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Ford's Better Idea

Ford’s Better Idea

For a time in the twentieth century the Ford Motor Company used a bold slogan: “Ford Has a Better Idea”. Given the company’s history, this was no empty boast.

Indeed, Ford Motor – and founder Henry Ford – had had quite a few better ideas. But it was one in particular that changed the world.

This idea involved the use of a moving assembly line to build cars. As the the U.S. Census Bureau points out, it was an idea first put in practice in April of 1913.

It was not an entirely new idea, since moving assembly lines had been used in other forms of manufacturing. Perhaps the earliest example was used in England to manufacture pulley blocks for the Royal Navy.

In the U.S., the meatpacking industry of Chicago used one of the first moving industrial assembly lines.

Ford Brought It All Together

But Henry Ford brought together two industrial-age concepts, and applied them to the building of automobiles: the use of common parts, and the use of a moving assembly line.

The use of common, interchangeable parts makes the use of an assembly line possible, since workers at each station on the line can pull from a “bucket of parts” – with each one being identical to the next.

Before this, parts had to be hand-fitted by workers, a bespoke manufacturing process that was slow and expensive – and required skilled craftsmen.

By using common parts, Henry Ford was able to staff his factories with semi-skilled workers – many of them recent immigrants – each of whom learned to do a simplified process over and over throughout an 8-hour shift. The work product – a line of cars – passed before each work station on a moving line.

This was revolutionary, since it made the manufacture of cars much more efficient than previously thought possible.

Ford used common parts, and build the same model platform – the Model T – for nearly 20 years.

Henry Ford set up the first moving assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan in 1913. Before the assembly line, workers spent over 12 hours building a single Model T.

Afterward, it took only 93 minutes. Ultimately, a new car came off the assembly line every 24 seconds, and 15 million were built over the years of production.

Prices dropped too. In 1909, a basic Model T roadster cost $825 — by 1925, it was down to $260. Now, U.S. automakers — Ford still among them, of course — manufacture close to $125 billion worth of vehicles annually. 

By bringing the cost of cars down so dramatically, Ford brought the concept of personal transportation to the masses. This was revolutionary, and truly a “better idea”.

Ford's Better Idea

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