Henry Ford: Assembly Line
25 artifacts in this set
Ford constantly tweaked Model T assembly lines at its Highland Park plant for efficiency. In 1914, wheels and radiators were conveyed to a platform and slid down ramps for installation on the same line. By 1925, wheels (with tires already mounted and inflated) were conveyed directly to workers, who installed them on both sides of the chassis at once.
Ford workers disliked the new assembly line methods so much that by late 1913, labor turnover was 380 percent. The company's announcement to pay five dollars for an eight-hour day compared to the previous rate of $2.34 for a nine-hour day made many workers willing to submit to the relentless discipline of the line in return for such high wages.
When a Model T leaving the assembly lines at Ford's Highland Park plant was going to be shipped by rail, it was not fully assembled. In this photograph, workers temporarily place bodies onto chassis. At the loading dock, bodies and wheels would be removed and packed separately to conserve freight car space. Full assembly took place at branch plants closer to the vehicles' final destination.
Letter written to Henry Ford from the wife of an assembly line worker, January 23, 1914. The woman writes asking Henry Ford to investigate the situation on the assembly lines in the factories with regard to working conditions. She is angry about the treatment her husband receives on the job.
Ford's Model T mass production system would not have been practical without electricity; by 1919 nine of these Ford-designed hybrid internal combustion/steam engines generated the power needed by the Highland Park plant's assembly lines and associated machinery. By 1926 the engines were rendered obsolete when electricity was fed from the power plant at Ford's River Rouge plant ten miles away.
On the chassis assembly lines, frames, axles, gas tanks, engines, dashboards, wheels, radiators, and bodies came together in that order to produce finished, running automobiles. Workers install gas tanks sliding down from the overhead platform to the assembly line. Tanks contain a gallon of gas so that the Model T cars could be started at the end of the line.
This 1914 touring car is one of several Model T automobiles given to naturalist John Burroughs by his friend Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company experienced a milestone year in 1914. The automaker fully implemented the moving assembly line at its Highland Park plant, and it introduced the Five Dollar Day profit-sharing plan for its employees.
Swift & Company's Meat Packing House, Chicago, Illinois, "Splitting Backbones and Final Inspection of Hogs," 1910-1915
At this meat packing operation, a conveyor moved hog carcasses past meat cutters, who then removed various pieces of the animal. To keep Model T production up with demand, Ford engineers borrowed ideas from other industries. Sometime in 1913 they realized that the "disassembly line" principle employed in slaughterhouses could be adapted to building automobiles -- on a moving assembly line.
The first Ford assembly line at the Highland Park, Michigan plant was relatively crude. Here, in 1913, workers put V-shaped magnets on Model T flywheels to make one-half of the flywheel magneto. Each worker installed a few parts and simply shoved the flywheel down the line to the next worker.
The Highland Park Ford Plant, designed by renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn, was the second production facility for the Model T. It was here that Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, instituted the Five Dollar Day, and became an international celebrity.
One worker at Ford's Highland Park Plant connects a Model T driveshaft to its transmission, while another lowers an engine onto the chassis using a chain hoist. This 1913 assembly line was relatively crude -- workers pushed or pulled vehicles to each station. The next year, Ford would install chain-driven, moving assembly lines to improve efficiency and increase productivity.
On the chassis assembly lines, frames, axles, gas tanks, engines, dashboards, wheels, radiators, and bodies came together in that order to produce finished, running automobiles. In this view of installing the assembled dashboards, workers connect ignition wires, spark controls, and throttle controls to the engine, and connect the steering column to the tie rods on the front axle.
Ford and his engineers constantly searched for ways to speed up car production and keep costs low. The integration of a moving assembly line in Highland Park Plant allowed the company to do just that. From 1908-1927, Ford Motor Company produced over 15 million Model T cars and the price dropped from $850 to as little as $260.
In 1906 Ford Model Ns were assembled on the third floor of Ford Motor Company's Piquette Avenue factory in Detroit. Cars were put together by crews moving from vehicle to vehicle. No one had yet conceived of the moving assembly line. Behind the rows of cars are engines, stored on their noses to conserve space.
This diagram illustrates how the massive River Rouge Plant turned coal, iron ore, limestone, rubber, and sand into iron, steel, tires, glass, and finished automobiles.
Henry Ford developed the Fordson tractor to meet the needs of small farmers. Its lightweight, unit-body design was well-suited for the assembly line, and production began in 1917. The inexpensive Fordson quickly became the most popular tractor in America. Here, Fordson tractors are lined up for wheel installation in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Ford building at the 1933-1934 Chicago World's Fair was lined with photomurals depicting Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Complex, the largest, most efficient manufacturing complex of its time. The murals were enlargements of photographs taken by George Ebling, Ford's chief photographer for the exposition. His depictions of modern industrial production exemplified the fair's Century of Progress theme.
"They Changed the World--the Model T and the Assembly Line" Clip from Interview with Bob Casey, 2011
Bob Casey was the John and Horace Dodge Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
At Willow Run, Ford Motor Company built B-24 bomber planes for World War II using automobile mass production techniques. Airplanes were much more complex than cars. They required constant design changes poorly suited to a standardized assembly line. Ford overcame these difficulties and, at the plant's peak, Willow Run crews produced an average of one bomber every 63 minutes.
Ford Motor Company's assembly methods depended on the fluid movement of materials to workers. At its Highland Park plant, the company used an overhead monorail conveyor to carry parts around the factory. Each electrically powered car was driven by an operator riding in the cab. More than a mile and a half of track ran throughout the factory complex.
Engineers at Ford's Highland Park plant had fine-tuned the moving assembly line. With this experience in hand, Ford created the B building at its new River Rouge complex with extensive conveyer systems to accommodate the flow of parts and assembly processes. These line workers assemble Ford's radical V-8 engines, the first 8-cylinder engines available for inexpensive cars.
This photograph shows Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Complex in 1930. Completed in 1928 along the newly dredged River Rouge, the Rouge Plant was the largest, most efficient manufacturing complex of its time. It quickly became an icon of modern industrial efficiency.
Ford Motor Company repurposed its assembly lines to meet military manufacturing needs during World War II. The last peacetime automobile rolled out of Ford's massive River Rouge plant in 1941, and focus shifted to the wartime production of aircraft engines and military vehicles. The Rouge manufactured M-4 tanks through 1943 and continued producing M-4 engines and armor plates until war's end.
The Model T's distinction as a landmark car design can be traced in large part to machines like this -- a high capacity precision machine tool that performed just two production steps on the car engine's cylinder block. The Model T as a design achievement is inseparable from many hundreds of engineering, materials, and production innovations.
Workers put the final touches on a 1932 Ford Model 18 equipped with the company's new V-8 engine. Ford's assembly line resembled a river system. Smaller lines or "streams" fed components -- frames, engines, wheels, bodies -- to the larger final line. All the parts came together in this main "river" line where the car took shape in its completed form.