Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Scientific Snow Shovel

What's the best snow shovel?

It turns out out be a coal shovel.  As Tim Heffernan notes at Slate.

In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management, the seminal work of the now ubiquitous field. Taylor used empirical methodology to improve business’ efficiency and profitability, and one of the first objects of his study was the shoveling of coal and other common industrial materials. At the Bethlehem Steel plant, he measured the tonnage shifted daily by handpicked “first-class men.” At the time, they were using standardized shovels that scooped between 5 and 40 pounds per load, depending on the density of the material they were working with. But the ideal shovel, Taylor determined, would scoop 21 pounds, be it of coal, pig iron, or anything else. At that weight, a first-class man could shift 59 tons in an eight-hour shift—a nearly four-fold improvement over the 16 tons per shift that Bethlehem then averaged. The company quickly adopted “8 to 10 different kinds of shovels … each one appropriate to handling a given type of material” and varied in size to scoop the standard 21 pounds.

For Bethlehem Steel, the effects were dramatic. It was able to reduce its workforce of shovelers from between 400 and 600 to just 160. Its labor costs per ton shoveled dropped from 7.2 to 3.3 cents. Its profits accordingly soared.

Workers, too—the ones who were left—saw an improvement in their absolute earnings, from $1.15 to $1.88 per day. But, quite sensibly, many of them didn’t feel particularly blessed. For nearly quadrupling their workload, they had increased their earnings by barely more than a half measure.

So what brand and size is actually the perfect snow shovel? I have no idea, but apparently it's one that scoops 21 pounds of whatever needs scooping. Some possibilities here.

For more on shovels used in terrier work, see this page.

My own dirt-digging shovel is the Ames Pony with D-handle available from AM Leonard or Amazon.

A history of the Ames Shovel Company (it's older than the U.S.) can be found here.

For those interested in learning a bit more about posthole diggers, see this page.


John said...

For serious snow clearing, a shovel where you are required to lift 21 pounds just doesn't cut it. The link below shows a shovel that uses leverage rather than brute force and I can attest that you can clear prodigious amounts of snow quickly and efficiently:

Peter Apps said...

The optimum anything ends up being designed for the average operator. The forestry commission in England did a study on the best weight and length of felling axe, and what they came up with had a haft that was too short for anyone taller than about 5 foot six.

Peter Apps said...

Coincidence ?

"..... a nearly four-fold improvement over the 16 tons per shift that Bethlehem then averaged."

I loaded sixteen tons and what do I get
Another day older and deeper in debt.

Maybe it should have been:

I load sixteen tons and what do I get ?
A new shovel !

PipedreamFarm said...

Sounds like we'll need a different snow shovel based upon how "wet" or "dry" the snow is. I'll stick with my snowblower