Economics and Business

New York Stock Exchange

What is the system of scientific management?

A system to gain maximum efficiency from workers and machinery, scientific management, also known as Taylorism, was developed by American industrial engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915). As foreman in a steel plant, Taylor undertook time and motion studies and conducted experiments to determine the “one best way” to do any given job, developing detailed systems to yield the highest possible productivity levels. He first presented his theories in 1903 to the American Academy of Mechanical Engineers. Efficiency was the cornerstone of Taylorism: production processes should not waste time or materials. He published his ideas in the landmark work The Principles of Management (1911), and became a well-known engineering consultant, contracted by companies eager to maximize their output. The doctrine of scientific management was embraced by American industry: As transportation networks improved and the U.S. population grew rapidly in the early 1900s, markets expanded, placing great demands on industry. Applying Taylor’s scientific management, manufacturers were able to boost productivity by as much as 200 percent. Since Taylorism broke production processes into individual tasks, each with its own best practice, new workers could be quickly and easily trained, which adherents believed was another benefit of the concept. Scientific management had many advocates, including engineers Frank (1868–1924) and Lillian (1878–1972) Gilbreth, who furthered Taylor’s work, publishing volumes such as Primer of Scientific Management (1911), Psychology of Management (1912), and studies on motion, fatigue, and time. Among those who applied scientific management were Ford Motor Company (in developing the assembly line for the Model T); Boston retailer Filene’s (one of the first commercial enterprises to use the method); and Bethlehem Steel (which conducted experiments in the loading of pig iron).

Scientific management also had its detractors: Taylorism was criticized for having a dehumanizing effect on labor. In making every job routine, some charged that the system separated the minds of workers from their hands, eliminated the need for skilled workers, and gave management absolute control over production processes. Nevertheless, principles of scientific management remain evident in the workplace today, and the adoption of scientific management is credited with boosting American productivity and increasing stockholder profits. Theories concerning worker output were modified during the second half of the twentieth century.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App