Read an Excerpt
Cheaper by the Dozen
By Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1948 Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
All rights reserved.
Whistles and Shaving Bristles
DAD WAS A TALL man, with a large head, jowls, and a Herbert Hoover collar. He was no longer slim; he had passed the two-hundred-pound mark during his early thirties, and left it so far behind that there were times when he had to resort to railway baggage scales to ascertain his displacement. But he carried himself with the self-assurance of a successful gentleman who was proud of his wife, proud of his family, and proud of his business accomplishments.
Dad had enough gall to be divided into three parts, and the ability and poise to backstop the front he placed before the world. He'd walk into a factory like the Zeiss works in Germany or the Pierce Arrow plant in this country and announce that he could speed up production by one-fourth. He'd do it, too.
One reason he had so many children—there were twelve of us—was that he was convinced anything he and Mother teamed up on was sure to be a success.
Dad always practiced what he preached, and it was just about impossible to tell where his scientific management company ended and his family life began. His office was always full of children, and he often took two or three of us, and sometimes all twelve, on business trips. Frequently, we'd tag along at his side, pencils and notebooks in our hands, when Dad toured a factory which had hired him as an efficiency expert.
On the other hand, our house at Montclair, New Jersey, was a sort of school for scientific management and the elimination of wasted motions—or "motion study," as Dad and Mother named it.
Dad took moving pictures of us children washing dishes, so that he could figure out how we could reduce our motions and thus hurry through the task. Irregular jobs, such as painting the back porch or removing a stump from the front lawn, were awarded on a low-bid basis. Each child who wanted extra pocket money submitted a sealed bid saying what he would do the job for. The lowest bidder got the contract.
Dad installed process and work charts in the bathrooms. Every child old enough to write—and Dad expected his offspring to start writing at a tender age—was required to initial the charts in the morning after he had brushed his teeth, taken a bath, combed his hair, and made his bed. At night, each child had to weigh himself, plot the figure on a graph, and initial the process charts again after he had done his homework, washed his hands and face, and brushed his teeth. Mother wanted to have a place on the charts for saying prayers, but Dad said as far as he was concerned prayers were voluntary.
It was regimentation, all right. But bear in mind the trouble most parents have in getting just one child off to school, and multiply it by twelve. Some regimentation was necessary to prevent bedlam. Of course there were times when a child would initial the charts without actually having fulfilled the requirements. However, Dad had a gimlet eye and a terrible swift sword. The combined effect was that truth usually went marching on.
Yes, at home or on the job, Dad was always the efficiency expert. He buttoned his vest from the bottom up, instead of from the top down, because the bottom-to-top process took him only three seconds, while the top-to-bottom took seven. He even used two shaving brushes to lather his face, because he found that by so doing he could cut seventeen seconds off his shaving time. For a while he tried shaving with two razors, but he finally gave that up.
"I can save forty-four seconds," he grumbled, "but I wasted two minutes this morning putting this bandage on my throat."
It wasn't the slashed throat that really bothered him. It was the two minutes.
Some people used to say that Dad had so many children he couldn't keep track of them. Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
"Didn't have any trouble except with that one over there," he replied. "But a spanking brought him into line."
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
"That's not one of ours, dear," she said. "He belongs next door."
None of us remembers it, and maybe it never happened. Dad wasn't above stretching the truth, because there was nothing he liked better than a joke, particularly if it were on him and even more particularly if it were on Mother. This much is certain, though. There were two red-haired children who lived next door, and the Gilbreths all are blondes or redheads.
Although he was a strict taskmaster within his home, Dad tolerated no criticism of the family from outsiders. Once a neighbor complained that a Gilbreth had called the neighbor's boy a son of an unprintable word.
"What are the facts of the matter?" Dad asked blandly. And then walked away while the neighbor registered a double take.
But Dad hated unprintable words, and the fact that he had stood up for his son didn't prevent him from holding a full-dress court of inquiry once he got home, and administering the called-for punishment.
Dad was happiest in a crowd, especially a crowd of kids. Wherever he was, you'd see a string of them trailing him—and the ones with plenty of freckles were pretty sure to be Gilbreths.
He had a way with children and knew how to keep them on their toes. He had a respect for them, too, and didn't mind showing it.
He believed that most adults stopped thinking the day they left school—and some even before that. "A child, on the other hand, stays impressionable and eager to learn. Catch one young enough," Dad insisted, "and there's no limit to what you can teach."
Really, it was love of children more than anything else that made him want a pack of his own. Even with a dozen, he wasn't fully satisfied. Sometimes he'd look us over and say to Mother:
"Never you mind, Lillie. You did the best you could."
We children used to suspect, though, that one reason he had wanted a large family was to assure himself of an appreciative audience, even within the confines of the home. With us around, he could always be sure of a full house, packed to the galleries.
