From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ernestine Carey passes away on November 4, 2006

Ernestine Cary was known as an author, not as an ergonomist, but growing up as the third child of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, she had a unique perspective on the development of work study tools and methods still used today in that profession.

Frank developed an early interest in the theories of Scientific Management, a concept promoted by Frederick Taylor and others, that suggested there was “one best way” to optimize jobs and work. Applying this to his contracting business, Gilbreth discovered that he could increase the productivity of his masons threefold by using unskilled tenders to provide the bricks and mortar to the journeymen. He later developed and patented an adjustable scaffold system to support the materials at a comfortable reach, essentially “bringing the work to the worker,” with similar results.

Frank and his wife Lillian adapted these methods to other fields, including providing surgical tools to doctors performing operations, and even into their own home, where they decided that the optimum number of children to have was 12. Their obsession with the study of work and efficiency included many household chores, and were chronicled by Ernestine and her brother Frank in their book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which was made into a move in 1950, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. (Note that the recent movies with the same name, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, have absolutely nothing in common with the book, the original movie, or the actual Gilbreth family, except for the title).

Lillian became a noted and respected partner of her husband in a male dominated field, earning the title: “First Lady of Engineering,” and her image on a United States postage stamp in 1984. Together, the Gilbreths pioneered many of the principles of time and motion study, including the measurement unit of the “therblig” (“Gilbreth” spelled loosely backwards), definitions of specific hand motions, and the use of motion pictures to record work movements and activities.

Ernestine’s observations, and experiences as a guinea pig, provide a unique and intimate insight into a family that integrated their personal and professional lives to an extreme, and who provided a foundation that ergonomists, engineers, and others have built on for decades.

Ernestine Carey was 98 years old, and notably, had just two children of her own.

Sources: Associated Press,Wikipedia,,