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Mass Production

MASS PRODUCTION

MASS PRODUCTION is a system of manufacturing based on principles such as the use of interchangeable parts, large-scale production, and the high-volume assembly line. Although ideas analogous to mass production existed in many industrialized nations dating back to the eighteenth century, the concept was not fully utilized until refined by Henry Ford in the early twentieth century and then developed over the next several decades. Ford's success in producing the Model T automobile set the early standard for what mass production could achieve. As a result, mass production quickly became the dominant form of manufacturing around the world, also exerting a profound impact on popular culture. Countless artists, writers, and filmmakers used the image of the assembly line to symbolize either the good or the evil of modern society and technological prowess.

Background

British inventors pioneered the earliest use of machine tools. Early inventors like Richard Arkwright and Henry Maudslay built precision machines necessary for mass production. Many of England's early machine tool artisans worked as apprentices, then later crafted precision lathes, plane surfaces, and measuring instruments. Even with the early successes in Europe, scholars of technology attribute the widespread adoption of mass production to trailblazers in the United States. With its abundant waterpower, coal, and raw material, but shortage of workers, America was the ideal place for building skill into machinery. From the start, American leaders attempted to mechanize production of barrels, nails, and other goods. In the early 1800s, the American inventor Thomas Blanchard used mechanized production to make rifles and muskets for the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Blanchard's efforts were supported by the War Department, which also backed other applications of mass production.

The distinct system developed in the United States became known as the American System of manufacturing. In the nineteenth century, the nation witnessed the rise of innovators such as Eli Whitney, Samuel Colt, and Cyrus McCormick. These leaders were committed to interchangeability and mechanized production. By 1883, the Singer Manufacturing Company sold over 500,000 sewing machines. McCormick, whose machine enabled farmers to double crop sizes, produced thousands of grain reapers in the mid-1800s and spurred additional innovation in agriculture. These early innovators, however, depended on skilled machinists to properly fit parts together. Only later, when parts were completely interchangeable, did true mass production occur.

Impact

Many factors came together in the early twentieth century to make mass production possible. Henry Ford's decision to produce an inexpensive automobile that working people could afford was a gamble. He succeeded in convincing his financial partners to back his idea through sheer determination. Detroit's history of mechanical innovation also played an important role. The city's many skilled engineers and designers helped refine Ford's early attempts and later helped build large factories to showcase his ideas. The abundant talent—similar to California's Silicon Valley in the late twentieth century—allowed Ford to recruit talented employees. The immigration boom in Michigan provided Ford's company with the unskilled workers for the assembly lines.

Ford's determination to make Model T's and only Model T's helped in the development of mass production techniques based on the moving belt assembly line. Each process was broken down into its smallest parts. As the components moved down the line, the pieces were fitted to form the whole. Throughout the process, Ford emphasized accuracy; experts noted the durability and soundness of his automobiles. Ford devised an assembly line that delivered parts moving by hooks, overhead chains, or moving platforms to workers in the exact order in which they were required for production.

The assembly line gave Ford factories a fluid appearance and dramatically increased productivity. Without the assembly line, Ford would not have been able to keep pace with consumer demand. At the same time, Ford hoped to maximize economies of scale by building large factories. Most important for consumers, the increased efficiency brought with it a reduced cost. Model T prices quickly dropped from more than $800 to $300. As a result of these innovations, workers were soon able to produce a new Model T every two minutes. The company sold 11,000 cars from 1908 to 1909, a 60 percent increase over the previous year. Ford then outdid himself with the 1910–1911 model, selling 34,528. Sales skyrocketed in 1914, reaching 248,000, or nearly half the U.S. market. The heavy demand forced Ford to continue innovating. He built the largest and most modern factory in America on a sixty-acre tract at Highland Park, north of Detroit. Ford's net income soared from $25 million in 1914 to $78 million by 1921.

Another essential facet of Ford's mass production system was his willingness to adopt resourceful means of finding labor to work the assembly lines. The sheer size of the workforce Ford needed to keep pace combined with the monotony of the assembly line led to great turnover in the factories. Early in 1914, Ford introduced the "five dollar day" to deal with labor shortage. He paid workers the then-outrageous sum of$5 a day for an eight-hour workday. The basic wage eclipsed the industry standard of$1.80 to $2.50 a day on a longer shift. The five dollar day program transformed Ford from a business leader into a legend.

Because of mass production and Ford's high wages, company workerswere given the ability to elevate themselves above working-class means, contributing to the growing consumer culture in the United States. With the extra pay, they participated in the accumulation of material items previously out of their reach. In turn, other mass producers, especially of middle-class luxuries, were given another outlet for goods. The five dollar day ensured the company that it would always have the workers


needed to produce, while at the same time allowing working-class families a means to participate in America's consumer culture.

