Photo Frederick Winslow TaylorFredrick Winslow Taylor is the undisputed father of Scientific Management. I know this because it says so on his tombstone.

Many modern introductions to Scientific Management would lead the casual reader to believe that it was Taylor alone who created and popularized the movement. Taylor, however, did NOT single handily create Scientific Management. Dig a little deeper and you will find that he was just one of many who were involved in improving efficiency in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Taylor was indeed the undisputed marketing champion of Scientific Management and rightly deserves much credit, but the movement was built upon the contributions of many others. This document briefly introduces two important overlooked names in the history of Scientific Management.

Louis Brandeis: The Man Who Named Management Scientific

Picture of Louis Brandeis 1

Louis Brandeis was the first to use the term “scientific management.”

Brandeis had graduated from Harvard Law School at the age of 20 with the highest grade ever at the school and went on to become a Supreme Court Justice. He also happens to have a university named after him – Brandeis University.

Before being named to the Supreme Court, Brandeis was a popular progressive known for his strong support for worker’s rights and human rights in general. He was a supporter of unions and labor laws and fought against unfair practices of big business. Having been involved in many high profile causes and cases he became known as “The People’s Attorney.” In fact, because of this, his nomination to the Supreme Court was bitterly fought by conservative Republicans, although there is evidence that antisemitism also played a role.

So when exactly did Brandeis use the words “scientific management” naming a movement that continues to this day?

In 1910, the eastern railroads in the United States wanted a rate increase. Brandeis became the lead counsel for a number of firms that opposed this increase. Brandeis had read the big name management experts of the time who mostly focused on efficiency. He came to believe that efficiency could be good for all, including workers. He examined how the railroads were operating and found that they were extremely inefficient. Based on this he believed that railroads could save a million dollars a day if they improved their efficiency. That million dollar a day statement really made some headlines and brought more attention to him and the case.

For the case Brandeis wanted a single term that would be consistently used to describe the management concepts he believed would help the railroads operate more efficiently, thereby making a rate increase unneeded. In preparation for the hearing, a meeting was held at the apartment of Henry Gantt (yes the same Gantt in Gantt chart) in October of 1910 (Drury, 1918). In attendance were Brandeis, Gantt, Frank Gilbreth, Henry Sheel, and Robert Kent. All where well-known names in the field. At that meeting they considered the phrases "Taylor System," "Functional Management," and "Shop Management,” but ultimately agreed upon "Scientific Management."

During the hearings all witness consistently used the term “Scientific Management.” In addition, Brandeis’ 94 page brief to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), filed in January of 1911, referred to the approach as “Scientific Management” (Savino, 2009). In February of 1911 the ICC sided Brandeis and the railroads lost their proposed rate increase.

Prior to Brandeis' use, the words "scientific" and "management" had not been combined and used as an all-encompassing phrase representing the management and efficiency philosophy that we know today as Scientific Management (Drury, 1918). However, the combination of "scientific” and “management" had appeared "fortuitously" in Taylor’s Shop Management in 1903 (Drury, 1918). In his early work Taylor most often referred to his work as “shop management” or “task management” (Wren, 2011).

Within a year Taylor published his book The Principles of Scientific Management (1911), but Brandies was the first person to use the term in this context.

Just a bit later in 1912 Brandies would write this in the forward to Frank Gilbreth’s (1912) Primer of Scientific Management:

Under Scientific Management men are led, not driven. Instead of working unwilling for their employer, they work in cooperation with the management for themselves and their employer on what is a “square deal.” If the fruits of Scientific Management are directed into the proper channels, the working man will get not only a fair share, but a very large share, of the industrial profits arising from improved industry.

Brandeis, being a leading progressive of the time, truly believed in the power of Scientific Management to improve the lives of workers. Regrettably, the real world intervened.
Scientific Management was not always implemented fairly. Profits from improved efficiency where not shared equitably with workers. In many ways it was simply another tool that management could use to exploit workers. It is ironic that Brandeis (The People’s Lawyer) who fought for workers and against big business coined a term for a system that many people believed was used to abuse workers.

Henry Noll: AKA Schmidt the Pig Iron Handler

There isn’t much middle ground when it comes to Frederick Taylor. Most who are familiar with him have strong opinions. It is surprising then that very few people have actually read Taylor’s work directly. His most well-known work The Principles of Scientific Management is a short and easy read. Copyrights no longer apply to it so it is freely available at many websites (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6435).

When people read The Principles of Scientific Management they are often struck by the tone and language he uses when dealing with workers. In particular, his pig iron tail at Bethlehem Steel stands out in terms of memorability and impact. Here is what Taylor wrote describing his interaction with one worker whom he referred to as Schmidt.

