‘Auto-Car Making’ by Mary E. Marcy from International Socialist Review. Vol. 15 No. 7. January, 1915.
IN 1903 Henry Ford, after much experimenting and inventing and building for several years, incorporated his now famous automobile plant in Detroit, Mich. Other auto manufacturers with small plants sprung up every month for the next few years. Each concern had some special ideas and designs it tried to work out and individual manufacturers vied with each other to produce machines which should force their less successful competitors to the wall and establish their own reputations as makers of the best car.
In not one single department was there the slightest effort made toward standardization in the early days. In fact there was always simple machinery required for each part of the hundreds of different makes of auto vehicle. Repairs could only be rightly made in that particular plant where the damaged part had originally been produced. The accessories of machines, the various parts to be assembled into the chassis, or “working part” of the car, were all different, and, since they could be made on only a small scale, highly expensive. Modern manufacturing machinery only pays when it is used for production on a large scale.
These scores of early small automobile factories had all their corps of highly trained and specialized experts, mechanics, inventors and engineers. The machinery for making automobiles was comparatively simple and all the skill in car-building was in the working force. Naturally wages were very high and the manufacturing cost of automobiles from two to four hundred per cent more than it is today.
But price and efficiency alone can stand the test of use and time among the buying public. Twenty-two makers of inferior machines, or inadequate capital, who had started plants in Detroit in 1904 and 1905, were either absorbed or sent to the wall inside of a few years.
New companies arose to win success or failure in the auto manufacturers’ struggle for existence, according to their weakness or their strength, their good fortune or their misfortune. And in the weeding out process of early competition, the wise manufacturers yielded to the demands of the public and the need for cheaper pro- duction and began to standardize.
And in this race Henry Ford, the inventor and manufacturer, was always ahead of all his competitors. He was the first to realize that standardization and specialization meant cheaper manufacturing cost and that cheaper manufacturing cost meant bigger business and more profits, which would enable him to install still more wonderful machinery, that would automatically and almost miraculously, perform the work of the highest paid experts. And in every step made by Ford in modernizing his machinery of production and eliminating skill in his working force, other automobile manufacturers followed as fast as their growing capital would permit.
Being first in this field Ford was able to secure the best possible men, young men, of quickness and efficiency, to run his machines at the remarkable and unheard price of $5.00 a day, whereas some of the work had formerly been performed by skilled mechanics at from seven to twelve dollars a day, or by experts at a still higher figure. Today many of the Ford employees receive as low as $2.34 a day when they are at work.
Mr. Ford also discovered that his men could produce more cars in less time and with greater efficiency in an eight-hour than in a nine-hour day. ‘‘The Automobile” announced recently that the Ford plant in Detroit ran three eight-hour shifts, so that the vast machines of production are never idle and every man works to the utmost limit of his speed—or is replaced by younger and more efficient men, who can keep up the incredible pace. But more of the Ford plant later.
The changes that have taken place in the auto vehicle industry during the past few years are summed up admirably in the January 8th, 1914, number of “The Automobile.” We have learned, it says:
To discard the car which cannot be built without the faithful and expert co-operation of fifty trained mechanical specialists, and which in the long run cannot be kept in good order without much assistance from the same class, to discard as useless and misleading the working-pride involved in the daily efforts of these fifty, and to learn to look upon that car as the ideal, instead, which once it has been built and tested laboriously by five super-workmen, of mental and manual skill superlative, can be reproduced in large number through almost automatic mechanical machine operations— this change in attitude could not be accomplished easily; for it did not mainly mean the old story of buying more machinery to take the place of handwork, but first of all a thorough and predetermined subordination of the design to the production possibilities, and, secondly, the overcoming of the enormous and stubborn resistance by which skilled workmen will meet a general lowering in the grade of work assigned to them.
One of our friends who has been for years a specialized worker in the automobile industry declares there has never been the rapid growth in the production of any commodity that we see in auto vehicle manufacturing. According to his report the modern industry is less than twenty years of age and a car that was made a decade ago would be a curiosity upon the streets if seen today.
