10 Women Who Broke New Ground in Engineering


Lillian Gilbreth

Helping people work better and more comfortably isn't just the job of the employer; often companies hire consultants to review working conditions in offices and factories and to make recommendations for the best workflow and setup. Ergonomics is an extension of that philosophy but in fitting out work spaces with tools and furnishings that make it easier and safer for employees to do their jobs.

Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) contributed to industrial engineering by studying workplace patterns and scenarios and making recommendations for everything from the best order of tasks to the most efficient furniture designs and floor plans for specific workplaces. Gilbreth was the first to earn a degree in industrial psychology, getting her doctorate from Brown University in 1915. She became the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926 and the first female professor at the School of Engineering, Purdue University, in 1935.

Gilbreth laid the foundation for work in what is now known as human factors engineering and ergonomic design, and she also had an impact on the business of managing, becoming known as the "Mother of Modern Management." And did we mention that she did all of this in the course of an 80-year career and while raising her 12 children -- a feat of human engineering in itself [sources: ASCE; SDSC].