Ford's Moving Assembly Line Turns 100

MovingAssemblyLine1913

Time was, transporting car bodies for assembly at the manufacturing plant required horsepower — not the unit of energy an engine exerts, mind you, but actual horses making large deliveries.

A century ago — on Oct. 7, 1913 — an innovation at Ford Motor Co.'s facility in Highland Park, Mich., not only revolutionized the car-building process but helped change the landscape of the nation forever: the moving assembly line.

The first car to roll off the line 100 years ago next week was the Model T, which had debuted five years earlier as part of Henry Ford's goal of bringing the automobile to the masses. Despite those egalitarian aspirations, the Model T remained too pricey for the majority of Americans to afford. With the efficiencies and cost savings resulting from the moving assembly line passed on to the consumer, Model T prices dropped from $600 in 1912 to $360 by 1916, and even more in subsequent years as automated assembly improved.

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"By bringing the work to the men, Ford engineers managed to smooth out differences in work pace," according to the automaker. "They slowed down the faster employees and forced slower ones to quicken their pace. The results of mass production were immediate and significant."

Before moving assembly, teams of workers put cars together one at a time atop sawhorses, rotating from one station to another, with the chassis remaining in the same place until completion; frequent late parts deliveries caused traffic jams of workers trying to complete their portion of the process, resulting in production delays, the automaker stated. Consulting experts from varying backgrounds, Henry Ford's development team combined the influences of industries like canning, brewing and steelmaking to create the world's first moving assembly line. The first incarnation used a winch and a rope (later a chain) stretched across 150 feet of an open space on the factory floor, along which 140 assembly workers were stationed, installing different components as the chassis was dragged across the floor.

Although crude, that landmark line would result in man hours for final assembly plummeting by three-quarters to just three hours; by the following year that elapsed time dipped to 90 minutes, thanks to the advent of the power-drive "endless" conveyor system. At its peak of production, a Model T was being built every 24 seconds. By 1916, Ford's Model T output had spiked to more than 585,000 — about seven times the number built in 1912. By 1927, Ford had produced more than 15 million of the affordable Model T — nearly half the world's cars at the time — which, according to History.com, spurred a migration from the farm to the big city along with widespread industrial innovation in the U.S.

"Henry Ford believed that a company should make more than just profits, that it also should make people's lives better. To do that, he believed in the power of innovation — finding new ideas and better ways of doing things," the automaker said in a statement.

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By Matt Schmitz | September 30, 2013 | Comments (3)

Comments 

I have always had a special appreciation for the assembly line because of the impacts it has had on our entire economy--and really our infrastructure and mentality as a whole. This led to the dependence on a replace-if-broken philosophy in America and took away our resourcefulness, to a degree. Anyway, I think that the assembly line is great. It just needs to be used in a more sustainable way--rather than make new models as an upgrade and getting rid of older models; ergo, generating excessive amounts of unnecessary waste.

North

Henry Ford...the last car maker who actually cut the sticker price of his cars after he invented a cheaper way to make cars. Too bad that 100 years later, car makers raise their prices without fail each year and never give buyers a break.

I believe that your story contains a major typo in that the Model T was designed and first built at Fords' Piquette Street plant in 1908. Earlier this year I toured plant and observed the room where the secret plans for the "new" Model T were developed, as the plant was built long before the Model T in 1908. If you look closely at the picture, you will notice the unique "notching" of the wood posts, to slow down the burning of the wood in the event of a fire. The Highland Park plant started operation around 1910 and by 1920, produced a car a minute. By the 1970's Ford outgrew this plant and it has been vacate since that time.Bye the way, the Piquette St. plant has been preserved and has regular tours of the building, which is now a museum. Sadly, most of the Highland Park facilities are in ruins although it was designated an Historical Site.

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