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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Hit The Road Jack

around the worldIf mass tourism is defined as “affordable travel without purpose”, then it’s only a teenager.

To some extent, it all started back in the 18th century. But at this time, only the wealthy traveled for pleasure. And they loved it! In a letter to a friend, one lord complained that there were too many princes and princesses staying at the Baltic Sea resort that he was visiting.

While the aristocracy enjoyed the seaside, the rest of us could hardly imagine it. That sentiment continued for a long time.

Early Travel

Well into the 19th century, travel in America was slow and difficult. Most of the time people walked.  Even when the stagecoach lines made travel faster and less expensive, it was still a long and cumbersome journey. Maybe you’ve come across old journals in which your relatives described the difficult journey.

Then came the railroad, steamboat, and the building of canals. Railroads were especially intriguing as they were twice as fast as anything Americans had previously experienced.

In the last half of the 19th century, the cost of railroad travel went down steeply. An inventive Englishman (Thomas Cook) capitalized on this trend and developed package tourism. Using railroads, Cook sent hoards of tourist off on adventures.  Some of us might even have memorabilia handed down from ancestors who took those early tours.

Move Over

Little noted at the time, the refinement of the bicycle triggered the next leap in transportation. Bicycles were affordable. Moreover, bicycle mechanics were clever. In 1893, bicycle mechanics built the first gasoline-powered “motor wagon”.

AAAA1912-ford-model-tExciting though it was, the car was not an overnight success. It was commonly referred to as a “stink chariot” and perceived by most as a rich man’s toy. Many people at the time traveled around using a horse and buggy.

In 1908, Henry Ford changed all that with the introduction of his low-priced, highly efficient Model T. In 1915 there were 2 million cars in the United States. By 1927, there were 14 million Model Ts alone.  This is where I connect: my grandmother’s first car was a Model T. (I’m willing to bet that a number of you have pictures of your relatives posed in their Model Ts.)

Route 66The widespread popularity of the car put pressure on the federal government to get directly involved in road development. Route 66, which ran from Chicago, Illinois to California is a prime example of this road construction. Maybe some of your adventurous relatives traveled along Route 66 in its heyday.

Anticipating a huge boost in travel, one enterprising man (Arthur Heineman) built America’s first overnight motel, the Milestone Mo-tel in San Luis Obispo, California. It opened on December 12, 1925. His plan to build a chain of Mo-tels spaced approximately one day’s drive apart was derailed by the Great Depression.

VT 22After WW2, car prices decreased even more. To accommodate the cars and the demand for easy travel, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act that began construction of the 42,800-mile Interstate System across the country. (I didn’t realize until writing this blog that I was born just at the cusp of all of this. But I do remember riding up to Vermont with my family along Route 22 for years and then switching to the interstate when it opened up. In retrospect, I missed some of the character that Route 22 offered, and, nowadays many people make a point to travel along the old routes for scenery and local history.)

In the 1970s, passenger planes became mass transportation. Rising incomes and low travel costs made international travel possible for many.

While many still travel to far flung tourist destinations (Australia is on my bucket list), things have changed over the last decade. Largely due to the economy, many families are now choosing “staycations” or just day trips to a nearby beach, mountain range, or park. For those of us who take these shorter trips, the focus of vacation travel places equal priority on both “getting there” and “being there”.

blog_KidsInCar_Small_Dec2010Growing up, Jen Baldwin’s family took turns picking the destination. Jen’s favorite destination activity was riding on an old steam engine railroad. She fondly remembers the drive there with her four siblings stuffed into the minivan, the excitement of city lights, and the magical warm embrace of a relative.

When it comes to car travel, I fondly remember my grandmother’s 1954 Ford. While it lacked a back seat and featured vacuum-pressured windshield wipers that would stop when going uphill, this car was one of the few that started during the cold winters in upstate New York. Traveling in that car was always adventure; in part because I was never sure that I would actually make it to my destination.

Lessons Learned

  • No matter where you go, take the time to record some of your vacation stories.
  • Tune into the reactions of your children. If you notice your child staring in amazement at the long string of car lights, talk about this marvel and record that conversation.
  • Take a few pictures to document what your child is witnessing. The Saving Memories Forever system is flexible. It can be used both to document your child’s growing up and as a tool for recording times gone by.
  • Resolve to go through those boxes of vacation photos and start grouping them. Pick your favorites and write down a few points you remember. Then call your brother or sister and patch together a family vacation memory.
  • This holiday season, ask your relatives about favorite holiday trips they’ve taken. Record their stories.  Pay close attention to the details of how they actually got there.

Just as modes and routes of transportation have drastically changed over my lifetime, who knows what changes are in store for us in the future.  Maybe we’ll all be saying “Beam me up, Scotty!”

 SMF-Jane1Jane Baker, co-owner of Saving Memories Forever, likes to blog about little things in everyday life that strike her fancy.