Pipe Smoking May Waste Time, But It Pays Off in Serenity

March 27, 1955: ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’

Posted on March 29th, 2009 – 6:12 PM
By Ben Welter

The Minneapolis Tribune’s Trygve Ager traveled to Madison, Wis., to interview Lillian Gilbreth, the matriarch of the “Cheaper by the Dozen” family popularized in books and movies. A renowned efficiency expert and ergonomics pioneer, Gilbreth is credited with inventing an early version of the electric mixer, shelves inside refrigerator doors and the foot-pedal trash can.


Pipe Smoking May Waste Time,
But It Pays Off in Serenity

Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

MADISON, WIS. – Pipe smokers may well be the world’s greatest wasters of time (filling the pipe) and motion (keeping it lit), but this is to let them know they have a distinguished efficiency expert sticking up for them.

What’s more, the expert is a woman: Mrs. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, 76, heroine of the popular book and movie called “Cheaper by the Dozen,” president of a firm of consulting engineers, holder of many honors and awards for her pioneering in the complicated field of time and motion studies.

  Lillian Gilbreth

As Knapp visiting professor in mechanical engineering, she is conducting two seminar courses at the University of Wisconsin this semester, and – in her own quiet way – she’s living it up.

“I’M ENJOYING this immensely,” she said the other day as she sat in the simply furnished office assigned to her in the engineering building. She is tall, gray-haired, plain faced and a lively conversationalist.

“Besides my contacts with faculty and students, my work here gives me an opportunity to get out and speak to groups here and there and to see how the university, business and industry can help each other.”

A few minutes earlier she had been talking about labor-management problems with a visitor from India. There had been a question about Cyrus Ching, she said , and she had ventured the opinion that Ching’s success as a conciliator was at least in part due to his practice of lighting his pipe, settling back in his chair and exuding friendliness.

“PIPE SMOKING seems to have a calming effect, both on the smoker and others. It’s an outward sign of inner serenity, and I think it’s important to keep serene in this day of terrific upheaval.

“My husband smoked a pipe, as do some of my sons, but pipe smoking would never be my source of serenity. I prefer playing the piano or reading.”

Mrs. Gilbreth also put in plugs for thinking and new leadership.

“In my seminars here,” she said, “the main objective is to get the students to think. One group is composed entirely of senior engineers. I have them read stimulating books and submit reports to start off free-for-all discussions. The one thing we’re concerned about is getting them to think while they read and while they talk.”

Another seminar course has nine graduate engineers and nine commerce college graduates. It tackles a wide range of problems, foreign and domestic, and Mrs. Gilbreth, who has traveled extensively about the world for the past five years, contributes generously to this discussion.

“IN A SENSE, we’re trend watchers,” she said, “but of course the important thing is to get people to think, even though they’re only watching chickens.

“Right now the university is being invaded by the scouts of industry who are looking for young blood for their companies.

“I think we all – and this goes even for newspaper reporters out traveling about the country – should always be on the lookout for new leaders, for young people with a new slant on things.

“WE DON’T WANT these young people to think the past was perfect. We don’t want them to sit here and let the world go to pieces.”

Mrs. Gilbreth is a graduate of the University of California and has Ph.D. degrees from Brown and Rutgers universities.

She married Dr. Frank Gilbreth, an engineer, in 1904. When he died in 1924, she continued his work as industrial management engineer. She also finished the job of rearing a large family.

Eleven of the 12 Gilbreth children still are living; all of these are married and all are prospering, says Mrs. Gilbreth, now grandmother of 27. The youngest child died at the age of five of diphtheria.

“THE CHILDREN didn’t tell of her death in the book, ‘Cheaper by the Dozen.’ “ said Mrs. Gilbreth. “They had described my husband’s death, and they felt one tragedy was enough.”

For about 10 years, up to 1948 when she supposedly “retired,” Mrs. Gilbreth taught industrial management at Purdue university. Since then she has traveled widely.

“This freedom and independence that comes when one’s children are on their own, and doing all right, is something for a parent to look forward to,” she remarked.

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