Today in History: Ford Installs First Moving Assembly Line for Cars
By M.C. Millman
On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line in Ford’s Highland Park Assembly Plant to mass-produce an entire car in one place.
The innovative production line cut the amount of time it took to build a single car from over twelve hours to two and a half hours. Further improvements in the assembly line over the next year cut that time to only one hour and thirty-three minutes.
Ford installed his moving assembly line for cars because he was singlemindedly determined to lower the price of his vehicles so “about everybody would have one.”
Ford’s Model T car, first sold in 1908, was a good start to a low-cost car, but Ford wanted to drop the price even more by finding a way to build cars more efficiently. Twelve years later, he succeeded well beyond expectation due to his unique assembly line process when, in 1925, 10,000 Model Ts were being produced per day by Ford. The cars cost $260.
Fords were not the first assembly line cars, but Fords were the first that did not have workers moving around for the assembly process. Instead, each worker was assigned one repetitive function, and the parts came to him where he stood in line on the assembly line. The drastically improved efficiency allowed Ford to produce more cars in 1914 than all other carmakers combined.
Even before 1913, Ford had been trying to increase productivity. The Model N car was put together by workers who arranged the car parts in a row on the floor. The Model N was put on skids as it was built so it could be moved down the line to the next worker.
After noting continuous-flow production techniques at breweries, flour mills, canneries, and even in Chicago’s meat-packing plants, Ford took inspiration and installed moving lines wherever he could in the manufacturing process, unveiling the moving-chassis assembly line on December 1, 1913.
When assembling the Model T, Ford divided the assembly into 84 steps and trained each worker to do just one of those steps. Consumed with the urge to do even better, Ford hired motion-study expert Frederick Taylor, who studied the workers and made each step even more efficient. But the most critical improvement to putting together Model T’s in the most efficient way was the assembly line.
Although the Model T made history, it soon was history as by the mid-1920s, car buyers weren’t looking for just cheap - they were actually ready to pay for added features, none of which were included in the Model T. Still, Ford succeeded in fulfilling his dream and had created the car and the method that made it possible that “about everybody would have one.”