Cheaper by the Dozen

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Cheaper by the Dozen
First edition cover (Thomas Y. Crowell Co.)
AuthorFrank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
PublisherThomas Y. Crowell Co.
Publication date
Media typePrint
Followed byBelles on Their Toes (1950 book; 1952 film) 

Cheaper by the Dozen is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published in 1948. The novel recounts the authors' childhood lives growing up in a household of 12 children. 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 as they reside in Montclair, New Jersey, for many years. Lillian Gilbreth was described in the 1940s as "a genius in the art of living".[1]

The best-selling biographical novel was composed by two of her twelve children who wrote about their childhoods. Gilbreth's home doubled as a sort of real-world laboratory that tested her and her husband Frank's ideas about efficiency.[1]

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.[2] 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 was adapted as a stage play in 1992 by Christopher Sergel. It played at Grey Lite Theatre in 1992, directed by Lori David.[3]

Cheaper by the Dozen has been adapted as a musical, dramatized by Christopher Sergel with a score by David Rogers and Mark Bucci.[4]

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. On the cover of Kate's book (Kate is the female lead character in the movies), the title is shown to be Cheaper by the Dozen, and the author's maiden name appears as Gilbreth (the name of the real family in the book upon which the 1950 film was based). During a game of Apple Schmear, Nora tells Hank that her "Great Grandma Gilbreth" invented the game. 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.

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."[5]

The book won the French International Humor Award and has been translated into a dozen languages.[6]


  1. ^ a b Carol, Kennedy (2007-01-01). Guide to the management gurus. Random House Business. ISBN 9781905211029. OCLC 655247876.
  2. ^ Tamny, Elizabeth M. (1 January 2004). "Cheaper by Eleven?". Chicago Reader.
  3. ^ "Cheaper by the Dozen". Dramatic Publishing. Archived from the original on 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  4. ^ "Cheaper by the Dozen (musical)". Dramatic Publishing. ISBN 0871295601. Archived from the original on 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  5. ^ Yardley, Jonathan (August 25, 2003). "Second Reading - Gold by a Couple: 'Cheaper by the Dozen'". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ McLellan, Dennis (2006-11-07). "Ernestine Carey, 98; wrote a comical look at her big family in 'Cheaper by the Dozen'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-01-08.

Further reading[edit]