On this day in 1913, Henry Ford’s innovation of the full-chassis assembly line begins churning Model T’s off at the Highland Park plant. As a result of these developments in method, Ford’s cars rolled in three-minute intervals, or six feet per minute, increasing production by eight times, and reducing the required 12.5 man-hours per-vehicle before, to 1 hour 33 minutes after.
Shockingly, Ford did not have this better idea strictly on his own. Shop-man and millwright William “Pa” Klann (picture greasy overalls) pitched the concept upon his return from visiting Swift & Company’s slaughterhouse in Chicago and viewing what was referred to as the “disassembly line,” where carcasses were butchered as they moved along a conveyor. Ford gave the green light in 1906 and after much trial and error, placed his indelible stamp and button on the better idea.
But, the rest of the story pipes a sour note into this lovely chord of industry. It turns out, the implementation of mass production of an automobile via an assembly line may be credited to Ransom Olds, who used it to build the first mass-produced car, the Oldsmobile Curved Dash. Olds patented the assembly line concept, which he put to work in his new Olds Motor Vehicle Company factory in Lansing, MI commencing in 1901, yet no one says “have you driven an Oldsmobile lately?”
Olds himself lifted the concept from the line-style industry in various uses with the long shop, jigs, fixtures, interchangeable parts and other practices used since the late 18th century in milling, rigging, railways and other applications. Soon textiles, firearms, clocks and watches, horse-drawn vehicles, railway locomotives, sewing machines, and bicycles saw expeditious improvement in materials handling, machining, and assembly during the 19th century.
So kids, while impure capitalism shows there’s mostly never anything new under the sun, pay close heed to GOP state legislatures deploying the Koch-inspired ALEC playbook, as they perfect and protect assembly lines for the forfeiture of middle-class incomes and savings up to the one percent, and other forms of privilege-protecting trickery at a faster rate than even old Ford himself could have dreamed of.
And here the lesson endeth