Even the decline of the Model T did not affect the demand for automobiles. Mass production techniques spread to other car manufacturers. Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors introduced the annual model change in the 1920s. The changing look of automobiles, made affordable by mass production, mirrored the changing national landscape. A sweeping car craze prompted the desire for material abundance that would mark the genesis of modern America after World War II.

Advertisers, artists, and writers used the factory and assembly line to symbolize life in the United States. Often, they associated manliness with technology and engineering. Many looked upon the factories that linked American cities with an attitude akin to romanticism. Corporate marketing, advertising, and public relations staffs and outside agencies developed to massage this message into the public's subconscious. Many factories even began offering tours to show off production capabilities. Ford's Highland Park factory received more than 3,000 visitors a day before 1920. General Electric, National Cash Register, and Hershey Chocolate established tours as well. They were a new form of public relations and left visitors with a deep, positive impression of the company. Over the next several decades, the influence and dominance of mass production solidified around the world. In preparing for World War I and then World War II, nations intensified mass production of arms and ammunition. The efficiencies of mass production allowed American businesses to switch from consumer goods to war stuffs quickly. The amount of armaments brought to the war effort by the United States turned the tide in both wars.

After World War II, American industry shifted back to consumer goods, but did not slow the pace. The rise of suburban living and the subsequent baby boom kept assembly line production at phenomenal rates. The growth of the middle class, both its wages and desire for material goods, can be traced to the development and dominance of mass production. Mass production also bears great responsibility for the manipulation and exploitation of workers, particularly unskilled labor. The process made workers dispensable and increased the power of the foremen, managers, and department heads that wielded power over them. These influences were mocked across the popular culture spectrum, from Upton Sinclair's muckraking novel The Jungle (1906) to the 1936 film by Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times.

Mass production techniques maximized the profit making ability of corporations, but it dehumanized the lives of workers. Frederick W. Taylor introduced scientific management at the beginning of the twentieth century, which used time and motion studies (often timing them with a stopwatch) to measure workers' output. Taylor's goal was to find the ideal process and then duplicate it over and over. In the abstract, scientific management was a giant leap forward, but in reality, mass production led to worker unrest, turnover, and social conflict. Unionization efforts, particularly the struggles to organize unskilled workers by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s and 1940s, and battles between management and employees intensified as workers became more alienated because of the factory setting.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. A Social History of American Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Hounshell, David A. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800–1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Kranzberg, Melvin, and Joseph Gies. By the Sweat of Thy Brow: Work in the Western World. New York: Putnam, 1975.

Nye, David E. American Technological Sublime. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994.

BobBatchelor

See alsoConsumerism ; Ford Motor Company ; Industrial Management ; Industrial Relations ; Manufacturing .

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Mass Production

Mass production

Mass production is the manufacture of goods in large quantities using standardized designs so the goods are all the same. Assembly-line techniques are usually used. An assembly line is a system in which a product is manufactured in a step-by-step process as it moves continuously past an arrangement of workers and machines. This system is one of the most powerful productivity concepts in history. It was largely responsible for the emergence and expansion of the industrialized, consumer-based system we have today.

While various mass production techniques were practiced in ancient times, the English were probably the first to use water-powered and steam-powered machinery in industrial production during the Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-1700s. But it is generally agreed that modern mass production techniques came into widespread use through the inventiveness of Americans. As a matter of fact, modern mass production has been called the "American System."

Famous American contributors to mass production

The early successes of the American System are often attributed to Eli Whitney. He adapted mass production techniques and the interchangeability of parts to the manufacture of muskets (a type of gun) for the U.S. government in the 1790s.

Some people say that Whitney's musket parts were not truly interchangeable and that credit for the American System should go to John Hall, the New England gunsmith who built flintlock pistols for the government. Hall built many of the machine tools needed for precision manufacturing. He achieved a higher level of interchangeability and precision than did Whitney.

Oliver Evans's many inventions in the flour milling process led to an automated mill that could be run by a single miller. Samuel Colt and Elijah King Root were very successful innovators in the development of parts for the assembly-line production of firearms. Eli Terry adapted mass production methods to clock-making in the early 1800s. George Eastman made innovations in assembly-line techniques in the manufacture and developing of photographic film later in the century.

Words to Know

Assembly line: A sequence of workers, machines, and parts down which an incomplete product passes, each worker performing a procedure, until the product is assembled.

Interchangeability: Parts that are so similar that they can be switched between different machines or products and the machines or products will still work.

