Friday, May 27, 2011

So long, Model T

On this date in 1927, Ford Motor Company ended production of the Model T automobile. The manufacturer's innovative assembly lines briefly shut down to retool for production of the Model A. As you can see, the latter was a bit cushier in the feature department.

Model T:

Model A:

The Model T is an icon of American history for its longevity, durability, putative ability to be repaired with baling wire and rubber bands and prominence as a mode of transportation for the great Dust Bowl-to-West Coast population migrations of the 1930s.

Perhaps more notable, however, was the manner in which the Model T was manufactured. Henry Ford was the first prominent manufacturer to introduce a moving assembly line, reducing the formerly complex work of assembling even a simple car like the Model T into a series of discrete, easily performed and endlessly repetitive elements. This enabled Ford to crank Model T automobiles off the line like nobody's business; it also resulted in a wave of recriminations for how such simple and unthinking labor degraded the workers who were performing such tasks. On the plus side, Ford tended to pay his workers well and operated a variety of services for workers and their families; on the negative side, part of the reason why he did this was to forestall the development of worker's unions that could challenge not only wages but things like working conditions and the mechanisms by which Ford ran his company.

Progress brings criticism. Innovation produces new challenges. Should progress and innovation halt? Not at all. The example of the Model T and the assembly line poses one in a litany of examples, however, of the law of unintended consequences. Lessons we would do well to note as we continue to explore the ways in which technology can transform our lives.

Auto images from's+Model+A+%26+T+cars [note typo in the site labeling this 1929 Model A (correctly identified in the photo information) as a 1921 car].

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