Bricklaying is one, of the oldest of our trades.
For hundreds of years there has been little or no improvement
made in the implements and materials used in this trade, nor
in fact in the method of laying bricks. In spite of the millions
of men who have practised this trade, no great improvement
has been evolved for many generations. Here, then, at least,
one would expect to find but little gain possible through
scientific analysis and study. Mr. Frank B. Gilbreth, a member
of our Society, who had himself studied bricklaying in his
youth, became interested in the principles of scientific management,
and decided to apply them to the art of bricklaying. He made
an intensely interesting analysis and study of each movement
of the bricklayer, and one after another eliminated all unnecessary
movements and substituted fast for slow motions. He experimented
with every minute element which in any way affects the speed
and the tiring of the bricklayer.
He developed the exact position which each of
the feet of the bricklayer should occupy with relation to
the wall, the mortar box, and the pile of bricks, and so made
it unnecessary for him to take a step or two toward the pile
of bricks and back again each time a brick is laid.
He studied the best height for the mortar box
and brick pile, and then designed a scaffold, with a table
on it, upon which all of the materials are placed, so as to
keep the bricks, the mortar, the man, and the wall in their
proper relative positions. These scaffolds are adjusted, as
the wall grows in height, for all of the bricklayers by a
laborer especially detailed for this purpose, and by this
means the bricklayer is saved the exertion of stooping down
to the level of his feet for each brick and each trowelful
of mortar and then straightening up again. Think of the waste
of effort that has gone on through all these years, with each
bricklayer lowering his body, weighing, say, 150 pounds, down
two feet and raising it up again every time a brick (weighing
about 5 pounds) is laid in the wall! And this each bricklayer
did about one thousand times a day.
As a result of further study, after the bricks
are unloaded from the cars, and before bringing them to the
bricklayer, they are carefully sorted by a laborer, and placed
with their best edge up on a simple wooden frame, constructed
so as to enable him to take hold of each brick in the quickest
time and in the most advantageous position. In this way the
bricklayer avoids either having to turn the brick over or
end for end to examine it before laying it, and he saves,
also, the time taken in deciding which is the best edge and
end to place on the outside of the wall. In most cases, also,
he saves the time taken in disentangling the brick from a
disorderly pile on the scaffold. This "pack" of bricks (as
Mr. Gilbreth calls his loaded wooden frames) is placed by
the helper in its proper position on the adjustable scaffold
close to the mortar box.
We have all been used to seeing bricklayers
tap each brick after it is placed on its bed of mortar several
times with the end of the handle of the trowel so as to secure
the right thickness for the joint. Mr. Gilbreth found that
by tempering the mortar just right, the bricks could be readily
bedded to the proper depth by a downward pressure of the hand
with which they are laid. He insisted that his mortar mixers
should give special attention to tempering the mortar, and
so save the time consumed in tapping the brick.
Through all of this minute study of the motions
to be made by the bricklayer in laying bricks under standard
conditions, Mr. Gilbreth has reduced his movements from eighteen
motions per brick to five, and even in one case to as low
as two motions per brick. He has given all of the details
of this analysis to the profession in the chapter headed "Motion
Study," of his book entitled "Bricklaying System," published
by Myron C. Clerk Publishing Company, New York and Chicago;
E. F. N. Spon, of London.
An analysis of the expedients used by Mr. Gilbreth
in reducing the motions of his bricklayers from eighteen to
five shows that this improvement has been made in three different
First. He has entirely dispensed
with certain movements which the bricklayers in the past believed
were necessary, but which a careful study and trial on his
part have shown to be useless.
Second. He has introduced simple
apparatus, such as his adjustable scaffold and his packets
for holding the bricks, by means of which, with a very small
amount of cooperation from a cheap laborer, he entirely eliminates
a lot of tiresome and time consuming motions which are necessary
for the bricklayer who lacks the scaffold and the packet.
Third. He teaches his bricklayers
to make simple motions with both hands at the same time, where
before they completed a motion with the right hand and followed
it later with one from the left hand. For example, Mr. Gilbreth
teaches his brick layer to pick up a brick in the left hand
at the same instant that he takes a trowelful of mortar with
the right hand. This work with two hands at the same time
is, of course, made possible by substituting a deep mortar
box for the old mortar board (on which the mortar spread out
so thin that a step or two had to be taken to reach it) and
then placing the mortar box and the brick pile close together,
and at the proper height on his new scaffold.
