Photo Gallery: Working at the Ford Factory

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To reduce costs and increase production of his most successful automobile -- the Model T -- Henry Ford borrowed a tactic from the meatpacking industry and implemented the assembly line in his manufacturing plant. It would revolutionize the auto industry as would Ford's groundbreaking Five Dollar Day wage for an eight-hour shift.||

Within two years of its incorporation in 1903 the Ford Motor Company was producing 25 cars a day. Prior to the introduction of the assembly line, the record time for building one car stood at 12 hours and 13 minutes.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

In 1913 Henry Ford introduced the assembly line to help reduce the cost of the already popular Model T. Instead of working on a variety of tasks to build one car, each worker remained in the same spot and performed one task for his entire shift. Here, men make gas tanks.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

Under the new assembly line system, it took 1 hour and 33 minutes to produce a car, allowing Ford to produce 1,000 cars a day. In this picture, men work on dashboards c. 1918.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

In decreasing the cost of production, Ford was able to achieve one of his dreams -- making cars more affordable for the average middle-class American.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

Despite the success that the assembly line brought to the company, many skilled workers found the work monotonous and exhausting. Pictured here are workers in the tool and die department in the pressed-steel building at the River Rouge plant.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

Turnover was so high, company managers had to hire 10 men for every one they wanted to add to the work force.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

To reduce turnover and increase business, Henry Ford introduced the $5 Dollar Day in 1914, increasing wages per day by nearly $3. The morning following the announcement, 10,000 men showed up at the factory eager for a job.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

Ford added a share of the company's profits to every worker's paycheck, and he went even further by decreasing workers' hours. The story was printed in newspapers throughout the world.

|America's Historical Newspapers;||

The majority of men who worked in the factories were recent immigrants who represented at least 53 nationalities and spoke over 100 languages.

|The Walter P. Reuther Library;||

Henry Ford required his immigrant workers to attend the company's English Language School.

|Library of Congress;||

Graduates of the English Language School would participate in "The Pageant of the Ford Melting Pot." Workers arrived wearing traditional clothes from their homeland and would exit the paper mache melting pot wearing a suit, a straw hat, and waving an American flag.

|The Henry Ford Museum;||

By the 1930s, as workers began to organize for better wages and job security, Ford fought back. In this infamous picture, Ford's security "handled" United Auto Workers members after they arrived at work distributing union leaflets on May 26, 1937. The company's brutality was reported in newspapers across the country.

|The Walter P. Reuther Library;||

In 1941, factory workers went on strike demanding higher wages, overtime pay, and job security. Here, the midst of WWII, frustrated Ford workers bash Henry Ford's well known Nazi sympathies, first made public after he began publishing articles on America's "Jewish problem" in 1920.

|The Walter P. Reuther Library;||

This photo shows workers changing shifts at the Highland Park plant, where Ford's 15 millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927. By 2013, the Ford Motor Company employed 166,000 factory and office workers in 70 plants around the world.


My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

The United States has seen its share of industrial titans. Which of them do you think had the greatest impact on our country and our world? Henry Ford? Andrew Carnegie? Rockefeller? Or perhaps you think it is someone else? Share your story.

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