Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Lecture 16.  Constraining the Artificial

Mechanization and Society:  The Assembly Line

Oliver Evans (1755-1819)

The human mind seems incapable of believing anything that it cannot conceive and understand...  I speak from experience, for when it was first asserted that merchant flour mills could be constructed to attend themselves, so far as to take meal from the stones, and the wheat from the wagons and raise them to the upper storeys, spreading the meal to cool and gathering it by the same operations into the bolting hopper, etc. until the flour was ready for packing, the projector was answered:  You cannot make water run up hill, you cannot make wooden millers.
--Oliver Evans

Oliver Evans' automated mill, Redclay Creek, Delaware (1785)
1. Grain goes into RECEIVING HOPPER and drops down a chute to the elevator in the basement.

2. ELEVATOR dumps grain into ROLLING SCREEN to filter out dirt and other foreign objects. 

3. Grain falls into SMUTTER or FANNING MILL to remove any mold or dirt attached to the grain.

4. Grain falls into STORAGE BINS above the millstones.

5. Grain falls into the HOPPER above hole in middle of MILLSTONES.  The SHOE, beneath the hopper, regulates flow of grain onto BED STONE.

6. Grain falls onto MILLSTONES that move at the rate of 125 rpm.

7. Warm, moist flour falls through a chute into basement where ELEVATORS pick it up and carry it to attic.

8. HOPPER BOY cools and drys flour with a revolving rake. 

9. Flour drops into AUGER or CONVEYOR, which moves it, while continuing to dry it, to head of BOLTER.

10. Revolving motion moves flour over BOLTER's screens. 

  • FLOUR falls through the finest mesh. 
  • MIDDLINGS pass through the medium screen. 
  • BRAN falls out the end.
11. Flour, depending on its fineness, drops into different HOLDING BINS and is loaded into barrels.

Evans' design incorporated three innovative elements to carry the grain automatically from one processing stage to another:  the "endless belt," the "endless screw," and the "chain of buckets."   The result was a continuous line of production.  His automated mill could handle 300 bushels an hour.  Those who said it couldn't be done later came to observe the mill in operation.  Continuous production has been such an integral part of the modern manufacturing landscape for such a long time that it is difficult to conceive of a factory without it.  In Evans' day, no one could imagine a system built on what was a wholly new operational principle.

Mechanization and Society:  Interchangeable Parts
Achieving truly interchangeable, machine-tooled parts was a long and slow process.  Not only was it a daunting task to create multiple copies of one component that were truly indistinguishable from one another, it was a practical challenge to assemble a set of parts that would work satisfactorily together.  Eli Whitney (1765-1825), found that out the hard way.  The so-called interchangeable parts in the rifles he produced were, in fact, finished by hand and bore the tell-tale marks of their makers. 

Besides, there was (and still is) considerable disagreement over the relative quality and reliability of hand-finished parts compared to those tooled exclusively by machine.  Machinists saw themselves as expert craftsmen.  They took special pride in their creations and resisted being replaced by machines that could mass produce mediochre parts.

Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875)

For Isaac Singer, one of a number of successful nineteenth-century sewing machine manufacturers, the answer was obvious:  Quality in production depends more on expert hand finishing and fitting than on the large-scale manufacture of uniform parts by special-purpose machines.

In 1862, Singer was confronted with a serious dilemma.  In that year, an overwhelming number of consumers voiced complaints about the sewing machines they had purchased.  Repairing the faulty machines and replacing broken or malfunctioning parts forced Singer to reconsider the wisdom of his preferred method of operation.

Singer's first sewing machine (1851-1858)
Mechanization and Society:  Scientific Management of Production

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915)
The Principles of Scientific Management (1911)

1856 born in Philadelphia
high school education
1874 apprenticed as a molder and toolmaker in small Philadelphia factory
1878 worked at Midvale Steel Company
1880 became a foreman, then master and engineer at Midvale Steel
1883 began reorganizing factories of various types

investigated work process through time studies basis of his method of scientific management

1889 completed engineering studies at night
1898-1901 worked for Bethlehem Steel
thoroughly analyzed each element of work process at the plant
studied the human body to discover how far it can be transformed into a mechanism
  - goal:  production--greater production at any price
  - everything superfluous must go
  - work should be done easily and with minimal fatigue

Taylor's Method

First.  Find 10 or 15 different men ... who are especially skilful in doing the particular work to be analyzed.

