Headlines of Yore

The Philadelphia Quaker who invented modern work’s relentless drive for efficiency

Frederick Taylor began experimenting with “scientific management” at Nicetown’s Midvale Steel.

Wikimedia Commons

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Was he an innovator? A “shameless fraud”? Or maybe Frederick Winslow Taylor is the most influential Philadelphian you’ve never heard of.

Taylor is credited with helping invent and codifying a philosophy that forever changed the way companies treat employees. The concept, called “scientific management,” introduced the idea that any workflow could be analyzed and reformatted to gain maximum efficiency.

It was an early version of the relentless push for productivity that led to the assembly line, industrial age factories, and even the habit of clocking in and out.

The philosophy — based on measurement of quantitative factors like speed and volume, instead of qualitative ones like worker or manager well-being — was strengthened by the rise of computing algorithms that could even better predict outcomes. Though founder Jeff Bezos has shied away from the comparison, many attribute Amazon’s meteoric rise to his implementation of a form of “digital Taylorism.”

What was the Philly guy who invented it thinking? Explore a recap of the idea’s possibly specious origins in the thread below.

Want some more? Explore other Headlines of Yore stories.

Mornings are for coffee and local news

Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter gives you a daily roundup of the top Philly stories you need to start your day.

You finished another Billy Penn article — keep it up!

We hope you found it useful, fun, or maybe even both. If you want more stories like this, will you join us as a member today?

Nice to see you (instead of a paywall)

Billy Penn’s mission is to provide free, quality information to Philadelphians through our articles and daily newsletter. If you believe local journalism is key to a healthy community, join us!

Your donation brought this story to life

Billy Penn only exists because of supporters like you. If you find our work valuable, consider making a sustaining donation today.

Being informed looks good on you

Thanks for reading another article, made possible by members like you. Want to share BP with a friend?