Whenever Dad returned from a trip—even if he had been gone only a day—he whistled the family "assembly call" as he turned in at the sidewalk of our large, brown home in Montclair. The call was a tune he had composed. He whistled it, loud and shrill, by doubling his tongue behind his front teeth. It took considerable effort and Dad, who never exercised if he could help it, usually ended up puffing with exhaustion.
The call was important. It meant drop everything and come running—or risk dire consequences. At the first note, Gilbreth children came dashing from all corners of the house and yard. Neighborhood dogs, barking hellishly, converged for blocks around. Heads popped out of the windows of nearby houses.
Dad gave the whistle often. He gave it when he had an important family announcement that he wanted to be sure everyone would hear. He gave it when he was bored and wanted some excitement with his children. He gave it when he had invited a friend home and wanted both to introduce the friend to the whole family and to show the friend how quickly the family could assemble. On such occasions, Dad would click a stopwatch, which he always carried in his vest pocket.
Like most of Dad's ideas, the assembly call, while something more than a nuisance, made sense. This was demonstrated in particular one day when a bonfire of leaves in the driveway got out of control and spread to the side of the house. Dad whistled, and the house was evacuated in fourteen seconds—eight seconds off the all-time record. That occasion also was memorable because of the remarks of a frank neighbor, who watched the blaze from his yard. During the height of the excitement, the neighbor's wife came to the front door and called to her husband:
"What's going on?"
"The Gilbreths' house is on fire," he replied, "thank God!"
"Shall I call the fire department?" she shouted.
"What's the matter, are you crazy?" the husband answered incredulously.
Anyway, the fire was put out quickly and there was no need to ask the fire department for help.
Dad whistled assembly when he wanted to find out who had been using his razors or who had spilled ink on his desk. He whistled it when he had special jobs to assign or errands to be run. Mostly, though, he sounded the assembly call when he was about to distribute some wonderful surprises, with the biggest and best going to the one who reached him first.
So when we heard him whistle, we never knew whether to expect good news or bad, rags or riches. But we did know for sure we'd better get there in a hurry.
Sometimes, as we all came running to the front door, he'd start by being stern.
"Let me see your nails, all of you," he'd grunt, with his face screwed up in a terrible frown. "Are they clean? Have you been biting them? Do they need trimming?"
Then out would come leather manicure sets for the girls and pocket knives for the boys. How we loved him then, when his frown wrinkles reversed their field and became a wide grin.
Or he'd shake hands solemnly all around, and when you took your hand away there'd be a nut chocolate bar in it. Or he'd ask who had a pencil, and then hand out a dozen automatic ones.
"Let's see, what time is it?" he asked once. Out came wrist watches for all—even the six-week-old baby.
"Oh, Daddy, they're just right," we'd say.
And when we'd throw our arms around him and tell him how we'd missed him, he would choke up and wouldn't be able to answer. So he'd rumple our hair and slap our bottoms instead.CHAPTER 2
THERE WERE OTHER SURPRISES, too. Boxes of Page and Shaw candy, dolls and toys, cameras from Germany, wool socks from Scotland, a dozen Plymouth Rock hens, and two sheep that were supposed to keep the lawn trimmed but died, poor creatures, from the combined effects of saddle sores, too much petting, and tail pulling. The sheep were fun while they lasted, and it is doubtful if any pair of quadrupeds ever had been sheared so often by so many.
"If I ever bring anything else alive into this household," Dad said, "I hope the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals hales me into court and makes me pay my debt to society. I never felt so ashamed about anything in my life as I do about those sheep. So help me."
When Dad bought the house in Montclair, he described it to us as a tumbled-down shanty in a rundown neighborhood. We thought this was another one of his surprises, but he finally convinced us that the house was a hovel.
"It takes a lot of money to keep this family going," he said. "Food, clothes, allowances, doctors' bills, getting teeth straightened, and buying ice cream sodas. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't afford anything better. We'll have to fix it up the best we can, and make it do."
We were living at Providence, Rhode Island, at the time. As we drove from Providence to Montclair, Dad would point to every termite-trap we passed.
"It looks something like that one," he would say, "only it has a few more broken windows, and the yard is maybe a little smaller."
As we entered Montclair, he drove through the worst section of town, and finally pulled up at an abandoned structure that even Dracula wouldn't have felt at home in.
"Well, here it is," he said. "Home. All out."
"You're joking, aren't you, dear?" Mother said hopefully.
"What's the matter with it? Don't you like it?"
"If it's what you want, dear," said Mother, "I'm satisfied. I guess."
"It's a slum, that's what's the matter with it," said Ernestine.
"No one asked your opinion, young lady," replied Dad. "I was talking to your Mother, and I will thank you to keep out of the conversation."
