Mass Production

First moving assembly line, 1913

First moving assembly line, 1913

From the collections of The Henry Ford, P.833.167/THF96001

Making Tractors

Manufacturers implemented mass production through division of labor, assembly lines, large factories, and specialized machinery—requiring huge financial investment. Henry Ford and his engineers applied techniques developed in the automobile industry to revolutionize tractor production. Mass production lowered prices for consumers, but relegated workers to low-skill, mind-numbing jobs.

Fordson tractor, 1918
The Ford name and low price made the Fordson tractor number one by 1923. However, Ford’s unwillingness to update the tractor led to its failure in 1928.
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Fordson assembly line, 1923

Fordson assembly line, 1923

The assembly plant at Henry Ford’s mammoth River Rouge facility had good light and excellent ventilation, was extremely clean, but ran at a frantic pace.

From the collections of The Henry Ford, P.833.34535/THF117578

Time clock, 1915

Assembly line production meant regimentation—everyone on a shift had to work the same hours. To enforce the rules, managers made workers punch a time card.

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River Rouge ID badge, late 1930s to mid-1960s

Henry Ford’s vision of capitalism was high wages, high production, low-cost goods, and high consumption. During a down cycle, Ford’s attitudes towards workers became harsh.

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Many factories adopted mass production—large volume, installation of specialized machinery to reduce human labor, and the use of low-skilled workers. Labor turnover was very high.

Motion study of woman staking buttons, 1917

Motion study of woman staking buttons, 1917

Management consultants Frank and Lillian Gilbreth used motion studies to analyze workers' movements. Managers sought to increase efficiency, but workers feared being treated like machines.

Gilbreth motion study watch, 1910s

Speed indicator advertisement, 1905

Speed indicator advertisement, 1905

Workers used skill and knowledge to set the speed of production. Some managers, seeking to assert control, used scientific studies to set "optimal" machine speeds.

Factory Work

The American system of factory production relied on division of labor. Workers performed specialized tasks.

Woodbury Bag Loading Plant Employee ID Badge, 1918

Singer Manufacturing ID Badge

Goodyear Employee ID Badge, 1940s