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In the late nineteenth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor (American mechanical enginner and management consultant, 1856-1915), a young engineer, began to investigate ways to improve productivity in the Midvale Steel Company. By 1906, he published several articles that described his productivity studies, conducted over more than twenty years. Taylor studied the motions of workers and thought of the factory as an organic whole, with management and labor working together in unity. His special focus was on reducing wasteful movements in repetitive tasks. Although many today associate his work with the mindless, automation of the assembly line, Taylor thought of his methods as a means to aid workers by making their jobs more efficient and therefore less tiring. With more efficiency, workers—and therefore the factory—would become productive, and workers would benefit from higher wages. Unfortunately, most managers focused only on Taylor's motion studies, ignoring his ideas that might make labor more bearable for factory workers.

Around 1912, Frank (1868-1924) and Lillian (1878-1972) Gilbreth (American industrial engineers and scientific management advocates) invented the "cyclograph" to study motion. They filmed workers performing tasks in front of a black background, with an electric light attached to the limbs that performed the work. By showing these studies to workers, the Gilbreths hoped to improve the efficiency of the work. In Mechanization Takes Command, Siegfried Giedion notes that the Gilbreth studies (that they sometimes made into wire sculptures to trace the motion of a hand), may have had a direct influence on artists such as Joan Miró (Spanish artist, 1893-1983) and Paul Klee (Swiss painter, 1879-1940), and they were at least indicative of an increased interest in motion and its depiction in the early twentieth century. All of these endeavors are, in effect, studies of space and time— that is, the relation of the object to the space it occupies and the time of its motion. Elmer Rice's (British-born American playwright, 1892-1967) expressionist play The Adding Machine of 1923, explored the life of Mr. Zero, whose humanity became trivialized in the mechanization of modern industry. Meanwhile, motion pictures such as Charlie Chaplin's (English comedy actor, 1889-1977) Modern Times and Fritz Lang's (Austrain-born film director, 1890-1976) Metropolis explored the dehumanizing effects of the factory workplace on the lives and spirits of the modern worker, while the tedium of late twentieth-century office work has been portrayed in films such as Nine to Five, the cartoon strip Dilbert and most recently the television show The Office.