Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: On Father's Day, Cheaper By The Dozen

'Cheaper By The Dozen' author Frank Gilbreth Jr. was born in Plainfield.
The family lived  in this house, where is it?

The book and movie Cheaper By The Dozen are about a family that lived in Plainfield a hundred years ago. The house is pictured above. I thought the connection would be perfect for a Hidden Plainfield selection. So, Happy Father's Day and see if you can locate the house.

Frank Gilbreth Jr. and his sister Ernestine Gilbreth Carey wrote the humorous account of their large family's upbringing in Montclair, to which they appear to have moved soon after Frank Jr. was born in Plainfield in 1911. Published as a book in 1948, it was turned into a film in 1950.

Frank and Ernestine's humorous take on their
upbringing in Montclair was published in 1948.

Their parents, Frank Sr. and Lillian, were pioneers in industrial time-and-motion studies, though their interest seems to have been more in safety and relieving worker fatigue than in speeding up production, which was the aim of the other early industrial engineering pioneer, Frederick Winslow Taylor (he of stopwatch infamy, see more here).

Frank Sr. is the person who first suggested that a nurse be assigned in the operating room to act as a 'caddy' (his word) to the surgeon, handing over the sterilized instruments as needed. He died of a heart attack at the Montclair train station in 1924 at age 55.

The family vacationing on Nantucket, ca. 1922-3.

I find Lillian a far more fascinating person. Not only did she bear and rear twelve children (one of whom died in childhood), she was a partner with Frank in his consulting business and after his early death had to manage running the business, raising the eleven children, the youngest of whom was barely two, and developing a professional career.

Lillian went on to have a long and pathbreaking career of her own in both psychology and engineering, becoming the first female engineering professor at Purdue in 1935. Among other universities, she was also a visiting professor at the Newark College of Engineering (now NJIT) and Rutgers.

Lillian Gilbreth in 1921.

She often lent her skills to serve the nation, chairing the women's section of the Emergency Committee for Employment under President Herbert Hoover as the nation fell into the Depression. During WWII, she advised the War Manpower Commission, the Office of War Information and the Navy, mostly on women in the workplace. She served President Harry Truman on his Civil Defense Advisory Council. For twenty years she was on the national board of the Girl Scouts.

Applying her analytical eye to the home, Lillian gave us the 'work triangle' (see here), which is the foundation of the modern kitchen that you and I know (and work in) today.

While it is Father's Day, which is what led me to find this home in the first place, I want to acknowledge this truly remarkable and inspiring woman. My only regret is they didn't stay in Plainfield longer.

A still from the movie, which featured Clifton Webb as Frank Gilbreth,
and Myrna Loy (famed from the Thin Man series) as Lillian.

Do you know where this home is?

Answer tomorrow.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

That's next store to your boy Cory!

mari estevez said...

Putnam Ave.

Rob said...

I can't even fathom a guess...Wow..what an incredible post.

OB3 said...

711 Ravine Rd..? I only know because my wife and I were interested in buying it recently... ;-)

Anonymous said...

711 Ravine Road - but you are wrong about its occupants, although it makes for a good post.

Lizzy said...

It's on Ravine Road near Dixie Lane. My sister, Andrea, used to tutor a boy (Joey Mandel) with perceptual disabilities who lived in the house. I remember being told as a child that the house had been inhabited by the writer of "Cheaper by the Dozen." Joey's father seemed to be a very kind man. He cared for Joey up until his death. It is sad not to see Joey anymore. I hope he is OK. He was a good boy.

Anonymous said...

My family lived at 711 Ravine Rd in the 50's My mother graduated from Cornell in physics in 1934. Her father was also a Cornell graduate in engineering and a professor of engineering at the U of Illinois. My father, Herald Cady Reynolds Jr., graduated from Yale in chemistry. His father also graduated from Yale. It is good to see the old girl still standing.