It was as late as 1896 (November) that it became legal to run automobiles on the roads in the United Kingdom. Yet the pioneer vehicles belong in the museum of today.
Earliest inventions were generally of steam or electric power. Prior to these men had experimented on cars propelled by springs. The oldest relic of English manufacture existing today was made by Col. Crompton. He began work on his machine while still an engineering apprentice in 1861; and completed his car in 1869. It ran for several years.
The first successful car built in France was made by Panhard & Levassor, in 1891.
Herr Gottlieb Daimler and Herr Carl Benz are the undoubted pioneers of the modern automobile. They worked within a relatively few miles of each other, unknown to each other, in Germany. Their work was exemplified by a Canstatt-Daimler in 1894-5. This early vehicle bears no resemblance whatever to the modern Mercedes which emanates from the same factory and which attained a speed of 133 miles an hour at Ostend, Belgium.
Another pioneer English car was a kerosene propelled Knight which made its appearance in 1895. The first motor-driven vehicle patented in America was the Selden, the makers of which received royalties from other manufacturers of internal combustion vehicles for several years. The first American car completed for the market was made by Elwood Haynes in 1893. Today the United States produces more, and ‘perhaps better, motor cars than all the rest of the world combined.
The Ford plant at Detroit alone manufactures more cars in one year than France, Canada, Germany, England and Belgium. Specialization and Standardization
It is largely owing to their standardization methods as well as to the excellence of their machines that has placed American manufacturers in the lead in auto making. One has only to compare the trade journals of today and of a few years ago to recognize the immense strides they have made.
Hundreds of subsidiary manufacturing plants have been established most of which supply one single standardized part of the automobile to one or more manufacturers. There are manufacturers of automobile bodies, of tops, gearboxes, radiators and axles. One plant turns out over 20,000 bodies in one year; another produces 14,000 porcelains a week. Holley Bros. put out 1,000 carburetors every day. The Disco Company alone will turn out 30,000 electric starting devices this year. Another company produces over 2,000,000 of a special kind of bearings annually.
In a eulogistic article in one of the trade journals, an expert says in writing of the plant of the Champion Company, “While the writer was at the plant today, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. exactly 23,072 spark plugs were manufactured and packed for shipment to all parts of the world. Before the end of the day 2,000 to 3,000 more had joined the day’s output.”
“Specialization has come along with better machinery, modern factory buildings and scientific factory management. It has revolutionized the manufacturing world. It has brought order out of chaos and left behind that manufacturer who DIVIDES HIS EFFORTS AMONG SEVERAL LINES OF GOODS. Take any of the great industrial successes of today and a brief analysis will show them to depend upon SPECIALIZATION for their enormous earnings and size. In the automobile industry there are many examples of specialization, both in cars and in parts. Ford cars are made in only one type. Each parts maker is a specialist; axles, steering gears, wheels, springs, bodies, issue in large quantities from plants of enormous size which MAKE NO OTHER PART.”
The machinery used in automobile manufacture has developed marvelously. Perhaps nine-tenths of the work formerly performed by many men in many operations is now done by one great machine in a single operation.
Auto manufacturing work calls for many drilling operations. This is especially true of the frame members, which have to take the connections binding the frame together, besides all the members of the car itself which are carried and supported by the frame. The multiple spindle drill is the largest machine drill in the world. This machine is capable of drilling seventy-two Courtesy Haynes Automobile Co. BORING SIX holes at a single operation and is used exclusively for drilling holes in the side bars of the frame. Two men working on this machine will drill all the holes in a frame side bar in 30 seconds. This is just thirty- six times as fast as would be accomplished by former methods—a gain of 3,600 per cent of time.
The new multiple broach machine cuts eight keyways in one minute. The Foot-Burt cylinder boring mill bores all four or six cylinders of the block casting at once. The new battery of gear hobbing machines cut gears for twenty machines a day. The machine cutting the gears for the Haynes motor performs three of the former operations at one time.
