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The family in their summer home of Nantucket, 1922. Peter Gilbreth’s father John is on the end, looking at the ocean. COURTESY PETER GILBRETH

Cheaper by the Dozen select events (more at end of article)
Select events
• April 30, 6:30 p.m. “The Gilbreth Family of Montclair,” lecture by Montclair Historian
Michael Farrelly
• May 4, 6:30 p.m.: “An Evening with Peter Gilbreth,” grandson of Frank and Lillian

Screenings
• May 2, 2 p.m.: “Cheaper by the Dozen” (1950), starring Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb
• May 9, 2 p.m.: “Belles on their Toes” (1952), starring Myrna Loy

All events free, at the Main Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Registration required at montclairlibrary.org/montclairreads.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

“Cheaper by the Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey is the first book chosen by the Montclair Public Library for the town’s first community read, “Montclair Reads.”

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“Cheaper by the Dozen” is the first Montclair Community Read.

Sponsored by the Montclair Library Foundation, free copies of the 1948 novel are available at the library, while supplies last, and the library is holding a number of related events.

But it’s hardly the first time the story of the large Gilbreth family, led by pioneering Motion Engineer Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth, has been read in a group by Montclairites.

Peter Gilbreth, Frank’s grandson, and the son of John (number 10 of the brood), read the book  with his class at Mount Hebron (now renamed Buzz Aldrin) school in fourth grade. Peter lives in Basking Ridge today.

One of his teachers had even taught his father, Peter said.

Was it embarrassing to read a book about his own family with his classmates?

A little, Peter said with a laugh but it also made him proud: it was all good stuff about the family, a family doing things together. The book describes his father’s family from the turn of the century to his grandfather’s death, at the age of 55, in 1924.

He also enjoyed the connection through the generations. “It seemed that everybody knew somebody in my family.”

And when the 1950 movie starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy came out, opening at the Belleview Theater, people told him “there’s a movie about someone with the same last name!”

The book, written by two of Gilbreth’s children, lovingly recalls a sometimes hectic childhood in Montclair, where Dad would joke that his large brood was “cheaper by the dozen.” In reality, Lillian had 13 children: Mary died at age 5 of diptheria, and one child was stillborn.

And the book is set in Montclair.

It includes references to Nishuane School where Dad ignored the boys and girls entrance; the Wellmont movie theater; Montclair High School when Dad chaperones the dance; Eagle Rock Way the site of the 14-room home, with grape arbor and barn, which was torn down in 1941; and Lackawanna Train Station, where Frank Sr. dies in a phone booth in 1924.

EFFICIENCY EXPERTISE

Gilbreth Sr., and his wife Lillian, were efficiency experts, and pioneered what would now likely be called Industrial Engineering. Gilbreth Sr. worked as a bricklayer in his youth and came up with a system of scaffolding that saved time. He also, according to Wikipedia, invented the concept of the surgeon’s caddy. When you see a depiction of a surgeon saying “Number six scalpel” on television, it’s a result of Gilbreth Sr.’s determination to find the best, most efficient way of doing anything. The book describes the way the patriarch broke down any task into an elemental motion, titled a “therbilg,” which is Gilbreth spelled backwards, more or less.

While Frank Sr. used these techniques on his own family — whistling for quick line-up, insisting that language tutorial records be played during bath times, teaching a new method of touch typing — it also shows a father who is flawed and funny.

They spent summers in Nantucket, a tradition which continued through Peter Gilbreth’s

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PETER GILBRETH

day. He would see the cousins there, Peter said. Gilbreth Sr. painted the walls and used games to teach his children Morse code, and his father and Uncle Bill would sometimes still use it. Peter also warmly recalled Thanksgiving Days in Montclair, when uncles, aunts, cousins and “Granddear” Lillian would visit. “That was a special couple of days. We’d get two 20-pound turkeys.”

His grandmother Lillian, who survived her husband until 1972, lived on The Crescent for a long time, and even later, when visiting from New York City, would often take the family for a drive on Eagle Rock.

After Lillian died, there was a memorial service at First Congregational Church, and all the family attended.

