Did Henry Ford Invent the Assembly Line?
Is it true that Henry Ford invented the assembly line, or just an urban legend?
No doubt you have heard the urban legend that Henry Ford invented the assembly line. Hopefully, you have rolled your eyes like a teenage girl every time you heard this, because it is not true.
While it is true that the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit Michigan is the home of the first known use of the assembly line method for manufacturing automobiles, it is certainly not the first time man-kind has used the assembly line method for getting work done.
In fact, Henry Ford doesn’t even deserve the credit for coming up with the use of moving assembly belts in the Piquette Avenue Plant in 1913. Most modern historians believe that the real credit for using the assembly line method of production came from Ford Motor Company employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin, Charles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills.
Magneto assembly line via Wikipedia
An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which interchangeable parts are progressively added to a larger semi-finished assembly that moves from workstation to workstation in sequence until the final assembly is finished.
Ancient China had been mass-producing metal agricultural implements, ceramics, armor, and weapons using assembly line methods centuries before it appeared in Europe.
Starting in the year 1104 and lasting all the way until Napoleon conquered Northern Italy in 1797, the Venetian Arsenal employed some 16,000 workers. The massive Venetian Arsenal spanned an area of 110 acres, and was said to be able to construct, fit out, arm, and provision a newly built galley in a single day using standardized parts on an assembly-line basis!
View of the entrance to the Arsenal by Canaletto, 1732 via Wikipedia
There are of course other historians who will claim assembly line methods used by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and even earlier cultures. Bottom line, there is little doubt that the assembly line method of production is ancient.
For the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, the assembly line enabled an enormous increase in production. How enormous? Well, by 1914 sales of the Model-T had passed 250,000 units and by 1916, sales reached 472,000 units! Another advantage of the assembly line was that the cost of production of the Model-T went down and the Ford Motor Company was able to drop the price of the basic touring car to only $360 dollars (roughly $7,828.08 in 2015 dollars.) By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T's.
Ford Piquette Avenue Plant with a Model-N passing by via Wikipedia
As Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. This kept parts simple and interchangeable, a key feature in assembly line methodology. While the Ford Motor Company was the first automobile manufacturer to use the assembly line method to produce its cars, Henry Ford certainly did not invent the process.
Keep driving my friends!