The 2,500,000 entire hides used in up- holstering the automobile are measured and cut by machinery which performs the work in half the time required by hand labor. The National Motor Vehicle Company at Indianapolis have an automatic machine for making pistons. This machine simultaneously turns the rings and piston skirt and machines the head and base. It turns out eighty-five pistons a day. A special machine for pressing ball bearings on a Lozier crankshaft has been devised that is a great time and labor saver.
The chassis is called the WORKING parts of an automobile, without its body. The Ford progressive chassis assembly system is one of the most interesting in the motor car world.
“It may best be described as a railroad track system, because in the factory has been built what looks like a railroad track, 800 feet long, with the rails nearly two feet from the floor and not so far apart as in a railroad or trolley line.
“Eighty workmen line this railroad track from end to end, approximately forty on one side and as many on the other. The chassis starts its assembly (or putting together) at one end of this track and is driven off by the tester at the other end. It takes a chassis less than thirty minutes to make the trip from end to end—starting in as NOTHING (but the parts of a car) and coming off A COMPLETE CAR, MINUS THE BODY.
“Between the rails of this assembly (or putting-together) track is an endless moving chain, traveling much slower than a slow walk. This chain has large catches or hooks on it that catch on the differential housing and keep the chassis constantly moving until it is assembled, not a single stop, to put in the motor, to attach the dash, the gasoline tank or any other parts.
“It is a pace-setting scheme; the workman must do his job in so many seconds or he loses out. The moving chain will not wait for him, for other workmen have their work to do. A half hour study of this railroad assembly showed that a completed car (minus the body) was coming off the tracks every 53 seconds, just as regularly as the second hand of the watch made its circuit of the dial. It was not once in 53 seconds, not twice in 53 seconds, but every time in 53 seconds; sometimes a few seconds less.
“There are three of these progressive assembly systems side by side in the main factory, but these three do not represent the assembly capacity of the great Ford organization as the company has fifteen assembly factories in different parts of the country and a dozen more in process of construction.” (The Automobile, May 14, 1914.)
Last week we received a letter from two of our friends who had been earning $7.50 and $8.50 a day painting the bodies of automobiles. One of them said:
“We are out for good, I guess, as these people have installed an automatic painting plant. Before two months are over the other manufacturers will have them, so we may as well be looking for jobs elsewhere.
“A score of cars are run into as many stalls under the new system; given a shower bath of paint and run out into a drying room—all in almost less time-than — it takes to write about.”
The race in motor car making has, perhaps, only well begun. Each week sees some new method employed for cutting down the cost and machinery installed that will eliminate the skilled worker. One of the technical journals announces that it has been discovered that one man can successfully operate two of the new machines at the same time: One is the four spindle Moline drill press, used in machining connecting rods, and the other, a two spindle machine whose locating points bring the rod into perfect alignment for the reaming operation, and centers the rods. One man takes entire charge of these two machines, both of which are performing several operations at the same time.
Without doubt the good old days for the skilled worker and the mechanical expert are over in the automobile industry. Standardization and specialization has eliminated them. Today the skill is in the new and modern machine which will perform, at less cost and at greater speed, the most difficult tasks almost automatically. And highly skilled men are not required to operate these machines.
Fixed capital, or the capital invested in improved methods of production, in modern machinery, has greatly increased and the wage scale, compared to the growth in output, has greatly diminished. The cost of auto vehicle manufacture has been wonderfully reduced in the more modern establishments and the profits to the manufacturers have risen to enormous size. Last year the sale of automobiles in Detroit amounted to more than the total wealth of that city.
The skilled trades will find it impossible to secure a hold in the motor car plants be- cause the skilled trades are becoming unnecessary to the success of these plants. The unskilled worker has at last come into his own so far as getting the jobs is concerned. And it is the unskilled workers who must be reached and organized into One Big Industrial Union. It is up to every rebel in the automobile industry to distribute the propaganda literature of Socialism and Industrial Unionism. The right sentiment is there and it needs only to be crystalized. Let some of the books of Kerr and Company do your work!
https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v15n07-jan-1915-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdfThe International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
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