DIFFERENT AND THE SAME

In many ways, Montclair has changed. One would be hard-pressed to find a property with a grape arbor and barn on it today. But in many ways, Peter said, it hasn’t. Then, as now, Montclair was a bedroom community of New York, connected by train. He heard so much about the family growing up that “sometimes I thought I was living back then,” he said. “I

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Frank Gilbreth Sr. paid no attention to the girls and boys entrances at Nishuane School. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

don’t think Montclair has changed that much. It’s like a small New York City in a sense. It’s a cosmopolitan town.” It always had rich people, poor people, white and black people, movies, restaurants. When he went to MHS, sports was strong, academics was strong. “It’s a mosaic of the real world,” he said. “Montclair seems to be the same to me.”

Sure, the story of the kids piled in the Pierce Arrow dubbed the “Foolish Carriage,” shooting out hands to signal turns, is of its time — but daredevil driving is not. One of Peter’s favorite anecdotes in the movie is the one where the family moves to Montclair from Rhode Island and has to pull over to check under the hood and Bill honks the horn, and though the father is upset, he realizes quickly that it’s the same prank he had pulled on the kids. Peter also loves when the father goes to the high school dance and

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Frank Gilbreth Sr. paid no attention to the girls and boys entrances at Nishuane School. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

is a hit with all the “flappers” and “collegiate” kids, and dances with his daughter. “It shows that he was a family man, even though he didn’t have that a lot of time with his children,” Peter said, noting that the youngest was only two years old when the father died. “He wasn’t just a guy who tried to get a business going.”

AHEAD OF HER TIME

Co-author Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, who wrote “Cheaper by the Dozen” with her brother, Frank B. Jr., used initials in her writing early on, to avoid the prejudice that often got in the way of women writers. She and Frank B. Jr., who worked as a journalist in South Carolina, after serving in the Navy during World War II (and earning a Bronze Star and Air Medal), also wrote “Belles on their Toes.” It’s the story of how Lillian Gilbreth worked and kept the family together after her husband’s death.

Strikingly, Lillian was a college graduate, who went on to write a doctoral dissertation from Berkeley, but wasn’t awarded a doctorate due to not meeting the school’s residency requirements.

She later went on to earn a Ph.D. in applied psychology from Brown University. She is, according to Wikipedia, considered the first industrial/organizational psychologist.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth was ahead of her time. COURTESY PETER GILBRETH

The book includes a chapter where Frank Sr. and Lillian laugh at an article purporting to interview Lillian, which invented things she’d never said. When the Gilbreths married, the Oakland paper wrote, “Although she is a graduate of the University of California, the bride is nonetheless an extremely attractive young woman,” the book reports.

She set an example for her six daughters, Peter said. “My grandmother was on the forefront of becoming a working person. She made it clear that women had something to say.”

She worked on making the kitchen efficient, as well as working with people who had suffered war injuries. I think she set the pace for women, and a lot of good things have developed from that. She was inspiring,” he said, adding she earned 24 honorary degrees.

Her style was to be quiet and somewhat effacing while her husband was alive. Peter said that Myrna Loy captured his grandmother.

The kids all adored her, he said. He remembers his grandmother as independent, taking the 66 bus to Montclair to visit, after she’d moved to Manhattan. “She had endurance, and the ability to listen and absorb. When she spoke, it was a fountain of wisdom. She was special.”

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Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) was honored with a U.S. stamp in 1984 in the “Great Americans Series.” The stamp was issued in Montclair. COURTESY PETER GILBRETH

More events
• May 8, 6:30 p.m.: Barbershop Quartet Dapper Dans of Harmony, followed by ice cream social
• May 11, 6:30 p.m.: “Beyond Cheaper by the Dozen: The Remarkable Lillian Gilbreth,” lecture by author Jane Lancaster
• May 17, 3 p.m.: “From the Archives: Images of Old Montclair”
• May 17, 3:30 p.m.: “Meet the Robot.” Modern-day engineers from the Montclair High Robotics Club introduce the robot they’ve created.
• May 24, 6:30 p.m.: The Ultimate Montclair Reads Book Club: a screening of “The Quest for the One Best Way,” and a discussion led by Library Director Peter Coyl.

All events free, at the Main Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Registration required at montclairlibrary.org/montclairreads.

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