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Technological mutations and Henry Ford

By James S. Foreman-Peck


Focussing primarily on Europe, this paper examines the evolution of the production\ud technology associated with Henry Ford. Key elements identified are mass and flow\ud production, the progress of which are traced from the early nineteenth century. The\ud concentration of standardised demand, necessary for mechanisation and therefore mass\ud production, was in war-related production and often state industry. Flow production\ud involved linked processes and could be undertaken with malleable materials such as\ud pastry and wood pulp but required the development of powerful machine tools to extend\ud on a large scale to metal products. These tools were developed in the US towards the end\ud of the nineteenth century under the stimulus of skilled labour shortages and raw material\ud abundance. European conditions required compromises with this American technology,\ud both because markets were less extensive and because skilled labour was more abundant.\ud Some of these compromises might be described as ‘flexible production’, for example the\ud early development of internal combustion motor vehicle technology in Europe. But the\ud same technologies and organisations could not compete in supplying the mature,\ud standardised, products. The Ford production line was created experimentally, through\ud many trials and errors. Success bred complacency and institutional sclerosis, allowing\ud General Motors to get ahead in the US during the later 1920s and European producers to\ud develop their own high volume models and production styles. Japanese competition in\ud the form of Toyotism or lean production adopted a different approach to their\ud workforces; an alternative organisation rather than machine technology. German\ud arrangements, running second to the Japanese in efficiency in the 1980s, also depended\ud on the skills of their workforce even though often used in unskilled tasks. Despite\ud employing similar machine technologies, national styles of production and productivity\ud persisted, because national infrastructures, especially training systems, continued to\ud differ

Topics: HE
Publisher: Welsh Institute for Research in Economics and Development
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:
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