Hugo Diemer

Hugo Diemer (1870-1939) was an American engineer, academic and author who in the opening years of the 20th century first used the term Industrial Engineering (IE) to describe a fusion of engineering and business disciplines. In 1909 he set up the first university IE department.

Diemer's Early Years

Hugo Diemer was an only child born into Cincinnati's close-knit German community. His inspirational schoolteacher parents, Bertha and Theodore probably kindled Hugo's lifelong commitment to accessible education. Sadly his Bavarian-born father, a Union soldier in the recently ended Civil War, died when Diemer was only 12. On leaving high school, Diemer had several jobs while he raised the money for a college education. These included a spell as a stenographer at Cincinnati firm, Addyston Pipe & Steel Co. In 1893 Diemer was finally able to move away from home to Ohio State University in Columbus, to read for a mechanical engineering degree. After graduating, he went on to become an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering department of Michigan's State Agricultural College.

Fred Taylor and the first IE course

In 1900 Diemer moved to another academic post at Kansas University. It was here that he was given a chance to introduce his then novel blend of traditional engineering skills with the latest commercial best practice, which he began to refer to as industrial engineering. At the same time he started publicising his ideas in a series of articles on The Commercial Organization of the Machine Shop in the widely-read magazine The Engineer. F.W.Taylor was impressed with these articles and with Diemer's other work. The two soon became firm friends, with Taylor insistent that the younger man ... just call me Fred.

Diemer was by now supplementing his modest academic salary with consultancy work and technical writing, while also becoming increasingly active alongside Taylor and his disciples Frank Gilbreth and Henry Gantt, in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In 1907 Taylor was happy to personally recommend Hugo Diemer as head of Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State College. As soon as Diemer got the job in 1908, he set about introducing IE to the mechanical engineering curriculum. In 1909 he won approval for an IE department at Penn State, the first in any American university.

Diemer the author

But with Penn State's pay rates then quite low and young wife Mabel and baby son Theodore to support, Diemer turned increasingly to his writing skills. His publication Automobiles with 192 pages and 181 illustrations was ambitiously sub-titled A practical treatise on the construction, operation, and care of gasoline, steam, and electric motor cars. The simple language and encyclopedic coverage was developed for students of the American School of Correspondence. Diemer followed this in 1910 with similarly authoritative publications on Motor Boats and Motor Cycles and Woodturning, Woodworking, Machine and Pattern Making. In the same year his most famous book Factory Organization and Administration was published by McGraw-Hill. This was still a respected reference work in its 5th edition, 25 years later. In 1913 Diemer added Industrial Management, devoted to departments and departmental reports, planning, scheduling, time study, labor and efficiency, wage system and welfare methods to the IE course. The following year he added an advanced course on Scientific Management, which used Taylor's writings as texts.

Diemer's Industrial Organisation and Management was published by La Salle Extension University in 1915. The untimely death of F.W.Taylor in March of that year was a setback to Diemer and all other proponents of Scientific Management. As an immediate tribute to the great pioneer's memory, it was agreed that the Society to Promote the Science of Management (set up by Gilbreth in 1912) be renamed the Taylor Society.

A Military Interlude

In April 1917, the USA entered the Great War against Germany. Although Diemer and Frank Gilbreth were now in their late 40s, they both chose to enlist. Both were given the rank of Major and assigned to non-combat duties. Diemer left Penn State and moved with his wife and three young children to Lowell, Massachusetts. There he took charge of the US Army production at the United States Cartridge Company, which was also busy supplying ammunition to the UK and other Allied powers. In the same year, Diemer also helped set up the Society of Industrial Engineers. At the end of the war, by now a Colonel, Diemer resigned his commission and moved to the post of Personnel Superintendent at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut.

La Salle Extension University and the Diemer Legacy

In 1920 the Diemer family (now six strong) moved to Chicago, where Hugo took up the post of Director (Industrial Management) at the La Salle Extension University, a correspondence college that had already published many of his works. Diemer stayed at La Salle for the rest of his life rising to the position of Director (Management Courses and Personnel). In the mid 1930s both his wife and mother died and his older children left the family home. But the personal sadness this caused Diemer was perhaps softened by the continued appreciation of his peers. In 1936 the Taylor Society merged with the Society of Industrial Engineers to form the Society for the Advancement of Management (S.A.M.) with Diemer as Vice Chairman. Two years later this Society awarded Diemer one of the prestigious Taylor Keys for his outstanding contribution.

Since his death in 1939, Hugo Diemer's achievements have been progressively overshadowed by his more famous contemporaries like Gilbreth, Gantt and, of course, F.W. Taylor. However, his solid legacy includes his many popular publications and the IE degrees now offered by hundreds of universities around the world. Foremost among these is Penn State, which in 2009 celebrates the centenary of Hugo Diemer's bold initiative to set up the first IE department.