FATIGUE STUDY - The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Unnecessary Waste by FRANK B. GILBRETH, chapter name THE HOME READING BOX MOVEMENT


What It Is.

The Home Reading Box Movement is a system of placing interesting, educational, and valuable reading matter at the disposal of the workers in an industrial organization. It consists of

1. A box in the plant in which the reading matter can be placed and kept until taken out by the workers.

2. Boxes in the homes of members of the organization or of the community interested, where reading matter intended for the plant can be kept until it is collected.

3. A system by which the reading matter gathered in the homes is taken to the plant reading box, is taken from the plant box to the homes of the workers, and, in turn, either returned to the plant or passed on to other homes which would have pleasure or profit from it.

The Box in the Plant.

The box in the plant is located at a place most convenient for the workers. Its size depends upon the size of the collections. It should be large enough to hold two collections of papers, magazines, and books. It should be located where the workers can get to it without loss of time and with fewest motions. The best place is usually near the path of exit after the day’s work. It will simplify the routing of the reading matter, if the box is put under a window next to the street, so that magazines can be put in by any one driving or walking by, without coming in and thereby possibly disturbing the operation of the plant. The box is made a regular part of the plant equipment by receiving a station number like every other “station” on the messenger’s route. The first box installed happened to be No. 34. All boxes since have received this number, and the same number becomes the home reading box symbol, thus,—“34.”

The Plant as a Source of Supply.

It is invariably a surprise to the management, as well as the workers, to find how much reading matter for the home reading box is available in the plant itself.

Every business man receives quantities of catalogs and other business and technical literature, and sample copies of publications, sent in the effort to get new subscribers. These are glanced at by the man receiving them, and then and there usually thrown into the waste-basket. A catalog is the best literary effort of the concern it represents, and usually contains valuable instruction. Now if the mail sorter or the purchasing department see no immediate need of the things in the catalog, it usually finds its way quickly to the waste-basket. That such catalogs have a decided interest to the users of the home reading box is shown by the fact that new catalogs are always taken away to the homes. The average manager has not the time to give each catalog the attention that it really deserves, but in the majority of cases there will be one or more men out in the plant who have both the time and interest to devote to the catalog. These usually discarded catalogs are sometimes read to see if they will not contain a thought for the “suggestion” box; the by-product being that the plant is kept up to date, so far as information contained in new catalogs is concerned. In the same way sample magazines or papers may come in, which make no particular appeal to the man to whom they are sent, or a magazine brings a marked article which is cut out and put on file,—the rest of the magazine being thrown into the waste-basket.

All of this usually discarded material can be, with profit, sent to the home reading box. The man in the office, who looks at and discards it, simply stamps or writes on it “34,” the symbol of the home reading box, or the number of its station in the inter-office postal system, and puts it in his “out” basket. On his next trip for distributing papers, the messenger takes the reading matter marked “34” from the “out” baskets, and deposits it in “34,” the home reading box.

Another source of supply consists of the newspapers, magazines, or books bought by the members of the organization as they come to work. The average man in the management departments buys a paper or magazine as he comes to work. His daily paper is surely discarded, his magazine is often discarded, sometimes even a book is thrown aside as completed. These also go through the “out” basket to the home reading box. A cent or two a day for a morning paper is little or nothing to some members of the organization. A cent or two a day is a very important element in some working men’s budgets. Besides there is an enormous waste, if daily papers are thrown away after having been read by but one person.

The Home Element.

A home reading box which has no other source of supply than that mentioned is not to be despised, but many advantages of the movement are lost, of course, if it is so restricted. It is desirable and customary, therefore, to interest as large a number of homes as possible in the movement. There are, first, the homes from which reading matter comes. The first problem is to arouse interest in such homes. The conversation goes something like this:

“Haven’t you some reading matter that you wish to get rid of, that we could have for the Home Reading Box Movement?

“Just what do you want?”

“Well, anything that is interesting, but especially magazines of recent date, with which you have finished.”

“Oh, but we get hardly any magazines. Let me see. We do take the Saturday Evening Post, and my wife reads the Home Journal and the Woman’s Home Companion, and I buy some of the weeklies and some of the monthlies.”

“And you get trade catalogs and trade papers of various kinds besides?”

“Oh, yes, we get some of those that pertain to our business.”

“Well, what do you do with them all, when you have finished reading them?”