Mass production begins at Ford

Credit for the development of large-scale, assembly-line, mass production techniques is usually given to Henry Ford and his innovative Model T car production methods, which began in 1908. Cars were a relatively new invention and were still too expensive for the average person. Many were too heavy or low powered to be practical. Ford set out to produce a light, strong car for a reasonable price.

The methods of Henry Ford. Groups of workers at Ford initially moved down a line of parts and subassemblies, each worker carrying out a specific task. But some workers and groups were faster or slower than others, and they often got in each other's way. So Ford and his technicians decided to move the work instead of the workers.

Beginning in 1913, Ford's workers stood in one place while parts came by on conveyor belts. The Model T car moved past the workers on another conveyor belt. Car bodies were built on one line and the chassis (floor) and drive train (engine and wheels) were built on another. When both were essentially complete, the body was lowered onto the chassis for final assembly.

It has been said that Ford took the inspiration for his assembly line from the meat-processing and canning factories that moved carcasses along lines of overhead rails as early as the 1840s. Although he was not the first to use the assembly-line technique, Ford can certainly be viewed as the most successful of the early innovators due to one simple fact: Ford envisioned and fostered mass consumption as a natural consequence of mass production. His techniques lessened the time needed to build a Model T from about 12 hours to 1 hour. The price was reduced as well: from about $850 for the first Model T in 1908 to only $290 in 1927.

Technique puts an end to craftsmanship

Assembly-line techniques required changing the skills necessary to build a product. Previously, each worker was responsible for the complete manufacture and assembly of all the parts needed to build any single product. This work was done by hand and relied on the individual worker's skills.

Mass production and parts interchangeability demanded that all parts be identical. Machines rather than individuality came to dictate the production process. Each part was duplicated by a machine process. The craft tradition, so important in human endeavor for centuries, was abandoned. Assembly of these machine-made parts was now divided into a series of small repetitive steps that required much less skill than traditional craftsmanship.

Modern mass production techniques changed the relationship of people to their work. Mass production has replaced craftsmanship, and the repetitive assembly line is now the world's standard for all manufacturing processes.

[See also Industrial Revolution ]

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mass production

mass production Manufacture of goods in large quantities by standardizing parts, techniques and machinery. American inventor Eli Whitney introduced mass production in 1798 to produce weapons. The assembly line, a conveyor belt carrying the work through a series of assembly areas, was introduced in 1913 by Henry Ford. Many mass-production processes depend on computer control of machines, including robots.

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Mass Production

MASS PRODUCTION


Prior to the nineteenth century manufacturing was largely hand-fitted. The artisan worked with the individual productfor instance, a farm wagonand by using shims or a mallet, he would "make it fit." If production involved machining metal, the machine tolerances would be loose. The system "worked" but the production process was inefficient, repair was chancy, and the price of laborlabor with the right "touch" for making things fitwas high.

In the late eighteenth century, standardized manufacturing transformed production technique. This development was called the American System of Manufactures. First introduced in the firearms industry (especially at the Springfield, Massachusetts federal armory) by inventor Simeon North, the American System was employed in producing pistols for the U.S. government. The parts were machined to set tolerances so that they were interchangeable. Standardization saved time and money in production and made possible the repair of a broken product.

The American System, however, was not yet mass production although the two systems shared the concepts of division of labor and close machining and interchangeability of parts. Mass production also introduced a more efficient organization of the workplace as well as the application of more powerful tools in production. Efficiency in the workplace included the innovation of the assembly line and the time-and-motion studies of Frederick W. Taylor's "Scientific Management." "Taylorism" forced the worker to adopt the most efficient way to do his job. Improved productivity through power tools included the introduction of electric or compressed air power tools and, in more recent times, automated welding robots. All this utterly transformed the factory as a space to work.

Perhaps the most significant difference between mass production and the earlier American System, however, was the enormous production goals of mass production. The best example of this is the Ford Motor Company. The assembly time for a single Model T went from 150 minutes in 1913 to 26 1/2 minutes in 1914. One important difference was the installation of the chain-driven assembly line. Production climbed from 13,380 Model T Fords in 1909 to 585,388 in 1916. The economies of scale associated with such production goals meant that Ford could afford to pay his workers better wages (the five-dollar day) and to cut the price of the car. A Model T dropped in price from 950 dollars in 1909 to only 360 dollars in 1916. In doing this, Henry Ford forever changed the nature of American society.

See also: American System of Manufactures, Assembly Line, Henry Ford, Frederick W. Taylor

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mass production

mass production: see production.

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"mass production." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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