Purdue News

June 16, 2006

Films from real-life 'Cheaper by the Dozen' parents preserved, released

Gilbreth family
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Films that document pioneering research by the efficiency experts immortalized in four "Cheaper by the Dozen" movies are now available for public viewing.

Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections has preserved three films created by Frank Gilbreth that record workers engaged in activities such as packing soap, labeling Mason jars and performing surgical operations. In the 1920s, Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, introduced the idea of using photography and motion pictures to study and improve the efficiency of workers.

Gilbreth motion study
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The Gilbreths' goal was to find the "one best way" to do each task. The Gilbreths' theories and methods also were famously and sometimes humorously tested in their own home, including the decision to have several of their children's tonsils removed simultaneously for efficiency's sake.

The Gilbreth family donated 45 motion study films to Purdue after Lillian, who served as a professor of management at Purdue, died in 1972. Purdue archivists hoped to make them available to be viewed by researchers and the public, but the fragile, deteriorating condition of the films has prevented most of them from being projected.

The three films preserved — "Odds and Ends No. 2," "Odds and Ends No. 3" and "Ball Brothers Mason Jars Motion Study" — are each more than 80 years old. They were selected for preservation because of their historical value and poor condition. Purdue Libraries and the National Film Preservation Foundation split the $13,000 cost for the extensive work needed on the silent, black-and-white, 1,100-foot, one-reel, 16mm acetate films. Preservationists cleaned each film, removed scratches, created new negative and positive prints on 16mm polyester film and made digital Beta copies. DVD and VHS copies were made to allow easy public viewing.

"The original Gilbreth films at Purdue have been determined to be the best source material available. These titles are not believed to exist anywhere else," said Purdue archivist Sammie Morris. "Based on the widespread interest in the online compilation film, 'The Quest for the One Best Way: The Original Films of Frank B. Gilbreth,' the scientific community and general public should have even greater interest in viewing the full content of these original Gilbreth films."

The three preserved films will soon be available for checkout at the John W. Hicks Undergraduate Library. Most of the Gilbreth Collection, including professional and personal papers and photographs, can be accessed at Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections at Stewart Center, Room 279. Portions of the collection are stored in a special offsite vault, so visitors should call Archives and Special Collections in advance to ensure onsite availability of materials in the collection.

Writer: Jim Schenke, (765) 494-6262, jschenke@aol.com

Source: Sammie Morris, (765) 494-2905, morris18@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Journalists can view the Gilbreth films or other items from the collection by contacting archivist Sammie Morris at (765) 494-2905 or morris18@purdue.edu

Related Web sites:
Purdue University Libraries


Frank and Lillian Gilbreth with 11 of their 12 children circa 1920s. (Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections)

A publication-quality photo is available https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2006/gilbreth-family.jpg


An unnamed worker attaches lids onto boxfuls of canning jars in a still image taken from the 1920s Frank Gilbreth research film "Ball Brothers Mason Jars Motion Study." (Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2006/gilbreth-motionstudy.jpg


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