There’s no question: Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company invented the art of high-volume auto production. Here’s some of their wizardry at work in an original 1928 clip.
Introduced in 1928, Henry Ford’s Model A was not quite as wildly successful as the car that put America on wheels, his 1908-1927 Model T. Still, nearly five million units were produced over the Model A’s four years of production, as Ford and his production experts, led by Cast Iron Charlie Sorensen, continued their search for faster, cheaper, and better ways to produce automobiles. This little two-minute film clip from 1928 is a wonderful history lesson on the production process at the colossal River Rouge factory complex. Here are just a few of the insights:
+ Note the complicated maze of conveyors feeding components into the production line at every step. While the moving assembly line was a key innovation in auto manufacturing, it was the conveyor system—timed and choreographed with painstaking care—that made it possible. Many, including Ford manufacturing boss William E. Knudsen, said it was actually the trickiest part of the exercise.
+ While the Ford manufacturing process was highly automated in these years, it still required intensive hand labor. As we see here, large numbers of workers were used in every department, so many that they are bumping into each other. At one point we counted seven men with their hands on a single chassis. That’s a far cry from today’s robot-operated auto plants, which seem almost like ghost towns in comparison.
+ On the cylinder block conveyor line, we can see African-American men at work. Ford was a pioneer in hiring black workers at the giant Rouge plant—although the reasons weren’t entirely altruistic. The company recognized these workers had fewer opportunities elsewhere, and thus their turnover was lower. At Ford, minority employees were placed mainly in the most menial or physically grueling positions, including janitorial and foundry work. Ultimately, the World War II labor shortage brought more complete integration to the auto plants.
Summing up, there’s a lot to see in this two-minute silent film. After multiple viewings, we’re still picking up lessons. Video follows.