Cheaper by the Dozen

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Cheaper by the Dozen
First edition cover (Thomas Y. Crowell Co.)
Author Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Language English
Genre Autobiography
Publisher Thomas Y. Crowell Co.
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 237
ISBN 0-06-076313-2
Followed by Belles on Their Toes (1950 book; 1952 film)

Cheaper by the Dozen is a biographical novel written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published in 1948. The bestselling book was later adapted into a feature film by Twentieth Century Fox in 1950 and followed up by the sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1950), which was adapted as a 1952 film.


The book tells the story of time and motion study and efficiency experts Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and their children (said to be 11 at the start of the movie, and one baby born later, but by the end, 11 actually appear on film), as they reside in Montclair, New Jersey for many years. This fictionalized version tells the story of real-life pioneering industrial/organizational psychologist Lillian Gilbreth, her husband, and children. Lillian Gilbreth was described in the 1940s as “a genius in the art of living.”[1] The film was based on the best-selling biographical novel that two of her twelve children wrote about their childhoods. Gilberth’s home doubled as a sort of real-world laboratory that tested her and her husband Frank’s ideas about efficiency.[2]

The title comes from one of Frank Sr.'s favorite jokes: it often happened that when he and his family were out driving and stopped at a red light, a pedestrian would ask, "Hey, Mister! How come you got so many kids?" Gilbreth would pretend to ponder the question carefully, and then, just as the light turned green, would say, "Well, they come cheaper by the dozen, you know," and drive off.

In real life, the Gilbreths' second eldest child, Mary, died of diphtheria at age five. The book does not explicitly explain the absence of Mary Gilbreth.[3] It was not until the sequel, Belles on Their Toes, was published in 1950 that her death is mentioned in a footnote.


Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a 1950 motion picture, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy as Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

Cheaper by the Dozen (1992) has been adapted as a stage play by Christopher Sergel. It played at Grey Lite Theatre in 1992, directed by Lori David.[4]

Cheaper by the Dozen has been adapted as a musical, dramatized by Christopher Sergel with a score by David Rogers and Mark Bucci.[5]

Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005), starring comedians Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, make a few references to the 1950 film. During a game of Apple Schmear, Nora tells Hank that her "Great Grandma Gilbreth" invented the game and Gilbreth is the name of the family in the real family upon which the 1950 film was based. Furthermore, Lorraine and Tom argue about how much time she should be allotted in front of the mirror in the mornings. He allots her a few extra minutes, connecting back to the time efficiency specialist that the father, Frank Gilbreth, was in the 1950 film. Other than that, there are no other known connections.

Contemporary appraisals[edit]

Re-reading the book in 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Yardley wrote in The Washington Post: "[I]t is a joy to report that Cheaper by the Dozen still reads remarkably well. ... The prose ... is unadorned and matter of fact, and its organizational structure is a bit difficult to detect, but what matters most is that it is a touching family portrait that also happens to be very, very funny."[6]


  1. ^ Carol., Kennedy, (2007-01-01). Guide to the management gurus. Random House Business. ISBN 9781905211029. OCLC 655247876. 
  2. ^ Carol., Kennedy, (2007-01-01). Guide to the management gurus. Random House Business. ISBN 9781905211029. OCLC 655247876. 
  3. ^ Tamny, Elizabeth M. (1 January 2004). "Cheaper by Eleven?". Chicago Reader. 
  4. ^ "Cheaper by the Dozen". Dramatic Publishing. 
  5. ^ "Cheaper by the Dozen (musical)". Dramatic Publishing. ISBN 0871295601. 
  6. ^ Yardley, Jonathan (August 25, 2003). "Second Reading - Gold by a Couple: 'Cheaper by the Dozen'". The Washington Post. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gilbreth, Frank B., Jr. (Summer 1991). "The Gilbreth "Bug-lights"". Historic Nantucket. 39 (2). Nantucket Historical Association. pp. 20–22.  (Article by Frank Jr. about their summer home on Nantucket Island)