Everyday Systems: shovelglove: message 10 of 649

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Subject: The Optimum Shovelful
From: Reinhard Engels
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 04:55:34 -0700 (PDT)

From Frederick Winslow Taylor's 1911 classic "The
Principles of Scientific Management"


Or get it on amazon at:


All I have to say is: 21 pounds, wow. I'm still
struggling with the 16 pounder. These guys must have
been fit!


From pages 31-32:

For example, the average man would question whether
there is much of any science in the work of shoveling.
Yet there is but little doubt, if any intelligent
reader of this paper were deliberately to set out to
find what may be called the foundation of the science
of shoveling, that with perhaps 15 to 20 hours of
thought and analysis he would be almost sure to have
arrived at the essence of this science. On the other
hand, so completely are the rule-of-thumb ideas still
dominant that the writer has never met a single shovel
contractor to whom it had ever even occurred that
there was such a thing as the science of shoveling.
This science is so elementary as to be almost

For a first-class shoveler there is a given shovel
load at which he will do his biggest day's work. What
is this shovel load? Will a first-class man do more
work per day with a shovel load of 5 pounds, 10
pounds, 15 pounds, 20, 25, 30, or 40 pounds? Now this
is a question which can be answered only through
carefully made experiments. By first selecting two or
three first-class shovelers, and paying them extra
wages for doing trustworthy work, and then gradually
varying the shovel load and having all the conditions
accompanying the work carefully observed for several
weeks by men who were used to experimenting, it was
found that a first-class man would do his biggest
day's work with a shovel load of about 21 pounds. For
instance, that this man would shovel a larger tonnage
per day with a 21-pound load than with a 24-pound load
or than with an 18-pound load on his shovel. It is, of
course, evident that no shoveler can always take a
load of exactly21 pounds on his shovel, but
nevertheless, although his load may vary 3 or 4 pounds
one way or the other, either below or above the 21
pounds1 he will do his biggest day's work when his
average for the day is about 21 pounds.

The writer does not wish it to be understood that this
is the whole of the art or science of shoveling. There
are many other elements, which together go to make up
this science. But he wishes to indicate the important
effect which this one piece of scientific knowledge
has upon the work of shoveling.

At the works of the Bethlehem Steel Company, for
example, as a result of this law, instead of allowing
each shoveler to select and own his own shovel, it
became necessary to provide some 8 to 10 different
kinds of shovels, etc., each one appropriate to
handling a given type of material; not only so as to
enable the men to handle an average load of 21 pounds,
but also to adapt the shovel to several other
requirements which become perfectly evident when this
work is studied as a science. A large shovel tool room
was built, in which were stored not only shovels but
carefully designed and standardized labor implements
of all kinds, such as picks, crowbars, etc. This made
it possible to issue to each workman a shovel which
would hold a load of 21 pounds of whatever class of
material they were to handle: a small shovel for ore,
say, or a large one for ashes. Iron ore is one of the
heavy materials which are handled in a works of this
kind, and rice coal, owing to the fact that it is so
slippery on the shovel, is one of the lightest
materials. And it was found on studying the
rule-of-thumb plan at the Bethlehem Steel Company,
where each shoveler owned his own shovel, that he
would frequently go from shoveling ore, with a load of
about 30 pounds per shovel, to handling rice coal,
with a load on the same shovel of less than 4 pounds.
In the one case, he was so overloaded that it was
impossible for him to do a full day's work, and in the
other case he was so ridiculously underloaded that it
was manifestly impossible to even approximate a day's

 © 2002-2005 Reinhard Engels, All Rights Reserved.