[ 100 YEARS AGO] BY SHARON HAZARD
A Dozen Kids—And a Bushel
Of Timeless Ideas
PETER GILBRETH has
many memories of his
late grandmother Lillian
Gilbreth, whom everyone
called Grand Dear. Lillian was the matriarch of
the family of 12 children
immortalized in the book
Cheaper by the Dozen.
Lillian and her husband, Frank, raised
their brood in a 14-room
house in Montclair.
Peter, an attorney with
an office in Morristown
and a home in Basking Ridge, is their only
still living in New
Jersey. He describes
the Montclair apartment Lillian eventually
moved to as a “personal library”—with
papers and journals strewn throughout.
Lillian downsized to the apartment
in 1939, but it was the big Victorian at
68 Eagle Rock Way that served as family
residence and laboratory for Frank and
Lillian’s experiments in time management and efficiency. Partners in a consulting firm, the senior Gilbreths first
presented their ideas for streamlining
the workplace in 1914.
It wasn’t hard for the Gilbreths to
find guinea pigs. “Our house...was a sort
of school for scientific management and
elimination of wasted motions,” daughter Ernestine Gilbreth Carey wrote in
Cheaper by the Dozen, which she coauthored with her brother, Frank.
The Gilbreths put Victrolas in their
bathrooms so the children could learn a
foreign language while using the facilities. The children were taught to button
their shirts from the bottom up to save
time, two seconds to be exact. They
learned to touch type and do chores
with the precision of a Swiss watch.
When Frank died of a heart attack in
1924 at the Erie Lackawanna train sta-
tion in Montclair, Lillian was faced with
the most crucial test of all: how to raise
11 children, aged 2 to 17. (One of the
children, Mary, had died of diphtheria.)
Lillian, who had a PhD. in industrial psychology, began running the
efficiency business on her own. In the
family kitchen, she created a concept for
a more efficient layout, one still in use
today. Using her design, a homemaker
could whip up a cake, put it in the oven
and do the dishes with a minimum of
steps. In 1929, she partnered with the
Brooklyn Borough Gas Company to unveil her Kitchen Practical, showcasing
the new gas appliances as well as her
studies on motion savings.
Among other Gilbreth ideas still in use
is a technique to teach military recruits
how to rapidly disassemble and reassemble their weapons, even when blindfolded.
Lillian Gilbreth died in 1972 at age
93. Twelve years later, a postage stamp
was dedicated in her honor in Montclair. According to grandson Peter, it
was the last time the entire family was
together. Peter’s uncle, 98-year-old Fred
Gilbreth of Larchmont, New York, is
Frank and Lillian’s last living child. He
still thinks of his mother as “perfect.” ;
around the radio
in their Montclair
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