The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 22
Mass Production Since the War Between the States

What Is Mass Production?

"MASS PRODUCTION" has come to serve as a strikingly descriptive label for a type of industrial production that has attained full-blown proportions only in very recent years. It suggests perhaps more a trend in production than a simple, single, and clearly defined industrial process. The name itself, its catch-phrase character widely and favorably publicized, has caught the popular fancy, and has acquired a kind of broad social significance as a gather-all of many different connotations. It has come to be regarded as a distinctively American phenomenon, in which is embodied the essence of all past industrial achievement, and in which is contained the promise of all future industrial progress. It appears to supply the secret to the winning of modern wars and to the achievement of the great goals of economic prosperity and social well- being in peacetime.

Apart from the popular meanings that have been encrusted upon the label, the concept of mass production is undoubtedly a convenient one, insofar as it may provide a frame within which he who is rash may attempt to compress the complicated history of American industry, especially since the War Between the States. But what are the essential ingredients of this concept, and which of them can serve as a guide in telling the story of mass production? The first major ingredient would appear superficially to be the magnitude of industrial output. But magnitude is a relative factor; it is both a necessary condition of mass production and a measure of its effect, rather than its central core. Fundamentally and primarily, mass production relates to a method or to a body of methods and techniques developed in industry. Henry Ford early recognized this connotation in a definition credited to him: "Mass Production is the focussing upon a manufacturing project of the principles of power, accuracy, economy, system, continuity, and speed. . . . And the normal result is a productive organization that delivers in quantities a useful commodity of standard material, workmanship, and design at minimum cost."1

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1

Quoted from an article by Henry Ford on "Mass Production," first published in the Thirteenth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica ( 1926), Vol. II, p. 821. Maw production was also the subject of two monographs prepared by William Butterworth and Pierre Gounod respectively: dealing wit its American and European aspects. Written under the auspices of the Europe-United States Committee

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