Year of Invention: 1913
What Is It? A systematic approach to manufacturing in which a product moves
through the assembly line while stationary workers add one piece per sta-
tion to it as it passes.
Who Invented It? Henry Ford (in Detroit, Michigan)
Henry Ford’s assembly line production made cars affordable. It also greatly increased worker productivity and acted as a model that was quickly adopted by virtually every manufacturing process in the Western world. Before Ford’s assembly line, most automobile workers were skilled mechanics and craftsmen. On the assembly line, workers needed little training or skill since they performed menial, specific, repetitive tasks. The assembly line redefined the workplace and the expectations of workers and employees.
Karl Benz invented the automobile in the 1880s. Within a decade, hundreds of small companies were building cars in America and Europe.
However, each car was hand-made. Many of the pieces and parts (especially the body—or “coach”—work) were hand crafted for each individual car. Car manufacturing plants hired skilled mechanics and metal workers to fit each car together. The process required many hours of labor. Cars were expensive—too expensive for average people to afford. As the twentieth century rolled in, automobiles were playthings of the wealthy—like yachts are today.
At age 16 (in 1874), Henry Ford left the family Michigan farm, quit school, and moved to Detroit to apprentice in a machine shop. There he learned to use specialized tools to make metal parts from fire hydrants to valves. In 1891 (and after a 10-year stint back on the farm), the Edison Illuminating (Light) Company of Detroit offered Ford a job because of his machine shop experience.