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  • Writer's pictureChiagozie Okoye

Henry Ford and the Assembly Line

When looking for individuals who contributed to the development of the manufacturing industry, Henry Ford frequently comes to mind. The assembly line Ford implemented to produce his Model T greatly revolutionized not only the manufacturing industry but working conditions as well. This article aims to answer the following: How did the assembly line for the Ford Model T vehicle better working conditions and the treatment of workers while revolutionizing a market?


A collection of five sources will be used to answer this question. The first is a primary source, an excerpt of an edited autobiography by Rose Pastor Stokes entitled “Excerpt from I Belong to the Working Class,” in which Stokes describes her life working in a cigar factory. Supplementing Stokes’ descriptions of work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is the secondary source article “Workers in the Industrial Age” written by Sonia G. Benson and others. Following these two is “Henry Ford Comments on the Assembly Line,” a commentary by Henry Ford where he explains the rationale behind his company’s assembly line. Lastly, there is the primary source article “GIVES $10,000,000 To 26,000 EMPLOYEES: Ford to Run Automobile Plant 24 Hours Daily on Profit-Sharing Plan” by the New York Times and “The Middle Class Took Off 100 Years Ago ... Thanks To Henry Ford?”—a secondary source—by All Things Considered (there were no listed editors or authors; the name of the publication was used instead).


Before we can see how the Ford Model T assembly line revolutionized the workforce, we must understand the standards for work before Ford and his company. We see a clear example in the article “Excerpt from I Belong to the Working Class.” In this excerpt of her unfinished autobiography, Rose Pastor Stokes illustrates the life of herself and her family as they live in Cleveland, Ohio in the late nineteenth century. Stokes initially worked as a cigar maker in a shop owned by a Mr. Wertheim. During the winter months, Stokes only had one dress and a jacket to wear to work for Mr. Wertheim, where she earned less than five dollars a week. The meager salary could barely support her family, writing, “Food became so scarce in our cupboard that we almost measured out every square inch of bread” (Stokes 1999). Come spring, Stokes resigned from her work at Mr. Wertheim’s shop and moved to work for a Mr. Brudno’s factory. In reality, Mr. Brudno’s “factory” was a sweatshop. Stokes describes the confined conditions of Brudno’s sweatshop where Brudno exploited non-familial workers by extending their training periods— meaning that they were paid less or not at all—to keep his profits high. Fortunately, the Stokes’ workplace improved with Brudno’s move to a proper factory loft. However, working conditions and pay did not improve. Stokes and her fellow cigar-rollers were paid fourteen cents for every one hundred cigars they rolled. During all of this, Brudno pressed upon his “...poor little child slaves...” with curses, anger, wage cuts, and staff cuts (Stokes 1999). Things worsened with the economic crisis of 1893, which lowered the already barely livable income of Stokes and her family.


Stokes’ tale is one of the millions that illustrate the difficult life workers endured during the industrial era. Many were employed in factories where they performed the same task for sixty or more hours a week for wages less than ten dollars a week. Within these factories, conditions were not optimized for the laborer. Factory rooms were often poorly ventilated and housed scores of workers sardined together. Such poor conditions led to the United States has “more industrial accidents...than any other industrial country” during this period (Benson, Stock, Brennan, 2006).


Now, seeing the horrendous state of working standards in this age, we can move to Henry Ford’s impact on labor. Henry Ford explains the rationale behind his famous assembly line that could produce 9,000 Model T’s daily in 1925 (All Things Considered). In the article “Henry Ford Comments on the Assembly Line,” Ford states that the goal of his assembly line was to maximize its efficiency. This was done with the following principles: position all workers and tools strategically to minimize the movement of each component; have moving carriers transport parts between workers; have assembled lines deliver components at convenient, arm-reach distance (Ford, 2015). The assembly line greatly increased the manufacturing power of Ford’s factories and defined his company globally. Profits for Ford Motor Company doubled within two years and the company dominated the motor industry through the usage of this tactic. The action that Ford and his company chose to take next, however, was what changed the concept of factory work.


In 1914, the Ford Motor Company began two, unprecedented things: an eight-hour working day and a minimum five-dollar daily wage. To emphasize this, workers such as Rose Stokes were working more than twelve hours for a weekly wage of less than five dollars. The New York Times in a January 6th issue stresses that “even the boy who sweeps up the floors will [be paid $5]” (New York Times, 1914). To pay laborers so much was unheard of at the time. By implementing these changes, Ford Motor Company stabilized its workforce, as All Things Considered puts it, and attracted passionate employees to the motor corporation. In better conditions and with better pay, factory workers employed by Ford had increased productivity and personal livelihood. This created a “...positive feedback loop [that] gave rise to a broad prosperous middle class” who lived better and became active participants in the consumer economy (All Things Considered, 2014). Moreover, these effects were not only present in Ford Motor Company’s factories. As mentioned, better wages, conditions, and hours attracted employees to Ford; these workers were abandoning and bypassing other businesses to work for Ford and the assembly line. Other businesses would have to increase the quality of employment they offered to compete with Ford’s company. Essentially, the introduction of the Model T assembly line “...raised the bar [for manufacturing] all over the world” (All Things Considered, 2014).


To conclude, the moving assembly line of the Ford Motor Company transformed the manufacturing world and introduced the concept of mass production. This implementation did more than improve manufacturing, though. The assembly line led to the betterment of working conditions and working wages globally, improving not only manufacturing but those who labored alongside the new machinery.


 

References

  1. Stokes, R. P. (1999). Excerpt from I Belong to the Working Class. In American Journey. World War I and the Jazz Age. Primary Source Media. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EJ2164000039/UHIC?u=nhc_main&sid=UHIC&xid=45c 532af

  2. Workers in the Industrial Age. (2006). In S. G. Benson, J. Y. Stock, & C. Brennan (Eds.), Development of the Industrial U.S. Reference Library (Vol. 1, pp. 117-132). UXL. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3442000019/UHIC?u=nhc_main&sid=UHIC&xid=d36 b8d89

  3. The Middle Class Took Off 100 Years Ago ... Thanks To Henry Ford? [Radio broadcast transcript]. (2014, January 27). All Things Considered. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A356967065/UHIC?u=nhc_main&sid=UHIC&xid=d5bca fca

  4. Ford, H. (2015). Henry Ford Comments on the Assembly Line. https://go-gale- com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/ps/i.do?p=UHIC&u=nhc_main&id=GALE|DHFOSM987208216 &v=2.1&it=r&sid=UHIC&asid=e35ecd10

  5. Special to The New York Times. (1914, Jan 06). GIVES $10,000,000 TO 26,000 EMPLOYES: FORD TO RUN AUTOMOBILE PLANT 24 HOURS DAILY ON PROFIT-SHARING PLAN. MINIMUM WAGE $5 A DAY NO EMPLOYE TO BE DISCHARGED EXCEPT FOR UNFAITHFULNESS OR HOPELESS INEFFICIENCY. New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from https://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fhistorica l-newspapers%2Fgives-10-000-26-employes%2Fdocview%2F97572504%2Fse- 2%3Faccountid%3D3783

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