Honk, Honk, Rattle, Rattle, Crash, Beep, Beep

Henry Ford Looking at V-8 engineDid you realize that cars were only invented about 100 years ago? Isn’t it strange how history can surprise you? Can you even imagine your daily life without a family car?

Yet, just over 100 years ago cars were largely viewed as being rich men’s toys. That all changed with Henry Ford.

In December 1913 Henry Ford introduced the first car assembly line. Two months later he further improved upon his process by adding the first mechanized belt. This conveyor belt moved cars down an assembly line at a pace of 6 feet per minute. (Snail pace by modern times.) Yet that improvement had a huge impact: it made it possible to assemble a Model T in far less time (only 93 minutes) and for far less cost. All this resulted in a car that was affordable to many people—not just the elite.  By 1924 you could buy a Model T for $260.00 (equivalent of about $3500 today).

Ford’s innovations also had a significant social impact. Because of the lower manufacturing costs, Ford could afford to pay his workers higher wages. In addition, the increased efficiency of the manufacturing process meant that employees could work shorter days.  From a consumer science point of view, the Model T may be the first example of brand loyalty: for the first time there was a group of people who would only buy Fords.

Ford continually looked for more efficient ways to produce his vehicles.  He realized the value of mass production and knew that the fewer variations in the product, the easier it was to produce a quality item. So he standardized the Model T even down to the color: they were all black. In addition, he was open to putting his ideas into practice even if it meant moving his operation from St. Louis, Missouri to Highland Park, Michigan. This new building was specifically designed to accommodate the changes he had initiated in production methods and assembly line manufacturing.

Everyone Contributes

Watching the early cars move down the assembly line must have been amazing. At each stage a person added parts, and those parts became a car. Everyone and every job was critical. If a part was not there or a person installed a component incorrectly, the assembly had to stop. Specialization of labor made the concept possible. Ford’s implementation was both elegant and innovative.

The workers trained on Ford’s system were indeed on the forefront of an industrial revolution.. Imagine the stories told around the dinner table when those workers got home each night and described their day. It must have been fascinating to relatives to hear how a complete car could be built in less than 2 hours.

Most of these stories are lost to time now, but that does not excuse us from documenting our own  work days and daily life.  We live in a time when innovations happen every day, and we have witnessed the development of various industries, including railroads, airplanes, space and telecommunications, communications and computers. Take advantage of this window in history in which we live and record some of your technology memories on Saving Memories Forever today. Ask older relatives for their “work” stories as well. Find out what their daily tasks included.  Discover how they coped with changes in the workplace. Their perseverance (and ours) is a good lesson for both current and future generations.

What’s Ahead?

Manufacturing in America will continue to be innovative.  It will continue to improve the efficiency and quality on mass production assembly lines; it also promises innovation in the area of building custom products. Just think about it: 3-D printers can now make small plastic items from a photograph!

Pay attention to the innovations that you notice in your life: the car that parks itself, the GPS and wearable technology that allow you to feel safe while exploring, the new advances in medicine, the latest pictures from remote spacecraft. Take in their wonder. Even better: create an “In the Day Of” recording. Sit down with family members and have each member talk about their day. Then share these stories. Make it possible for future generations to have this insight.  They’ll want to know. Your ordinary day will be fascinating to them.

Jen BaldwinGenealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper.


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