These three kinds of improvements are typical
of the ways in which needless motions can be entirely eliminated
and quicker types of movements substituted for slow movements
when scientific motion study, as Mr. Gilbreth calls his analysis,
time study, as the writer has called similar work, are applied
in any trade.
Why is it, in a trade which has been continually practised
since before the Christian era, and with implements practically
the same as they now are, that this simplification of the
bricklayer's movements, this great gain, has not been made
It is highly likely that many times during all of these years
individual bricklayers have recognized the possibility of
eliminating each of these unnecessary motions. But even if,
in the past, he did invent each one of Mr. Gilbreth's improvements,
no bricklayer could alone increase his speed through their
adoption because it will be remembered that in all cases several
bricklayers work together in a row and that the walls all
around a building must grow at the same rate of speed. No
one bricklayer, then, can work much faster than the one next
to him. Nor has any one workman the authority to make other
men cooperate with him to do faster work. It is only through
enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption
of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced
cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the
duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and of enforcing
this cooperation rests with the management alone. The
management must supply continually one or more teachers
to show each new man the new and simpler motions, and the
slower men must be constantly watched and helped until they
have risen to their proper speed. - All of those who, after
proper teaching, either will not or cannot work in accordance
with the new methods and at the higher speed must be discharged
by the management. The management must also
recognize the broad fact that workmen will not submit to this
more rigid standardization and will not work extra hard, unless
they receive extra pay for doing it.
All of this involves an individual study of and treatment
for each man, while in the past they have been handled in
The management must also see that those who prepare
the bricks and the mortar and adjust the scaffold, etc., for
the bricklayers, cooperate with them by doing their work just
right and always on time; and they must also inform each bricklayer
at frequent intervals as to the progress he is making, so
that he may not unintentionally fall off in his pace. Thus
it will be seen that it is the assumption by the management
of new duties and new kinds of work never done by employers
in the past that makes this great improvement possible, and
that, without this new help from the management, the workman
even with full knowledge of the new methods and with the best
of intentions could not attain these startling results.
Mr. Gilbreth's method of bricklaying furnishes a simple illustration
of true and effective cooperation. Not the type of cooperation
in which a mass of workmen on one side together cooperate
with the management; but that in which several men in the
management (each one in his own particular way) help each
workman individually, on the one hand, by studying his needs
and his shortcomings and teaching him better and quicker methods,
and, on the other hand, by seeing that all other workmen with
whom he comes in contact; help and cooperate with him by doing
their part of the work right and fast.
The writer has gone thus fully into Mr. Gilbreth's method
in order that it may be perfectly clear that this increase
in output and that this harmony could not have been attained
under the management of "initiative and incentive" (that is,
by putting the problem up to the workman and leaving him to
solve it alone) which has been the philosophy of the past.
And that his success has been due to the use of the four elements
which constitute the essence of scientific management.
First. The development (by the management,
not the workman) of the science of bricklaying, with rigid
rules for each motion of every man, and the perfection and
standardization of all implements and working conditions.
Second. The careful selection and subsequent
training of the bricklayers into first-class men, and the
elimination of all men who refuse to or are unable to adopt
the best methods.
Third. Bringing the first-class bricklayer
and the science of bricklaying together, through the constant
help and watchfulness of the management, and through paying
'each man a large daily bonus for working fast and doing what
he is told to do.
Fourth. An almost equal division of the work
and responsibility between the workman and the management.
All day long the management work almost side by side with
the men, helping, encouraging, and smoothing the way for them,
while in the past they stood one side, gave the men but little
help, and threw on to them almost the entire responsibility
as to methods, implements, speed, and harmonious cooperation.
Of these four elements, the first (the development of the
science of bricklaying) is the most interesting and spectacular.
Each of the three others is, however, quite as necessary for
It must not be forgotten that back of all this, and directing
it, there must be the optimistic, determined, and hard-working
leader who can wait patiently as well as work.