Lillian Gilbreth

Kitchen devices
Consumer Devices

Lillian Moller Gilbreth had good reason to improve the efficiency and convenience of household items. She was a busy author, professor, inventor and mother of 12 children.

Lillian earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1904 she married Frank Gilbreth, who convinced her to study psychology for her doctoral degree at Brown University. Lillian became Frank's engineering apprentice and construction business partner. She applied her knowledge of psychology to her work, analyzing how improvements to efficiency impacted the employees’ dedication to their jobs. This became known as the time-and-motion study, which the couple also used in their home to boost productivity in their family. In 1948, two of their children Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published "Cheaper by the Dozen," a semi-autobiographical novel that was later made into a film.

Lillian went on to work for General Electric and other appliance manufacturing companies, where she redesigned common kitchen and household appliances. A pioneer in ergonomics, Gilbreth patented many devices, including an improved electric can opener, refrigerator shelves, and the trash can with step-on lid-opener that can be found in most households today. She also designed an ergonomically efficient kitchen that benefitted all homemakers, including disabled persons. Gilbreth's kitchen was the centerpiece of the international training center for the disabled that she directed at New York University.

 In 1935, Gilbreth received a position as the first female professor in engineering at Purdue University. She was also given a resident lecturer post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. She published many books on psychology and women in the workplace and received over 20 awards for her achievements, including a 1984 postage stamp that was issued in her honor. She died in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 2, 1972.