Henry Ford and mass production

I Icnry Ford is famous for making automobiles. But what makes him important is how he made them.

Ford began to make automobiles in the 1890S: One day in 1903 he was talking to a friend about the best way to do this. “The real way is to make one like another, as much alike as pins or matches,’’ he said. The friend said that he did not believe that this was possible. “The principle is just the same,” Ford replied. “All you need is more space."

Ford tried out his idea with an automobile called the Model T. Like Whitney’s guns, every Model I was put together or “assembled” from exactly the same parts, l’he cars were even painted the same color. “A customer can have an automobile painted any color that he wants,” Ford is supposed to have said, “so long as it is black.”

This use of identical parts in manufacturing is called “standardization.” Ford added to it the idea of a moving assembly line. The idea of the assembly line is to save time. It does this by positioning workers in a factory in one place and taking work to them.

Ford first used an assembly line to make magnetos for his Model ГІ s. By the old method one man on his own did this job from start to finish. Ford divided the work into twenty-one separate actions. A different man carried out each one as the magneto moved past him on a moving belt called a “conveyor.” The change reduced the time taken to put together a magneto from twenty minutes to five.

In 1913 Ford started to use assembly-line methods to make the complete Model T. As the cars moved along on a conveyor, dozens of workmen each carried out a single operation – tightening certain nuts or fixing certain parts. By the time a car reached the end of the line it was complete. It was filled up with gasoline and driven off ready for the road. Making a car in this new way took 1 hour and 33 minutes. Making one previously had taken 12 hours and 28 minutes.

By combining standardization and the assembly line Ford showed manufacturers of all kinds how to produce goods cheaply and in large quantities. Because of this he is seen as the father of twentieth-century mass production.

The giant industrial organizations that such men created were known as “corporations.” As they grew bigger and more powerful still, they often became “trusts.’ Bv the early twentieth century trusts controlled large parts of American industry. One trust controlled the steel industry, another the oil industry, another the meat-packing industry, and there were many more. The biggest trusts were richer than most nations. By their wealth and power—and especially their power to decide wages and prices —they controlled the lives oi millions of people.

Many Americans were alarmed by the power of the trusts. The United States was a land that was supposed to offer equal opportunities to everyone. Yet now it seemed that the country was coining under the control of a handful of rich and powerful men who were able to do more or less anything they wished. Some bribed politicians to pass laws which favored them. Cithers hired private armies to crush any attempt by their workers to obtain better conditions. Their attitude to the rights of other people was summed up in a famous remark of the railroad “king” William H. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was asked whether be thought that railroads should be run ;n the public interest. “The public be damned!” he replied.

The contemptuous way in which leaders ofindustry like Vanderbilt rejected criticism made people angry. It strengthened the feeling that something ought to be done to limit such men’s growing power over the nation’s life. Many people came to see this matter as th e most important problem facing the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. Unless something was done about it, they feared, the United States would become a nation whose life was controlled by a handful of rich businessmen.

Updated: 18th July 2015 — 3:17 pm