Cheaper By the Dozen (1948), written by Frank Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is the hysterical tale of the Gilbreth family - Dad, a 'motion study' engineer who always believed in bringing his work ideas home; Mother, a calm psychologist; and their dozen children: Anne, Mary, Ernestine, Martha, Frank, Bill, Lill, Fred, Dan, Jack, Bob, and Jane. The book details the events which occurred during the childhood of the titular dozen, up until the point that their father passed away.It was followed up by Belles on Their Toes, which chronicled the adventures of the family as they are raised by widow Lillian Moller Gilbreth.
Cheaper By the Dozen contains examples of:
The Alleged Car: The family Pierce-Arrow, which never starts for anyone but Dad.
Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: A few episodes address the kids' being embarrassed by having famous parents, especially when they themselves are dragged into Dad's doings, such as the newsreel about burying old-fashioned pencils to make way for mechanical ones, which the children never hear the end of at school. Other times the whole family falls victim to an inaccurate portrayal in the press.
"But if you're going to be a bricklayer's helper," she said, "for mercy sakes be a good bricklayer's helper." "I'll do my best to find a good bricklayer to help," Dad grinned.
Annoying Younger Sibling: The younger Gilbreths, jealous of the way their older sisters' boyfriends were affecting family dynamics, took it upon themselves to make them uncomfortable.
Badly Battered Babysitter: Aunt Anne. Mother herself ends up in this state after taking all the children to visit her family in California while Dad is in Washington helping with the war effort. Everyone gets whooping cough on the way home.
"I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing the dear folks. But next time you take the children out West, and I'll go to war."
Bittersweet Ending: Dad is gone, but the family is determined to stick together, and they're confident that they'll be able to do it.
Clock King/Awesome by Analysis: This is the gist of the field of motion study and is the major driving force of Dad's character. There's a fastest, best, right way to do everything, and when you've found it, the world will be a better place. The mistake would be in thinking that obsessing over efficiency would necessarily mean a joyless existence. See the last lines of the book:
Someone once asked Dad: "But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?" "For work, if you love that best," said Dad. "For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure." He looked over the top of his pince-nez. "For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies."
Education Mama: Dad is obsessed with making everything educational, via methods like having the kids listen to language records in the bath, and there's a whole chapter called "Skipping through School" about his efforts to have them skip as many grades as possible.
Elephant in the Room: Mary, the second Gilbreth child, sadly died at the age of five and thus is missing from most of the book; she's only mentioned in the chapter that covers all of the kids' births. (Her death also means that there were never actually twelve children in the household at once.)
Fake Nationality: In-Universe. The book claims that "Dad could take one look at a man and know his nationality," and he uses this ability to pass off his kids as the same in order to get discounts.
Happily Married: Frank, Sr., and Lillian clearly had an awesome and very egalitarian marriage.
Hypocritical Humor: Dad, frequently. For instance, after filming the aforementioned newsreel, he makes the kids dig up the casket full of pencils, because surely they don't think he'd let them go to waste?
Mistaken for Gay: When one of the boys is accidentally left behind in a restaurant:
A pretty young lady, looking for business, was drinking a highball in the second booth. Dad peered in, flustered. "Hello, Pops," she said. "Don't be bashful. Are you looking for a naughty little girl?" Dad was caught off guard. "Goodness, no," he stammered, with all of his ordinary poise shattered. "I'm looking for a naughty little boy." "Whoops, dearie," she said. "Pardon me."
Moment Killer: the Gilbreth girls had plenty of trouble with their younger siblings and their father being this once they started dating.
Mother Nature, Father Science: Mother the psychologist and father the efficiency expert. Both apply their respective fields in raising a huge family, and both know that their attitudes complement each other.
Self-Made Man: When Dad is courting Mother and first meets her parents, they're having a fireplace put in, and Dad announces in the bricklayer's hearing that he thinks laying brick must be an easy job. The incensed bricklayer invites him to try it, and he gets to show off his skill. Later, when Mother explains to the children that this was Dad's way of demonstrating that he was a Self-Made Man, he gets indignant:
"Trying to tell them nothing," Dad shouted. "Anybody who knows anything about New England knows that the Bunkers and the Gilbreths, or Galbraiths, descend through Governor Bradford right to the Mayflower. I wasn't trying to tell them anything." "What did you lay the brick for then?" we insisted. "When some people walk into a parlor," Dad said, "they like to sit down at the piano and impress people by playing Bach. When I walk into a parlor, I like to lay brick, that's all."
Who Would Want to Watch Us?: The kids put on skits about the family for their parents, which use many of the tropes, character points and Running Gags we-the-reader have become familiar with through the book.
"Do my Mongolians come cheaper by the dozen?"
Word Association Test: The children are given one of these by a psychologist who is obviously looking to write about how messed up they are as a result of growing up in their unusual household. They cheat by reading the questions ahead of time and preparing unpleasant, even psychotic-sounding answers, until Lill gives them away by accidentally saying "droppings" before the psychologist says "bird."