The assembly line is a process that helped to change the world and make the United States one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. As much as Americans would like to believe that Henry Ford invented the concept of the assembly line, he did not. Ford took a very old concept and put some innovative twists on it to create something that no one had ever seen before. Without the assembly line, we would not have a majority of the products that we enjoy today. While quality suffers when a company uses an assembly line, the price and availability of products strongly favors consumers. The assembly line helped to make the American auto industry the economic powerhouse that it is today, and it also helped to bring about the Industrial Revolution.
Prior to the development of the modern assembly line, the idea of mass-producing products was very limited. Skilled craftsmen would use specialized tools to create parts for products by hand. Once the parts were crafted, the product could be assembled and sold to customers. The process was painfully slow, especially for larger products such as carriages and furniture, and it caused many premium products to be too expensive for the average consumer to be able to afford. The need for an assembly line was evident, but it was an idea that had not yet met with mass approval.
The earliest known assembly lines were first created by China to mass-produce farming implements and weapons centuries before cars were even thought of. In the 12th century, an organization known as the Venetian Arsenal was created to mass-produce ships. Since Venice, Italy, was filled with canals, it was easy for the Venetian Arsenal to move ships through the canals to work areas where parts would be added to each ship. By the time a ship had moved all the way down a canal, it had been completed and was ready for service. But even though the Venetian Arsenal employed more than 16,000 people, it could still only produce one ship each day. While it was an assembly-line concept, it was definitely not a system built for mass production.
The biggest stumbling block to creating a mass-production assembly line was removed in the mid-1800s when manufacturers started to be able to create interchangeable parts using large machinery. Prior to the development of machine tools such as lathes and metal planers, metal parts had to be made by hand. But when this new era of innovation created ways to mass-produce interchangeable parts, it opened the doors for the mass-production assembly line and the Industrial Revolution.
In 1785, Oliver Evans perfected a method for handling a mass amount of materials in his flour mill that had never been seen before. He created the concepts of the belt bucket elevator and conveyor belt, which would be instrumental in developing the modern assembly line. In 1867, meat-packing companies in Chicago started using the assembly line to pull every valuable piece of meat they could off of the bone, which ushered in the era of disassembly by assembly line. By 1885, steam-run conveyor belts were showing up in everything from canning factories to furniture assembly plants.
All of these events set up the most significant date in the history of the development of the assembly line. On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford launched his Model T assembly line that jump-started the Industrial Revolution. Ford's assembly line was actually seven years in the making and was a collection of all of the ideas that had come before his. But Ford took the idea of a conveyor belt and interchangeable parts to new heights and introduced the entire world to the assembly line. His factory was putting out hundreds of cars every month, and this allowed Ford to offer his cars at a reasonable price to people all over the world.
Henry Ford's 1913 assembly line was the first to bring together conveyor belts, bucket lines, and interchangeable parts in one operation. The efficiency and profitability of his idea helped to inspire an entire era in the growth of the United States. Today, assembly lines are still used throughout the automobile industry, and despite advances in technology, Henry Ford's assembly-line concept still remains intact as the way that auto manufacturers do business.
- The Model T
- Henry Ford Biography
- Engines of our Ingenuity: Oliver Evans
- Inventor of the Week: Henry Ford
- Moving Assembly Line at Ford
- Henry Ford Changes the World
- Ford Installs the First Moving Assembly Line http://www.dbusiness.com/DBusiness/January-February-2013/Freedom-to-Assemble-Sidebar/
- The Moving Assembly Line at Highland Park
- Get in (the Assembly) Line
- History of the Assembly Line
- The Evolution of Assembly Lines: A Brief History
- Eli Whitney's Factory and Interchangeable Parts
- The Rise of American Industry
- Industrial Revolution and the Standard Of Living
- The Industrial Revolution for Kids
- The Industrial Revolution: A Timeline
- History of the Industrial Revolution
By: Walter Zeiss