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The History of Economic Thought


Henry Ford (1863-1947) Pioneer in the Development of the Assembly Line


Modern production methods took a giant leap forward in 1913 when Henry Ford intro­duced automobile production to the assembly line. Before the assembly line, automo­biles were built much like a house. That is, workers sim­ply picked a spot on the facto­ry floor, and assembled the car from the bottom up.


As business grew, Ford began manufacturing many of the component parts formerly purchased from suppliers. Typically, the components were put together by one worker who performed all the oper­ations necessary to assemble them. The method was quite costly, so only the wealthy could afford to buy automobiles in those days.


But Henry Ford wanted to bring the price of auto­mobiles down where most families could afford them. The key to achieving this goal, in Ford's view, was through improved labor productivity. He needed to find a way to 1) limit the number of oper­ations performed by each worker, 2) bring the work to the worker rather than the other way around, and 3) perform each operation in the most efficient sequence he could find. He found what he wanted in his new creation - the assembly line.


Ford's first line, introduced in April 1913, was used to assemble generators. Here one worker had been putting together 25 to 30 generators in a 9-hour day, or one generator every 20 minutes. But the new line broke the operation into 29 steps per­formed by individual workers on parts that were brought to them by the steadily moving assembly line. The new process reduced assembly time to an average of 13 minutes per generator. One year later, more experimentation divided production into 84 steps and reduced assembly time to 5 min­utes per generator.


Assembly line methods brought automobile prices within reach of millions of American families. As a result, automobile registrations jumped from 944,000 in 1912 to 2.5 million in 1915 and 20 mil­lion by 1925.


Henry Ford was not an economist, but his innova­tive production strategies had a revolutionary impact on American industry and living standards. As automobiles, appliances, and other labor-saving goods of the new industrial age became more affordable for the average family, it was clear that the assembly lines of a Michigan factory had changed American households as dramatically as its factories.

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 1385

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