It’s difficult to pin down what might be the most influential innovation to come out of America. While there are numerous contenders, the advent of the Ford Motor Company, the Model T, and the assembly line have led to a manufacturing institution that would go on to change the world. While the first automobile﹘a steam-powered, self-perpetuating vehicle﹘was first built in China, the identity of the modern car as we know it today came into being in the United States, and it was all thanks to the shrewd engineering genius of just a few choice men. Because of them, our business of auto repair at Master Muffler can serve the greater Utah area.
Every Worker, A Cog In Motion
A quick question: who invented the assembly line? If you answered Henry Ford, you would only qualify for partial credit. In fact, the first assembly line was developed by Ransom E. Olds, founder of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company and namesake of the Oldsmobile.
Ransom E. Olds
Olds was a prolific automobile inventor who had the initiative and tenacity to push the boundaries of what was understood about self-propelled vehicles. Knowing that horseless wagons had been driven using steam, gas, and electricity, he decided to make one of each on his own. He became so knowledgeable in car engineering and car repair that he patented the diesel engine and became the purveyor of the most diverse selection of vehicles in the world.
While he was receiving plenty of orders for his vehicles, his inability to make them quickly kept the output in his factory small, while the use of bespoke parts for each individual car kept the products expensive. Using the experimental wit that made him famous, he developed a technique whereby workers would line up next to the chassis of a car in development and affix their particular part to the vehicle. This method was named the stationary assembly line and would go on to increase his company’s output over the next year by well over a thousand cars.
Seeing the success of the stationary assembly line, Henry Ford﹘an erstwhile farmer, tinkerer, and former engineer at Thomas Edison’s factory in Detroit﹘made drastic improvements to the formula and reversed the way in which the assembly line was carried out. Instead of requiring scores of people to bring parts big and small to a single unit under construction, he put the developing car on a conveyor belt which would move past stations where workers would outfit the vehicle according to their job.
The next innovation that Ford instituted to ensure the superiority of his assembly process was to use interchangeable parts. Until this time, standardized assembly was a practice utilized mostly in the production of firearms, where muskets and artillery could be easily repaired by swapping out crucial components. Thanks to Henry Ford’s innovations, cars became much less expensive and time-intensive to produce. By instituting these changes, Ford was able to bring the production time of his affordable Model T automobile down from more than 12 hours to only 90 minutes. Auto repairs became more manageable as well since parts that were broken could now be easily replaced or fixed.
A Worldwide Influence
Thanks to these innovations, the automobile manufacturing industry in America became a global leader. As Model T’s began rolling off the assembly line with uninterrupted efficiency, the Ford Motor Company began to see yearly yields in the millions of cars. This system, coupled with the bounty of America’s oil and steel manufacturing capabilities, gave America an unimpeachable advantage over its adversaries in the second world war. As it turned out, the moving assembly line was great at making airplanes and tanks as much as cars and made auto repair a more manageable endeavor.
While assembly lines have largely become an automated process and the idea of flow has been perfected elsewhere (we must thank Taiichi Ohno at the Toyota Motor Corporation for that), the work of Olds and Ford not only opened up American industry to the world, but gave Americans the gift of autonomy, mobility, and manifest destiny.