Henry Ford

Although Henry Ford is mythologically credited for the invention of the automobile, what he actually developed was the characteristic light, low-cost, high-quality, mass-produced American automobile. He developed a new form of assembly which grew out of the latter one discussed in Early History. Ford began work on autombile manufacturing in 1896 and attempted to go into the business. He was finally efficacious in 1903 forming the Ford Motor Company. He, a financial banker, and a group of workmen bought a 250 by 50 foot assembly plant for $28,000. The 1906 creation was the Model N, costing $600 and in 1908 Ford released the reknown Model T for just $825-850.


A Motor for the Masses.
The demand for the Model T was incredible encouraging the new company to relocate to a much larger plant of 60 acres in Highland Park, Michigan. In the new plant Ford incorporated many of the ideas he already employed such as overhead conveyors and interchangeable parts to keep cost down. He adopted the ideology of the eponymous Taylorism of Scientific Management(1911) by Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylor, after researching late 19th century factories was shocked at the waste induced by a self-perpetuated slow rate of work among laborers. Named soldiering, this system was employed to deliberately slow output when workers were dissatisfied with their work but alternative employment was not available. Not only did Highland Park employ these techniques of time and motion studies; but also was well-lighted and tighly ventilated.
Ford's Menlo Park
Ford's Assembly Plant at Highland Park, Michigan, 1923.

The moving assembly line, constructed in 1908 by a team of engineers and encouraged by Ford, was his claim to fame. From 1912-1914 the conveyor belts' arms moved to all parts to be assembled. Forced to slowly introduce the parts of the assembly line due to experimental hangups, Ford was able to watch the wasted time tick away. Between October and December of 1913 the total assembly time of the chassis decreased from 12.5 hours to 2.7. On February 27, 1914 the Ford assembly line for the construction of the whole automobile was complete. This reduction time in assembly line production drastically cut production costs. This meant the price of the Model T dropped significantly for consumers. In a competive market other manufacturers are forced to sell at a competitve market price. This meant that other automobile manufacturers were forced to adopt the assembly line for fear of bankruptcy. The auto industry came to exemplify Taylorism and assembly-line production. In addition, the assembly line replaced the skilled carpenter and mechanic with the unskilled laborer as had so many mass-production factories beforehand. The assembly line cost cutting allowed Ford to offer a wage of $5 per day of eight hours, far exceeding that of most factory jobs. Ford's unskilled labor force was a briccolage of social pariahs: immigrants from south and eastern Europe, African Americans, ex-cons, the blind, the deaf, the epileptic, some mentally retarded, physically disabled, and tubercular. After 1920, the eponymous Fordism emerges as the production of inexpensive goods by the assembly-line method.
The Universal Car
Ford Automotive Advertisement.

Ford's credo is captured in his advertisement "I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessings of hours of please in God's great open spaces." His words encapsulate the new emphasis on the family as a close intimate relationship in opposition to the impersonal and hostile society outside. He also alludes to his buying programs. In 19?? he introduced a savings system in which the consumer could deposit $5 per week to save up to the price of the car. However, this system had minimal effect. By 192?? Ford designed a way for people to own the car before actually paying for it. This introduced a new idea of property that fit nicely into the Lockeian paradigm. To have and to own something was freedom from a despotic owner. It was truly a car for the middle class gentleman yeoman.

In contrast was the "Sloanism" of America. Where Ford had centralized his company, Sloan decentralized. After inheriting the expansive company from the previous President William C. Durant in 1923. It encompassed the Cadillac Motor Company, Buick and Chevrolet, as well as Delco, the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company and Frigidaire. Sloan decentralized all the subsections of the company and created separate management groups for advertising, innovations, and research. The president made all decisions where compromise was not found. By 1927 GM took the lead in the automotive market. Where Ford mass produced the Model T until 1927 and then the Model A from 1928 to 1938, General Motors made different cars of different annual models and different colors. This allowed consumers to vote their choice on the dollar ballot. This made the consumer feel as though the car was representative of the radical individuality of the consumer himself. The consumer received a psychic income derived from owning a car and having it stand out.

It did not take much to convince America that the automobile was an important innovation. The cities were so overrun by the sanitation problems caused by horses. In New York City it was estimated by one reformer that 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine were deposited on city streets every day. Dead horses were simply pushed to the curbside as to not interfere with traffic. In one year 15,000 dead horses were carted off the streets at the city's expense. Moreover, accidents occurred frequently in which adults and children were trampled by horse hooves. However, the introduction of the automobile did not necessarily mean the disappearance of the horse-drawn carriage.

The American automobile was generally cheaper than the European and it was easier to repair because of its interchangeable parts (thanks to Eli Whitney). The engine was larger and could reach a higher top speed. In the 1920s the engine shifted from four to six cylinders and in the 1930's from six to eight. In 1905 the Automobile Association of America was established to work on lobbying for better roads. The Road Aid Act was passed in 1916 and in 1921 which developed U.S. 1, 40 and Route 66.

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