"You're welcome," said Ernestine, who knew she was treading on thin ice but was too upset to care. "You're welcome, I'm sure. Only I wouldn't live in it with a ten-foot pole."
"Neither would I," said Martha. "Not with two ten-foot poles."
"Hush," said Mother. "Daddy knows best."
Lill started to sob.
"It won't look so bad with a coat of paint and a few boards put in where these holes are," Mother said cheerfully.
Dad, grinning now, was fumbling in his pocket for his notebook.
"By jingo, kids, wait a second," he crowed. "Wrong address. Well, what do you know. Pile back in. I thought this place looked a little more run down than when I last saw it."
And then he drove us to 68 Eagle Rock Way, which was an old but beautiful Taj Mahal of a house with fourteen rooms, a two-story barn out back, a greenhouse, chicken yard, grape arbors, rose bushes, and a couple of dozen fruit trees. At first we thought that Dad was teasing us again, and that this was the other end of a scale—a house much better than the one he had bought.
"This is really it," he said. "The reason I took you to that other place first, and the reason I didn't try to describe this place to you is—well, I didn't want you to be disappointed. Forgive me?"
We said we did.
Dad had bought the automobile a year before we moved. It was our first car, and cars still were a novelty. Of course, that had been a surprise, too. He had taken us all for a walk and had ended up at a garage where the car had been parked.
Although Dad made his living by redesigning complicated machinery, so as to reduce the number of human motions required to operate it, he never really understood the mechanical intricacies of our automobile. It was a gray Pierce Arrow, equipped with two bulb horns and an electric Klaxon, which Dad would try to blow all at the same time when he wanted to pass anyone. The engine hood was long and square, and you had to raise it to prime the petcocks on cold mornings.
Dad had seen the car in the factory and fallen in love with it. The affection was entirely one-sided and unrequited. He named it Foolish Carriage because, he said, it was foolish for any man with as many children as he to think he could afford a horseless carriage.
The contraption kicked him when he cranked, spit oil in his face when he looked into its bowels, squealed when he mashed the brakes, and rumbled ominously when he shifted gears. Sometimes Dad would spit, squeal, and rumble back. But he never won a single decision.
Frankly, Dad didn't drive our car well at all. But he did drive it fast. He terrified all of us, but particularly Mother. She sat next to him on the front seat—with two of the babies on her lap—and alternated between clutching Dad's arm and closing her eyes in supplication. Whenever we rounded a corner, she would try to make a shield out of her body to protect the babies from what she felt sure would be mutilation or death.
"Not so fast, Frank, not so fast," she would whisper through clenched teeth. But Dad never seemed to hear.
Foolish Carriage was a right-hand drive, so whoever sat to the left of Mother and the babies on the front seat had to be on the lookout to tell Dad when he could pass the car ahead.
"You can make it," the lookout would shout.
"Put out your hand," Dad would holler.
Eleven hands—everybody contributing one except Mother and the babies—would emerge from both sides of the car; from the front seat, rear seat, and folding swivel chairs amidships. We had seen Dad nick fenders, slaughter chickens, square away with traffic policemen, and knock down full-grown trees, and we weren't taking any chances.
The lookout on the front seat was Dad's own idea. The other safety measures, which we soon inaugurated as a matter of self-preservation, were our own.
We would assign someone to keep a lookout for cars approaching on side streets to the left; someone to keep an identical lookout to the right; and someone to kneel on the rear seat and look through the isinglass window in the back.
"Car coming from the left, Dad," one lookout would sing out.
"Two coming from the right."
"Motorcycle approaching from astern."
"I see them, I see them," Dad would say irritably, although usually he didn't. "Don't you have any confidence at all in your father?"
He was especially fond of the electric horn, an earsplitting gadget which bellowed "kadookah" in an awe-inspiring, metallic baritone. How Dad could manage to blow this and the two bulb horns, step on the gas, steer the car, shout "road hog, road hog," and smoke a cigar—all at the same time—is in itself a tribute to his abilities as a motion study expert.
A few days after he bought the car, he brought each of us children up to it, one at a time, raised the hood, and told us to look inside and see if we could find the birdie in the engine. While our backs were turned, he'd tiptoe back to the driver's seat—a jolly Santa Claus in mufti—and press down on the horn.
"Kadookah, Kadookah." The horn blaring right in your ear was frightening and you'd jump away in hurt amazement. Dad would laugh until the tears came to his eyes.
"Did you see the birdie? Ho, ho, ho," he'd scream. "I'll bet you jumped six and nine-tenths inches. Ho, ho, ho."
One day, while we were returning from a particularly trying picnic, the engine balked, coughed, spat, and stopped.
Excerpted from Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Copyright © 1948 Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.