"Schmidt, are you a high-priced man?"

"Vell, I don't know vat you mean."

"Oh yes, you do. What I want to know is whether you are a high-priced man or not."

"Vell, I don't know vat you mean."

"Oh, come now, you answer my questions. What I want to find out is whether you are a high-priced man or one of these cheap fellows here. What I want to find out is whether you want to earn $1.85 a day or whether you are satisfied with $1.15, just the same as all those cheap fellows are getting."

"Did I vant $1.85 a day? Vas dot a high-priced man? Vell, yes, I vas a high-priced man."

"Oh, you're aggravating me. Of course you want $1.85 a day--every one wants it! You know perfectly well that that has very little to do with your being a high-priced man. For goodness' sake answer my questions, and don't waste any more of my time. Now come over here. You see that pile of pig iron?"

"Yes."

"You see that car?"

"Yes."

"Well, if you are a high-priced man, you will load that pig iron on that car tomorrow for $1.85. Now do wake up and answer my question. Tell me whether you are a high-priced man or not."

"Vell, did I got $1.85 for loading dot pig iron on dot car to-morrow?"

"Yes, of course you do, and you get $1.85 for loading a pile like that every day right through the year. That is what a high-priced man does, and you know it just as well as I do."

"Vell, dot's all right. I could load dot pig iron on the car to-morrow for $1.85, and I get it every day, don't I?"

"Certainly you do--certainly you do."

"Vell, den, I vas a high-priced man."

"Now, hold on, hold on. You know just as well as I do that a high-priced man has to do exactly as he's told from morning till night. You have seen this man here before, haven't you?"

"No, I never saw him."

"Well, if you are a high-priced man, you will do exactly as this man tells you tomorrow, from morning till night. When he tells you to pick up a pig and walk, you pick it up and you walk, and when he tells you to sit down and rest, you sit down. You do that right straight through the day. And what's more, no back talk. Now a high-priced man does just what he's told to do, and no back talk. Do you understand that? When this man tells you to walk, you walk; when he tells you to sit down, you sit down, and you don't talk back at him. Now you come on to work here to-morrow morning and I'll know before night whether you are really a high-priced man or not."

This seems to be rather rough talk. And indeed it would be if applied to an educated mechanic, or even an intelligent laborer. With a man of the mentally sluggish type of Schmidt it is appropriate and not unkind, since it is effective in fixing his attention on the high wages which he wants and away from what, if it were called to his attention, he probably would consider impossibly hard work.

This clearly would not fly today and it is unlikely that The Principles of Scientific Management would make much of an impact in the management literature with such language and tone.

However, it is doubtful that such an interaction actually took place. Wrege and Perroni (1974) examined Taylor’s original writings, talks, editing notes, and study notes between 1899 and 1911, before the publication of The Principles of Scientific Management. They found that over time he crafted the story for maximum impact. In fact, they claim that his pig iron tale is more fiction than fact with key points and events changing over the years. In reality, the study appears to have been mostly conducted by James Gillespie and Hartley C. Wolle who were assigned by Robert Davenport, a vice president at Bethlehem Steel, to study the loading of pig iron.

Before we get into who was Schmidt, I am sure very few readers even know what pig iron is so some background information seems appropriate.

Pig iron is an intermediate iron product with a high carbon content. To form iron ingots, the molten iron was poured from a blast furnace into a branching trench system dug into sand. The molten iron flowed through the main channel into smaller channels at right angles to the central one. The shape of the trenches was said to be similar to litter of piglets suckling on its mother. Hence, the term pig iron. When the iron was cooled the ingots or pigs would be broken off the main runner channel. At Bethlehem Steel each pig (or ingot) of iron was 32 inches long and 4 ½ inches wide weighing 92 pounds.

The two pictures below show pig iron. The first shows worker preparing the castings. The second shows a worker holding a pig of iron.

Photos of Pig Iron

Wrege and Hodgetts (2000) provide a detailed analysis of the work that Schmidt and other workers performed in Taylor’s pig iron tale. What follows is largely drawn from their work.

When Taylor arrived at Bethlehem Steel in 1889 the company had a large stock pile of iron on hand waiting for a higher price. Between January of 1899 and March of 1899 the price had risen from $11.50 a ton to $13.50 a ton and was sold. The first step to get the iron from piles in their stockyard to the customer was to load it into railcars called gondolas. Taylor took this opportunity to put his management philosophy into practice.

In Taylor’s conversation with Schmidt he set the standard of loading 47 tons a day to receive $1.85. In the actual study workers were paid on a piece rate system where they were paid a small amount for each pig of iron they loaded into a gondola. If they achieved 47 tons they received $1.85. They could earn even more money if they loaded more than 47 tons. Working on the piece rate system, hitting the standard, and getting paid $1.85 in a single day was substantially higher than the $1.15 that workers were currently getting.

