Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era

Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era

Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era

Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era

Synopsis

This book shows how Ford's first large automotive plant - the Crystal Palace - transformed the sleepy village of Highland Park, Michigan, into an industrial boomtown that later became an urban ghetto, and the first American city whose life and well-being depended entirely upon the employment and production policies of the automotive industry. It shows how in the process of attempting to create a workforce in the likeness of Henry Ford himself, the Ford Motor Company used "scientific management" as the basis for redefining the relations between labor and management, and as the basis for attempting to manage the quality of life of those who worked in the factory, and of those who lived in its shadows. This innovative work makes an important contribution to the study of the quality of life of the pioneers of modern industrial production. Given the recent developments in the automotive industry, Life in the Shadows provides a timely examination of this important episode in the history of American workers, along,with significant details and interpretation of the earliest mass production facility and the local community that resulted from it. The author discusses such issues as what the community was like before the coming of the Crystal Palace, the evolution of the production processes, the development of a new "manager class", and the work of Ford's Sociological Department.

Excerpt

Scholars devoted to the study of the history of Detroit and the automotive industry have recently called for a change in focus. Stephen Meyer, for example has noted that while biographies and autobiographies of the emperors and barons of the automotive industry abound, the histories of the workers have not been written. In stark contrast to the history of the barons, which has been given so much attention, the history of automotive workers such as those who lived and worked in the shadows of Ford's Highland Park plant (i.e., the Crystal Palace) remains hidden in the corners of the shops and departments throughout the automotive belt. Nora Faires is among those who have made a call for a change in the focus of studies aimed at elucidating the social history of Detroit and the automotive industry.

In her recent review essay, Faires concludes that the books of Steve Babson, Meyer, and Olivier Zunz all added to the limited understanding of Detroit's ethnic groups of the late nineteenth century: "[T]he influx of foreign born workers of the Highland Park plant undergirds Meyer's discussion of the changing policies implemented in the factory; the shifting fortunes of the city's immigrant groups is the centerpiece of Zunz's analysis, and accounts of immigrant workers weave through Babson's saga." But the important point is that "despite each author's concern with ethnic issues, the thinness of the secondary literature shows through the books, diluting their descriptions of the city's changing ethnic mosaic." Given her special interest in women's history, Faires is most emphatic in noting that "the paucity of research on the lives of the city's women and the isolation of women's history form the mainstream of social history impoverishes all three books." It is in the final paragraph of her authoritative critique, that Faires argues that the full historical reconstruction of Detroit's past will require that we know more about domestic servants, beauticians, waiters, and janitors; more about those outside the paid labor force, such as those tending children, the unemployed, and the aged; and more about various neighborhoods in the vast urban expanse, from the central city to the suburb.

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