Our lives weren’t always dominated by the clock. But that was before Frederick Winslow Taylor brought his stopwatch onto the shop floor. Yet the man who thought everything should run like clockwork was also a quirky cross-dresser who spent the last years of life in ignominy, studying the growth of grass. The story of Taylor’s rise, fall and phoenix-like rise again is a tale of conflicting ideologies, labor-management disputes and strikes, Congressional investigations and, ultimately, great human drama.
By 1910 Taylor’s ideas about productivity had taken hold of American and he had become a household name. Housewives adopted his scientific management principles, rearranging their kitchens to “save steps” and to be more efficient. Scholars and labor experts featured in Stopwatch discuss the impact of Taylorism on many social activities, including the management homes, farms, businesses, churches, philanthropic institutions and government. Trotsky, Lenin and Mussolini all embraced Taylor’s theories, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed him as brilliant. But a workers’ strike in Watertown, Massachusetts and a subsequent Congressional investigation into Taylor’s management system put his ideas to a severe test.
Bitter and angry after enduring the long Congressional investigation process, Taylor finally withdrew from the public arena. Though Taylor himself died a broken and discouraged man, labor leaders could not stem the tide of “Taylorism” or the efficiency movement. From auto-production plants that plan each task workers perform to fire fighting companies that use Taylor’s theories to reduce their response time, Taylorism permeates the modern workplace.
Funding for Stopwatch was provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The program was co-produced by Kikim Media and Quest Productions.