These amounts vary, however, depending the source that is used. It is also unclear in The Principles of Scientific Management if Taylor was referring to long ton or simply a ton. A long ton is 2,240 pounds while a ton is only 2,000 pounds. Based on Wrege and Hodgetts (2000) work it seems that Taylor was referring to a long ton.

A little math shows that
1 pig = 92 pounds
24 pigs of iron = 1 long ton (2,240 pounds)
1,128 pigs of iron = 47 tons (105,280 pounds).

To earn $1.85 Schmidt had to load 1,128 ninety-two pound pigs of iron ultimately moving 105,280 pounds of material in a single day! Clearly, this was physically demanding work.

Schmidt had to carry each pig from a storage pile, up a wooden plank to the gondola car, and toss it in. Depending the type and distance of the pile from the gondola this process would take anywhere from .271 minutes to .576 minutes.

The film below is a recreation of pig iron loading. It was made by the husband and wife team Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth, also pioneers in Scientific Management. Where Taylor was fond of a stopwatch and broad rules of thumb, they used detailed time and motion studies. They broke work into tiny elemental motions and lead the way using film to study movement.

Now getting back to our main question, who was Schmidt?

Although a lot of Taylor’s pig iron tail is made up, Schmidt actually did exist. To find out who this man really was we have to go back to official government documents, Bethlehem Steel records, and notes from the original study, not Taylor’s written account in The Principles. Fortunately, Wrege and Perroni (1974) have done this for us.

They found that in the original study report and Bethlehem Steel that Schmidt was Henry “Knolle.” However, his name was misspelled and his actual name was Henry Noll.

From official records it is known that Noll was born in Shimersville, Pennsylvania on May 9, 1871. He died on February 25, 1925 and having served as a volunteer fireman with the Goodwill Fire Company, he was buried in the fireman's plot of the Bethlehem Memorial Park.

They also found from the Bethlehem City Directory he lived at 313 Marten's Lane in 1923 in a house that he built himself.

Furthermore, the study notes describe him as Pennsylvania Dutch, 5’7’’, 135 pounds, 32 to 35 years, and “extremely active and enduring.”

Taylor stated that Noll (AKA Schmidt) “had been observed to trot back home for a mile or so after his work in the evening, about as fresh as he was when he came trotting down to work in the morning.” And that he “was engaged in putting up the walls of a little house . . . in the morning before starting to work and at night after leaving." If this was the case it was highly unlikely that he did it on the days he worked on Taylor’s piece rate system.

Most employees couldn’t keep up the pace and some become injured. Most workers were unable to make more than $0.90 a day on Taylor’s system and they chose to go back to the day rate of $1.15. The few that were able to work under Taylor’s system did not work on it every day. They needed time for rest and recovery. In fact, study notes indicate that during April and May, Noll was on the piece rate system only 11 days each month. The remaining days worked on the day rate of $1.15 (Wrege & Perroni, 1974).

Shortly later Taylor faced criticisms of exploiting workers. It is reported that Noll was located in 1913 to investigate these claims and was examined by a doctor to ensure that he was healthy after performing such exhausting work. He was indeed alive and well, but had lost his job at Bethlehem Steel because of excessive drinking and was working as a teamster (Nelson, 1977).

Schmidt, or Henry Noll, had become the most famous pig iron handler in the world. And he played a central role in the popularization of Scientific Management.

Photos of Henry Noll Marker and Grave

References

Drury, H. B. (1918). Scientific management: A history and criticism (Vol. 65, No. 2) (2nd Edition). New York: Columbia University.

Savino, D. (2009). Louis D. Brandeis and his role promoting scientific management as a progressive movement. Journal of Management History, 15(1), 38-49.

Gilbreth, F. B. (1912). Primer of scientific management. New York, NY: D. Van Nostrand Company.

Nelson, D. (1977). Taylorism and the Workers at Bethlehem Steel, 1898-1901. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 101(4), 487-505.

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. Retrieved from: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6435/pg6435.txt

Wrege, C. D., & Hodgetts, R. M. (2000). Frederick W. Taylor's 1899 pig iron observations: Examining fact, fiction, and lessons for the new millennium. Academy of Management Journal, 43(6), 1283-1291.

Wrege, C. D., & Perroni, A. G. (1974). Taylor's pig-tale: A historical analysis of Frederick W. Taylor's pig-iron experiments. Academy of Management Journal, 17(1), 6-27.

Wren, D. A. (2011). The centennial of Frederick W. Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management: A retrospective commentary. Journal of Business and Management, 17(1), 11-22.