“Why, we throw the advertising matter into the waste-basket, and the trade papers we keep with the idea of binding some day, but we never have bound them. I don’t know exactly what does become of them. I don’t think we ever really look at the old ones.”

It is this reading matter that we desire to send promptly into some home reading box. As to the other homes to which the reading matter ultimately goes, these may be, or may become, or may help others to become, the same type of home. At present little reading matter can enter, because the wage earner cannot spare enough from his wages to buy much literature, and is too tired to go to the library in the evening. There is often the same desire for reading in this home, though it has not had such a chance to become trained. The whole family has the same desire to see the pictures, and the children the same joy in colouring the drawings or cutting them out. The neighbours will like to borrow anything that is interesting, and the reader will increase his stock of information and his vocabulary, and form the habit of reading besides. There are exactly the same possibilities of developing habits and tastes. All that is lacking is the opportunity.

The one hope for the working man is through education, and the greatest educational possibilities now, with very few exceptions, go into the waste-baskets of the nation. For example, consider the pile of Saturday Evening Posts that come out each week. These would make a pile more than three miles high each week. Think of the many other magazines and their effect upon homes that cannot afford to buy them.[5]

Routing the Magazines.

The whole problem is to get the magazines from the home to the plant promptly and in the easiest way possible. When the first home reading box was established, we carried the magazines in our arms from our homes to the plant, where the magazines found their way to the home reading box by means of the inter-office messenger system. As other people became interested, there were more magazines than could be conveniently carried, so we sent an automobile around, now and then, for collecting the magazines and taking them to the plant. Gradually other people were asked to co-operate, and regular collections were made monthly by some member of the organization, who had time and an automobile at his disposal. If the auto was busy or the weather bad, an express wagon or a truck went the rounds. The aim, however, was, and is, always to have the collecting a part of the co-operation plan. It became a common sight in the town where the movement started to have a college professor take a Saturday afternoon off, and collect the magazines in his electric coupé, or to have one of the boys and his chums go out in a touring car, and fill the box at the plant, so that the men would find a fresh supply Monday morning. In some plants, where none of the homes in the vicinity has reading matter, it is boxed and sent by express from friends of the movement at a distance. Some bundles have come from as far as Bryn Mawr for the Home Reading Boxes in Providence.

It is a great sight to see the big bundles come in, and to watch the workers, as they are opened. Every one is allowed to take what he pleases and as many as he pleases. There have been no restrictions whatever, because the unhampered privileges have not been abused. He may bring any back, if he chooses, or he may keep all he takes, or he may pass them on to his less fortunate friends or neighbours who are not employed in a plant having a home reading box. He is rather urged to pass them on when he has finished with them, as we wish to maintain the reading club, or circulating library, idea. We consider the reading matter as loaned, and to be passed on in an endless chain. If the worker chooses to consider what he gets as a gift, that is his privilege. He may break the chain without reproach; in fact, breaking the chain has been the cause of starting real libraries on a small scale in many houses.

The Problem of Maintenance.

There are various important features to the maintenance problem. In order that the supply may remain sufficient, as large a number as possible of co-operators must be secured, and they must, naturally, be required to do the least amount of work possible.

In Providence, where the work started, the work was, during this first or starting period, placed in charge of a young man who devoted considerable time to putting it on a systematic basis. He divided the city into four districts, each district representing a telephone exchange district. Routes for collection were made out, and volunteer collectors assigned to the different routes. Notices of collections were sent out, and schedules strictly adhered to. Co-operators were, of course, allowed to keep their magazines in any place or in any way that they chose, but were urged, when convenient, to place the collecting home reading box in their respective front halls, near the front entrance, where, on the day that the collector called, the box could be emptied by him into the waiting automobile with least possible delay to him and with the least inconvenience to the household. As the list of subscribers, or co-operators, has grown, it has been a simple matter to amplify the routes. The same methods of collection are maintained.

In another plant, each member of the organization is responsible for what he can collect, and brings it to the plant himself.

At a girls’ college, where there is a branch, the girls collect the magazines in the dormitory, or ask their parents and friends to express what they have finished with, and then box the supply at intervals and express it on to the selected plants. We recommend this method because it is so simple.

