New Jersey Book Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is a fictionalized memoir about the famous Gilbreth family from Montclair, New Jersey. 

The truly remarkable Frank Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth were efficiency experts who raised their 12 children in a huge house in Montclair. 

The story is a delightful one about growing up in such a large family. The parents seemed to be exact opposites. The father is a self-made man who started his career as a bricklayer. He became fascinated with the idea of becoming more efficient at bricklaying. 

Frank did not attend college because of lack of funds, but Lillian had a PhD and joined her husband in trailblazing the new field of time and motion study (aka efficiency experts). They made a great team, since they worked well together professionally and personally.

Cheaper by the Dozen is a hilarious book because Frank had unusual methods for raising children. Of course, any family with so many children will have to be highly organized. I don't know if some of the methods would work today because children are far more independent than they were almost 100 years ago. 

Frank believed that the efficiency methods he used in the workplace could work just as well with children. His children were expected to learn how to type, learn math shortcuts, learn languages and skip grades in school. They were almost guinea pigs for some of his ideas but he truly loved his children (as did Lillian) and the family was a happy one.

One of the reasons I refer to the book as fictionalized is because the book does not address that one of the 12 children, Mary, actually died at a young age. She is just simply never mentioned in the book. 

The book is meant to be a fond, nostalgic look back at a more innocent time. The book was published in 1948 and was a huge success, spawning a charming film version (with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy) and also a sequel, Belles on our Toes. It is not until the second book that Mary's fate is revealed (but only in a footnote). Many of the events actually happened, although not necessarily in the way they are portrayed in the book.

I loved this book as a kid, reading it over and over in a paperback version. There is now a nice hardcover version at Amazon. It is a wonderful book for anyone to read in any age group.

By the way, the Gilbreth house was located on Eagle Rock Way in Montclair, but the family had it demolished after all the children grew up because they didn't want any other family to live in it.

There is also a biography about Lillian Moller Gilbreth: Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth -- A Life Beyond "Cheaper by the Dozen" by Jane Lancaster. She's not always remembered in women's history courses but she should be. Some consider Lillian to be the first organizational psychologist. She was also a professor, adviser to Presidents, and one of the first female engineers. It is available on Amazon and I can't wait to read it. There is a limited preview on Google Books.

There is also a Gilbreth family tribute site: The Gilbreth Network On Line.

Disclosure: I purchased this book.


  1. This sounds like a book I would enjoy! Yet another one to go into my endless "to be read pile" lol

  2. @Julia -- I know the list never ends, right? It's a delightful book. I wish that I could get paid to read. That would be fun.

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