Lillian Moller Gilbreth Trailblazer

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Born: May 24, 1878

Died: January 2, 1972

Spouse: Frank Gilbreth, 12 children

Education: University of California at Berkeley and Brown University

Known for: Contributions to motion studies and their application to home and industrial settings to improve access and productivity; first person to integrate psychology concepts into industrial management.

Learn about Industrial Engineering

America's First Lady of Engineering

Lillian Gilbreth was the first woman to be elected into the National Academy of Engineering and was issued membership number 1 by the Society of Women Engineers.

Lillian Moller was born in Oakland, California on May 24, 1878. In 1900, she received her Bachelor's degree in Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. Two years later, she earned her Master's degree in Literature. In 1915, Lillian earned her Doctoral degree in Psychology from Brown University.

Eleven years before receiving her Ph.D., Lillian married Frank Gilbreth. Together, they had 12 children. Two of the children went on to write two books, "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Belles on Their Toes," about their life in the Gilbreth household. Frank and Lillian devoted themselves to finding the "one best way" to perform any task in order to increase efficiency and productivity in industry. These studies are called time and motion studies.

In June 1924, Frank died suddenly of a heart attack. Lillian continued the work they had begun, writing four books and teaching industrial engineering courses at various schools, including Purdue, Bryn Mawr, and Rutgers. She was the first person to integrate psychology into concepts of industrial management.

During the Great Depression, President Hoover asked her to join the Emergency Committee for Unemployment. While on this committee, she created a successful nationwide program, "Share the Work," that created many new jobs. During World War II, Lillian worked as a consultant for the government. She oversaw the conversion of factories to military bases and war plants. Lillian is credited with many inventions. These inventions include the foot-pedal trash can and refrigerator door shelves.

In 1966, Gilbreth was awared the pretigious Hoover Medal, which is given to an engineer to recognize their "outstanding civic or humanitarian service". The award citation noted:

Her unselfish application of energy and creative efforts in modifying industrial and home environments for the handicapped has resulted in full employment of their capabilities and elevation of their self-esteem.

Lillian Gilbreth died on January 2, 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 94.


Photo credits:
Photo from the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA Acc. 90-105 [SIA2008-1924]).