Second.  Study the exact series of elementary operations or motions which each of these men uses in doing the work which is being investigated, as well as the implements each man uses.

Third.  Study with a stop-watch the time required to make each of these elementary movements and then select the quickest way of doing each element of the work.

Fourth.  Eliminate all false movements, slow movements, and useless movements.

Fifth.  After doing away with all unnecessary movements, collect into one series the quickest and best movements as well as the best implements.

This one new method ... is then substituted in place of the ten or fifteen inferior series which were formerly in use.  This best method becomes standard, and remains standard, to be taught first to the foremen ... and by them to every workman in the establishment until it is superseded by a quicker and better series of movements.

The Task

  • work planned in advance ... which is to be solved ... not by the workman alone, but in almost all cases by the joint effort of the workman and the management
  • specifies
    • what is to be done
    • how it is to be done
    • exact time allowed for doing it
  • always so regulated that the man who is well suited to his job will thrive while working at this rate during a long term of years and grow happier and more prosperous, instead of being overworked
  • "scientific management" consists very largely in preparing for and carrying out these tasks
  • whenever workman does task right, and within the time limit specified, he receives an additional 30 - 100% to his ordinary wages
  • in no case is the workman called upon to work at a pace which would be injurious to his health
The Worker
Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type.

The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character.

Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.  He is so stupid that the word "percentage" has no meaning to him, and he must consequently be trained by a man more intelligent than himself into the habit of working in accordance with the laws of this science before he can be successful.


Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Automaker Henry Ford put Taylor's method to work in his plants.

July 30, 1863 born, near Dearborn, Michigan
1879 apprentice in Detroit machine shop

repairs clocks and watches

1882 returns to Dearborn farm

works part time for Westinghouse Engine Company

builds "farm locomotive":  a steam-powered mowing machine

1891 goes back to Detroit

goes to work for Edison Illuminating Company

1893 promoted to chief engineer at Detroit Edison
1896 completes "Quadricycle":  a 2 cylinder, four-cycle motor mounted on bicycle-like wheels; no reverse gear or brakes

The Quadricycle (1896)
August 1899 starts his own company:  Detroit Automobile Company. 
spends $86,000 of investors' money, but fails to produce a car; investors withdraw support
June 17, 1903 organizes Ford Motor Company
July 23, 1903 company sells its first car:  two-cylinder Model A
1907 profits from sale of Model A top $1 million
October 1, 1908 first Model T made available to the public 

"I will build a motor car for the great multitude"--Henry Ford, 1908
Model T:  produced until 1927
production time (1908):  1 car every 14 hours
price (1908):  $950
April 1, 1913 first experiments with assembly line at Highland Park Plant
  • put Taylor's ideas of scientific management to work
  • divided and subdivided factory labor into system of simple functions or tasks, all carefully timed to ensure maximum efficiency and profit regardless of effects on worker
  • speeded up assembly lines
  • fired workers who could not adjust
  • created work that was monotonous and exhausting

Model T assembly line (1913)
1914  1 car every 93 mins
1920  1 car every minute
1925  1 car every 10 seconds
Henry Ford has reduced the complexity of life to a definite number of jerks, twists and turns.  Once a Ford employee has learned the special spasm expected from him he can go through life without a single thought or emotion.  When the whistle blows he starts to jerk and when the whistle blows again he stops jerking, and if that isn't the simple life, what is?
--Ford assembly line worker
January 12, 1914 $5 daily wage for 8-hour day replaces $2.34 for 9-hour day for male workers (for women workers--October 1916)
December 10, 1915 1 millionth Ford car produced
1925 10,000 cars/day
May 1, 1926 5-day, 40-hour work week adopted (for factory workers; for office workers--August 1, 1926)
May 26, 1927 Model T production ceases
total sold (1908-1927):  over 15 million
price (1927):  $290

worker salaries:  $7/day


The Language of Mass Production

"Ford Sociology Department" -- name given to the office whose function was to monitor and spy on personal lives of employees in order to root out and expose moral failure

"Ford stomach" -- a nervous condition among Ford employees attributed to the stress and exhaustion of assembly line work

"Ford whisper" -- a form of covert speech used on assembly lines

"fordism" -- an unbalanced celebration of automated efficiency that threatens the basis of civilization

Go to:
  • Shirley (1848), by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
  • Hard Times (1854), by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
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