Cheaper By The Dozen Summary

Frank Gilbreth, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Cheaper By The Dozen

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Cheaper By The Dozen Summary

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Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is a story about family—but not just any family. A family with a dozen children. The co-authors are siblings and were inspired by their own experiences in a hectic household. Their parents, Lillian Moller Gilbreth and Frank Bunker Gilbreth managed to take care of their twelve kids while instilling them with moral values through their family’s adventures, which are immortalized in this classic. Both Frank and Lillian are industrial engineers, and both of them specialize in motion study. Frank studies efficiency, and is quite obsessed with finding the most efficient ways to complete the tasks of everyday life. To this end, he often conducts case studies with his own family. Lillian’s particular branch of study is psychology and the way human emotions and the science of mechanics and motion intersect and interact. The adventures catalogued in this novel range from the everyday decisions—particularly on Frank’s part—involved in raising twelve kids to annual childbirths. Car trips and summer vacations create the backdrop for the novel’s themes of family, education, and of course, motion efficiency.

The introduction details Frank and Lillian’s dream of having twelve children—six boys and six girls. As it happens, that’s exactly what they end up with. Their upbringing is notably and necessarily different from children in other, smaller households. For example, when their father whistles, they come running. This might seem demeaning at first, but Frank shows his love by making it into a game. It would not have been efficient to call out for each child when there are twelve of them. This is just one example of how the practicality of Frank and Lillian’s parenting decisions is tempered by their love for their family. Raising twelve children can be expensive, but thankfully the family doesn’t want for money. Frank’s work for industrial plants throughout Europe and in the United States pulls in a lucrative wage, and Lillian’s parents are wealthy. She’s from the countryside in California. Despite having ample wealth, Frank and Lillian raise their dozen children to be hard workers and respect others who work for them. Whenever they’re together, even with Lillian’s wealthy parents who appreciate the luxury their wealth affords, the focus of the gatherings is love, rather than luxury.

The children go to school to learn, but Frank also makes it his personal mission to ensure that they seize every opportunity to learn at home. He finds creative ways to help the children learn about the world around them, and pushes them to excel academically. He creates learning games for them to play at home, and sometimes sits in on their classes at school. As the children grow up and the values of the world shift and change, the family faces obstacles as they try to grow together. The novel shows the hardships created by these changes, both from the children’s perspectives and from Frank and Lillian’s. Through loving each other and sticking together, the book ends with the family able to overcome adversity.

Family is the most prominent theme throughout Cheaper by the Dozen. Throughout the story, in addition to the obvious love they have for each other, the Gilbreth family opens their home to visiting relatives. They also drive to visit other family members, traveling across the United States to keep those connections strong. The book emphasizes the different backgrounds Frank and Lillian come from. Unlike Lillian, Frank didn’t come from a wealthy family. His father passed away when he was young, and his mother was often stern. Despite this, there is no shortage of love in the Gilbreth household. Another important theme, education, makes its way into the many adventures and games that characterize the Gilbreth family’s lives. Frank and Lillian both took every opportunity to educate their children. For example, when the car broke down, they taught them about mechanics. The one area where Frank and Lillian differ is that Frank rewards the children when they skip grades, and encourages them to do so, whereas Lillian doesn’t think it’s a great idea. Frank loves to brag about his children, and takes every opportunity to do so. Motion efficiency drives the way Frank and Lillian raise their kids, especially where education and hygiene are concerned. Some of Frank’s decisions for the sake of efficiency seem extreme, whereas others just make common sense. For Frank, motion study was important because, if people acted efficiently, then they would have more time to do the things they loved, like spending time with their families. Cheaper by the Dozen was published in 1948. It was adapted for the silver screen in 1950, and followed by the sequel, Belles on their Toes, which was published in 1950 and released as a film in 1952. The novel has also been adapted for the stage, as a play and as a musical. In 2003 and 2005, films loosely based on the book were released.