At the present time the home branch demands a very small amount of time for operation. “Make it easy for every one,” might well be the motto of the home reading box movement. The “out” basket and the inter-office system furnish the solution for the office force. As for the worker himself, the placing of the box where it will be most convenient for him has already been emphasized. Choose a place where the worker can pick the magazines up on his way out at noon or at night, with room enough around the box to allow half a dozen people to stop, select, and chat as they turn the magazines over. One must actually see the workers reading the magazines noon times, instead of, as formerly, losing consistently at poker to the foremen, in order to appreciate the full benefits of the home reading box movement. It may seem surprising to see the workman carrying home two to four dollars’ worth (in original cost) of magazines each week—reading suited to every member of the family. But there is really nothing strange about it. This is what he would always have done had he had the chance.

A second factor in maintenance is keeping the reading matter up to date. When the movement is first started, the workers will take anything home, out of interest or curiosity. In districts where there is little reading matter available outside, they may continue to take home almost anything put into the box. But with continued reading they become more discriminating. This is, of course, exactly what is desired. Then the reading matter, to make the strongest appeal, must be timely. A morning paper is exciting in the morning, quite readable at noon, not impossible at night. Except as practice in reading, it has little value the next morning. A May magazine issued in the middle of April is current literature through May 31st. It becomes a last month’s magazine on June 1st. Any one enjoys carrying the magazine of the month about with him. It is a fact that most men, especially those who do not have many magazines, feel a little peculiar when seen reading an old magazine of current events in public. They have the consciousness of conspicuousness that at least distracts the attention. No magazine that has pictures or stories or articles on travel, or anything that is interesting at any time, will go without a great circle of readers, but current events must be current in order to hold the attention thoroughly. The workers will be glad, in the average plant, to get anything to read, but, if you want to keep them excited, send the magazine out the moment that you have finished with it at home, so that it will be this month’s magazine. The strong preference for this month’s magazine may not be founded upon wisdom, but it is very human.

How the Conditions Vary.

The home reading box will prove a success in any plant, no matter how simple the installation and running plan are, but it can only retain its best results when a careful consideration is given to the conditions that affect the particular problem. The important feature is, of course, the type of worker who is to receive the literature. Where the group of workers consists of foreigners, many of whom read no English, and speak it little, the picture magazines are the most sought. Where you have a group of highly skilled mechanics, technical magazines and trade catalogs are highly appreciated. There is such a great difference in the workers of any one place, that the rule is to give them anything and everything—from the Outlook to the Police Gazette, inclusive. If you give them enough to read, they will sooner or later waste none of their time on anything but the best. The desire for good reading is almost wholly a matter of education, and the best way to become educated is to read, read, read. If you are at a distance from civilization, old magazines will be almost as welcome as new.

You must realize that the problem is different in different cases. What some people need is general education. Of course, that is what we all need, but the worker in particular. What others need is specialized teaching. What still others need is relaxation. All need amusement and entertainment. We want, of course, to supply what is interesting and profitable, but the final test is giving the worker the thing that will please him most, that he will delight to have, that he may increase his vocabulary and learn to read quickly, for not till then will he acquire the reading appetite and habit. Give the foreigner who reads with difficulty the pictures with the simple captions that he can “spell out.” Give the factory girl the woman’s magazine that will show her how to trim her hats and fix her dress, and that may give her all sorts of useful home ideas besides. Give the inventive mechanic the technical and trade magazine that may supply the missing link in his invention or suggestion. Give the socialistic worker the “Political Economy Journal,” that will put his ideas in more logical shape. Use discrimination in your distribution when you can, but, if you cannot, put the box in anyway, fill it with reading matter, and start something to-day.

The Home Reading Box and Fatigue.

Not only is the influence of the home reading box upon fatigue important, but the amount of fatigue existing has a strong influence upon the home reading box. The home reading box plays an important part in recovery from fatigue. It is a help to the worker during the time that he is not at work. It is the psychologist’s task to investigate the relation of mental fatigue to bodily fatigue, and the proper amount of mental stimulus to prescribe or allow during the periods when the body is resting; but it is good practice, while waiting the results of the psychologist’s investigation to be formulated into industrial terms, to encourage the worker to read whatever he likes.

The By-products of the Home Reading Box Movement.

There are so many important results from the home reading box movement that it is difficult to decide which are the products and which are the by-products. Let us call the product the fatigue elimination for which we planned, and that results when we establish the home reading box movement. Along with this come the following:

1. The recognition of fatigue elimination as a vital part of management. This is secured by numbering the box as a station, by using the “out” baskets as routing channels, by having the messenger carry the magazines to the box from the baskets as part of the daily routine.

