Episode Description

This is the story of how, using psychology and observation, one woman changed the design of American kitchens. But it’s actually more than that: Lillian Gilbreth was a pioneering scientist and business woman who was forced to reinvent herself after her husband died in 1924, and the consulting business they had built together floundered. Lillian cleverly shifted her focus to what was considered the domain of women: the home.

Lillian enlisted her children — she had 11— in an experiment: bake a strawberry shortcake in record time. Kitchens at the time tended to have haphazard configurations—pots and pans could be at one end of the kitchen, the stove in another, and the utensils in another room altogether—but Lillian figured that with a well-designed kitchen, she could slash baking time dramatically and make cooks’ lives easier. And if anyone was going to hack the kitchen, Lillian Gilbreth was the woman for the job.

Lillian and her late husband, Frank, were absolute fiends for efficiency. They’d used the study of “time and motion” to dissect the activities of factory and office workers, and had made a business of optimizing efficiency in the workplace. Now widowed, Lillian Gilbreth, was set to tackle efficiency in the home when their clients would continue working with her and the business failed. Her innovations—she’s widely credited with inventing the pedal trash can and refrigerator door shelves—live with us to this day.


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