How the Assembly Line Forever Changed American Productivity

How the Assembly Line Forever Changed American Productivity

( – American business thrives in large part due to unparalleled innovation. There’s Thomas Edison and his lightbulb and nearly 1,100 other US patents. We have Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone — “Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you.” Innovation doesn’t always come in the form of an invention, though. Sometimes, it arrives as a new way of using an item or the development of a new production technique, like the assembly line.

Okay, okay… the assembly line wasn’t exactly new. Its origins trace back to time immemorial. It’s an ancient concept extending to a place in time before memory or record. But, it was the more modern implementation of the assembly line that was so influential.

The Prototype Assembly Line

Encyclopedia Britannica attributes the modern ancestry of the assembly line to a 19th-century meat processing technique used in Chicago and Cincinnati. Meat processing plants in those cities developed a system of overhead trolleys using chains to move animal carcasses past the workers at a steady pace.

Stationary workers were placed next to each other, with each one performing his or her task as the carcasses went by. This system reduced the necessity of movement of the workers, dramatically increasing productivity.

However, it took the innovative mind of American industrialist and automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, to expand the concept to the modern version of the assembly line still in use worldwide.

Henry Ford and the Modern Assembly Line

Using his knowledge of the meatpacking industry technique, Ford designed an improved version of the assembly line and put it into operation in 1913. His first use of the system involved the production of magneto flywheels for his famous automobiles, and it reduced manufacturing time to 5 minutes from 20.

Next, he started using the technique to assemble automobile chassis. He managed to cut production time down from the original 12-1/2 hours per chassis to 6 hours by using a rope to pull a chassis from station to station alongside stockpiles of components. He later added a powered chain drive and reduced chassis production time to 93 minutes by 1914.

Reduced production time and the corresponding reduction in man-hours per automobile revolutionized the American manufacturing industry. It also dramatically lowered the price tag for automobiles and other products, expanding their availability to America’s expanding middle class.

The advancement of new techniques to improve the modern assembly line seems limitless. Engineers constantly work to improve production, and robotic machines now perform dangerous tasks to boost workplace safety. What began as an ancient production technique has truly changed the world we live in today — and for the better.

Copyright 2021,

Previous articleWhat’s the Deal With the Filibuster?
Next articleThe Evolution of Taxes in America