they arose. At this time Taylor was promoted to chief engineer and he became more familiar with the machinery in other departments. He began to develop a broader perspective and to study and experiment in different departments. Most of Taylor’s inventions involved metal cutting. He devised a tool grinder, a machine tool table, a chuck, a tool-feeding devise for lathes, and a work carrier for lathes, a boring-bar puppet, and two boring and turning mills. The most impressive of his inventions was an elaborate set of forging equipment. This made use of a powerful and reliable steam hammer. In designing this hammer, he studied the strengths and weaknesses of other hammers. He incorporated the best parts, using flexible components.


Kaker, Sudhir.  Frederick Taylor: A Study in Personality and Innovation.  MIT: Cambridge,1970.   Nelson, Daniel.  Frederick W. Taylor and The Rise of Scientific Management.  U Wisconsin P: Madison,1980.  Person, H.S.,ed.  Scientific Management in American Industry.  Hive P: Easton,1972. Taylor, Frederick W.  Scientific Management.  Greenwood Press: Westport, 1947. Thompson, Clarence Bertrand.  Scientific Management: A Collection of the More Significant Articles Describing the Taylor System of Management.  Hue P: Easton. 1972. Wrege. Charles D. and Ronald G. Greenwood.  Frederick W Taylor. The Father of Scientific Management: Myth and Reality.  Business One Irwin: Homewood, 1991.

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