How the Assembly Line Changed Everything

One of the first major products to be manufactured via assembly line was the automobile. What many people don’t know, though, is that the assembly line did far more than speed up the production of just cars – it also created the concept of parts uniformity and interchangeability. These concepts improved the efficiency of assembly of thousands of consumer products and established the United States as the preeminent source of consumer and industrial goods during the 21st century. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Henry Ford wanted cheap cars

Henry Ford had a goal of making automobiles for the common man. He knew that to achieve this, he needed to make them sturdy and they had to be cheap. The efficiencies of assembly line production were about to make this happen.

Highland Park Plant

In 1910, Ford built a new plant in Highland Park, Michigan and he consulted with Frederick Taylor, the creator of scientific management, on how to make his plant as efficient as possible. The result was the small assembly areas where multiple assembly steps took place at once. Within the next three years, additional improved assembly techniques were developed and, on December 1, 1913, the first large-scale assembly line was up and running.

How it worked

In total, the manufacturing of a Model T could be broken down into 84 steps. The key to the process was having consistent, interchangeable parts. These parts were created in mass quantities and then brought directly to the workers who were trained to work at specific assembly stations. A major advance was to bolt the chassis of the car to a moving conveyor chain where workers applied specific parts as the chassis rolled by.

Impact on production

The impact of the assembly line at Ford was revolutionary. The production time for a single car dropped from over 12 hours to just 93 minutes! Ford’s 1914 production rate of 308,162 Model Ts eclipsed the number of cars produced by all other automobile manufacturers combined. The efficiency of the production line immediately allowed Ford to lower the cost of vehicles to consumers. Ten years later, the cost of the Model T dropped to $260, the equivalent of approximately $3500 today.

Impact on workers

The assembly line also altered the lives of Ford’s workers. The work day was cut from nine hours to eight hours so the three-shift workday could be implemented. Although hours were cut, Ford nearly doubled the existing standard wage and began paying his workers a princely sum of $5 a day. Times were good at Ford and everyone wanted to work there.

The assembly line today

Today, the assembly line is the primary mode of manufacturing in the industry. However, there have been some tweeks along the way. For example, General Motors developed a number of innovative assembly techniques at their Saturn assembly plant in Tennessee. According to Hoffman GM of Hagerstown, a local General Motors dealer in Hagerstown, MD, workers traditionally crawled inside vehicles to work on cockpits. Saturn cockpits, however, were assembled in a fixture that can be rotated for the comfort of the individual worker. Plus, a moving platform system allowed workers to ride along with the car as it moved down the assembly line.


Today, we have automobiles, food, furniture, toys and many more items that are efficiently produced via assembly lines. While the average consumer does not think of this fact often, this 100-year-old innovation by a car manufacturer in Michigan changed the way we live and work forever.