On this day in 1913, Henry Ford implemented his famed assembly line technique at Highland Park Plant, Michigan.
Ford’s assembly line came into fruition because Ford wanted to manufacture “a motor car for the great multitude.” First, he designed a car that would be more affordable. In 1908, he released the Model T which offered no bells and whistles and zero customization options. The car was less expensive, but still not attainable for the masses. Ford then switched gears (pun intended) and focused on how to build the car in less time and, consequently, for less money.
Ford decided to implement the concept of interchangeable parts, meaning that every car would be built with identical parts, so they could be manufactured efficiently instead of customized for each car. This meant that the machinery would have to be improved, but after that, low-skilled workers could operate the machinery, eliminating the need for the skilled craftsmen who used to be required to individually make each part.
This leads to the next change he implemented: the division of labor. Certain workers could be responsible for making a single type of interchangeable part, others would assemble the car, etc. Everyone was responsible for only one of the 84 steps required to make the car. Ford also designed the Highland Park Plant with the assembly line technique in mind, meaning the process flowed from one step to another.
The Model T was made affordable for more people and became extremely successful. In fact, after Ford increased his workers’ wages from the minimum wage of $2.83 an hour to $5.00 an hour, his own employees bought the new car.
One of my elementary school teachers taught my class about the assembly line using this classic I Love Lucy scene. I already linked to it in this post, but I couldn’t resist sharing it again.
Just picture cars instead of chocolates and interchangeable parts instead of wrappers, and there you have it, Ford’s assembly line.
“Let ‘er roll!”