Lienhard 8
automobile ad--freedom for women
What patterns can we see in this complicated story?
How have technology and society become more and more interwoven?  Technology is not just a tool.  We use technology to express our values (like freedom and privacy).  We develop technology in directions that express our values

We use technology to express our values
different cultures prioritize such values in different ways
values shape consumer choices and therefore which technologies succeed

The modern dream changed from the giant city to the suburbs as a result of the spread of the automobile
.   Americans valued freedom of movement.
the automobile was revolutionary compared to the the railroad because it allowed individualized travel
notice the experimenting with different ideas of what an automobile should be before one wins out

before that there was the horse and carriage
Inventions of self-propelled road vehicles started in the late 18th and early 19th century, but low pressure steam engines just didn't make a worthwhile vehicle.  (more early history )


 Cugnot's Vehicle
what you need is an internal combustion engine (or a much improved steam engine or battery) and a market for highway vehicles:
1886 Daimler automobile
  Daimler 1886

you also needed decent roads, and the bicycle boom provided these, as well as a sense of the market.  The automobile probably could have been built 20 years earlier, but the interest was not there.

European automobiles were copied in the US

 1893 Duryea
By the end of 1895 something like three hundred companies were building and testing experimental automobiles The market had two segments
  1897 Curved Dash Olds
 Henry Ford
Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Ford's beginnings (Ford biography)
  • son of a Dearborn farmer, but with a talent for mechanics that led him to a series of engineering jobs before he got into automobiles
  • In 1896 Ford was chief engineer of the Edison Illuminating Co. (now Detroit Edison).
  • In that year he built a car called the Quadricycle and started looking for backers to produce it commercially (he later claimed to have built a car in 1892 but there is no evidence for that but Ford's claims).

 Ford's Quadricycle
  • in 1899 he found a group of businessmen to support him, but they got impatient that he was building cars for automobile racing (which he thought was critical publicity) rather than concentrating on setting up commercial production.  Ford and his backers parted ways in 1902 and his former backers found another engineer, Henry M. Leland, who gave the company a new name--Cadillac--and got it into commercial production.
  • Racing was a way to test out which car was better and get publicity, but it didn't lead to practical cars

Struggle to define the automobile
 Brush Runabout
  • Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with a new set of backers.
    • The Dodge brothers became stockholders in return for providing chassis, engines, and transmissions for the first Ford cars.
  • Ford initially made medium-priced cars--$1000-$1500.
  • by 1910 the industry was consolidating painfully
  • General Motors was about to go under under excessive debt and was saved only by new investors who advanced cash on very harsh terms (6% interest plus a 17% commission).
  • many of the smaller companies went bankrupt, and even the larger ones were better at finance than at solving technological problems.
  • a number of makers were thinking about low cost cars (an idea that was not tried in Europe until after its success in America).  One notable example after the curved dash Oldsmobile was the Brush Runabout, which sold for $500 and had 10 HP and all-wood construction.  It didn't hold up very well.
  • the key invention of this period was the electric starter
    • It was invented by Henry M. Leland and Charles F. Kettering.  Leland became interested in the problem because a friend of his had died in a bizarre accident.  He went to the assistance of a lady whose car had stalled, and when he turned the crank to start it, the crank handle kicked back and broke his jaw.  He died of the resulting gangrene.
    • the electric starter meant that women and older men could drive cars

Ford first invents a better car, then leads assembly-line revolution (more on Ford as a businessman)

  • Ford first designed a mass market car and then studied how to cut costs in production.  Mass market meant not only low cost but sturdy, easy to operate, and easy to repair.  Ford was one of the first to use alloy steel in America.
    Ford's engineers may have had the idea for the assembly line as early as 1908, but they didn't want to delay introduction of the model T to implement it.  The Model T was the first low cost ($825-$850) high power (20 HP) car, also light (about 1,200 pounds) and fairly easy to drive, with a two-speed, foot-controlled "planetary" transmission.  It was immediately very popular--compared to cars costing $2000.  Ford decided in 1909 to produce nothing else.

 Model T
  • Ford's business manager had calculated that to really hit the mass market the price had to be brought down to $600, and that could not be done with existing production methods.
  • Ford begins to focus on how his company can build this car cheaper--look for economies of scale
  • between 1913 and 1914 conveyor belts were introduced throughout the factory
  • time required to assemble the chassis fell from 12 hours 30 minutes to 2 hours 40 minutes, and then by 1914 to 1 1/2 hours
  • price of Model T dropped to $360 by 1916 and to $290 by 1927 (its last year of production).  577,000 sold in 1916.  Within a decade all automobile manufacturers were using the assembly line.

Ford assembly line and Diego Rivera painting (Detroit Institute of Arts)
  • now Ford could hire unskilled workers
    • He paid average wages: $2.38 for a nine hour day.  Workers hated the assembly line and turnover reached over 300%
    • in 1914 Ford began to offer selected workers $5 a day and an eight hour day--about twice the going rate in Detroit at the time.  At one point fire hoses had to be used to disperse the mob of applicants around the Highland Park plant.
    • Between 1914 and 1916, the company's profits doubled from $30 million to $60 million.
    • Ford did believe that the gains made by improving techniques of production should be passed on to society in three ways--to stockholders through dividends, to consumers through lower prices, and to labor through higher wages.  He understood that the worker was also a consumer.  He wasn't fond of stockholders, particularly after the Dodge brothers set themselves up as competitors.  In fact in 1916 (a year with record profits) he paid such low dividends that stockholders sued and won. Ford quotes

 Model T Automobile Plant

Meanwhile Sloan at General Motors was revolutionizing organization and marketing
  • gave more responsibility to production divisions--decentralized organization
  • General Motors made cars for different markets (from Chevrolet at the bottom to Cadillac at the top) and pioneered the annual model change and a choice of colors.  Worked out close relations with dealers.  Consumers began to look for styling and excitement, not the lowest possible price.
  • Ford made the Model T until 1927--15 million of them--nearly driving the company into bankruptcy.  Finally when he had to face reality and shut down Model T production he didn't have a new model designed yet.
  • Even then he played the publicity well and the new Model A was a success.

 1927 Chevrolet
Consider the advantages and limitations of mass production.

Lienhard points to automobile racing and luxury automobiles as showing important ways that automobile technology went in different directions from the practical car predicted by Henry Ford:
"The automobile delivered its conflicting messages of personal freedom, populism, luxury, economy, speed, and general excess." (p. 136)

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
HIST 1220
last updated 10/7/19