2. The education of the worker. Quite aside from the fact that the reading matter interests, amuses, or rests him, the worker is educated by his reading. It is this side of the movement that has most interested sociologists and educators. The chief trouble with the worker to-day is that he needs more and more education. The average worker has two obstacles. In the first place, he has a limited vocabulary that retards his speed in reading. In the second place, he cannot read educational matter fast enough to hold his attention. Through the reading matter put at his disposal, he does learn more words,—both how to recognize them and how to use them. He thus becomes better able to express himself, as well as a more rapid reader. Of course this implies mental development. The worker who is better educated to start with also acquires more vocabulary and more speed. It may be a technical instead of a general vocabulary, but the development is the same.

3. The stimulation of invention. This takes place through the ideas obtained from the technical magazines and trade catalogs. We have noted time and again men who have said, in effect,—“You know I got this idea from an article I read from the box;” or, “You know I have had this idea for a long time, but I could not see exactly how to work it until I saw a picture in a magazine I got out of the Home Reading Box;” or, again, “I saw a picture the other day that suggested something that we could use on my machine. I am going to turn in the suggestion to the Suggestion Box.” The suggestion box and its use are to be described at length later.

4. The stimulus towards making suggestions for prizes. It is noted here that the reading not only stimulates the worker making suggestions, but gives him a chance to put his ideas into more practical and working shape. Where the Suggestion Box has been running some time before the Home Reading Box has been put in, we note the sudden rise in the number of suggestions offered after the installation of the Home Reading Box.

5. Co-operation with public and travelling libraries and other educational institutions. A plant library is becoming a regular institution. It is usually one of the first things introduced by the welfare or betterment department. The problem is to make the workers take out the books. In some plants the management also buys books and starts a circulating library. In others, the public library sends a loan collection that is changed as often as the plant desires. Even in districts where there are no public libraries such books are available, as most of the States have State loan collections of this type. In a typical New England plant the librarian of the city was more than willing to co-operate. He asked the plant to supply a list of books which he should send. His letter was discussed in the foremen’s meeting, and every member present helped by submitting a list of books that he had read and enjoyed most in his life. From these lists a list of fifty books was made up and sent to the librarian, who pronounced it the best list that he had ever seen. The books were promptly brought to the plant, and put in a convenient place where every member of the organization could see the titles and borrow them. The first book taken out by an Italian labourer was Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in the original. But the library at the plant is another story. The influence on the home reading box is to make the library much more popular and to affect markedly the books in greatest demand. There is a strong influence also seen upon the number of workers who attend evening school at the general evening school or some of the special evening schools in the vicinity.

6. The influence upon clubs and other organizations. The home reading box furnishes also topics for discussion in all of the organization of members of the plant. This influence can be noted in foremen’s meetings, in organization meetings, and in any formal or informal gathering of the organization. The influence is seen in the topics discussed and in the form and style of the discussion. The worker can speak with authority, if some magazine or catalog “backs up” his ideas. He can bring new light on the problem, if he has seen several views presented in the material he has read. He has a definite suggestion, something to say when he is called upon, something to volunteer if he is not called upon.

7. The spirit of co-operation. Most important of all the spirit of co-operation is fostered, co-operation among the workers, co-operation of worker and management, co-operation between all interested in the movement as subscribers, as collectors, as readers, as “passers-on.” As a positive force this spirit of co-operation is more valuable than anything else.

How to Begin.

Begin by interesting the management force and insuring a supply of reading matter. Then put up the box in the plant, and tell the men that whatever goes in it is at their disposal. If you have the right ideas back of it, the development is inevitable. Your motto must be “Keep the box full.” The “how” will come to supply the need. The workers will see to keeping the box empty, if you do your part properly. The important thing is that the movement be started at once. It is not only an important part in making more pleasant the time spent in recovering from fatigue, but also an enormous help in fatigue elimination. It is to this that we must next turn our attention.


The Home Reading Box Movement is a method of putting reading matter at the disposal of the worker. It collects this reading matter from the homes of those interested and from the desks of members of the organization who have finished with it, and places it in a box. The workers take it from this box to read either during noon rests or at home. The movement not only helps to overcome fatigue, but has many valuable by-products, and is an important element in fatigue elimination.


[5] The publishers are all in favor of the Home Reading Box Movement, as it creates readers.