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The Assembly Line

They think that the kind of building I want is impossible. I want the whole thing under one roof.

—Henry Ford, 1907

In 1907, Henry Ford hired architect Albert Kahn to design the Highland Park automobile manufacturing plant. Modern mass-production techniques were well established by this time. The principles of mass production dictated the design of the entire 60-acre Detroit site. It was called "one of the most important structures in the history of architecture, in its functional . . . sense" by The New York Times.

Called the Crystal Palace by autoworkers, the 865-foot-long, 75-foot-wide building, made of steel and concrete, had more than 50,000 square feet of glass. Kahn insisted on pleasant working conditions, which included natural lighting and ventilation. Ford agreed—natural light allowed machines to be placed close together, thus reducing wasted space and increasing production per square foot.

It costs no more to design for the welfare of the men and to make the plant bright, comfortable, and good looking as well as efficient.

—Albert Kahn, architect of Highland Park

Kahn, a German Jewish immigrant, had arrived in Detroit with his family in 1880. After apprenticeships and partnerships, he started his own architectural practice in 1903. After Highland Park, Kahn would go on to design more than a thousand Ford buildings as well as hundreds of other industrial structures.

Model T in Factory GalleryIn 1908, Ford Motor Company produced the first Model T, a simple and economical car that became the universal vehicle for Americans. Before 1913, Ford workers completed a Model T chassis every 12.5 hours. In his quest for efficiency, Ford perfected the moving assembly line, which revolutionized the manufacturing industry. Using the assembly line, Ford workers could build a Model T chassis in 93 minutes.

In the gallery, a 1915 Model T has just reached the end of its assembly process and is ready to roll off the "body drop." The body drop was the last step of the assembly line process. The nearly completed vehicle—lacking only the outer body—was called the chassis.

Other Michigan auto manufacturers adopted Ford's system. By 1914, Michigan-made vehicles represented 77.9% of the cars and trucks made in America.

The man who puts in a bolt does not put on the nut; The man who puts on the nut does not tighten it.

—Henry Ford

Tools used for cushions in Ford factoryWorkers using these tools did the same tasks over and over to make seat cushions and seat backs for cars coming down the assembly line.

Workers build magnetos at FordAuto industry "cushion builders" included "clincher-strip men, cushion crimpers, cushion press operators, cushion stuffers, and leather cutters," according to a 1922 Department of Labor publication.

In 1913, workers at Ford's Highland Park Plant stood or sat in one place as the magneto, part of an auto's ignition system, was brought to them by a conveyor belt.


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