Through this lesson, you will learn about the major developments in manufacturing that occurred during the 1920s, and gain insight into how the development of mass production influenced the lives of millions of people.
Definition of Mass Production
In the present day, if I wanted to buy a new set of dining room chairs, I could simply go out to a furniture store and buy them.
I probably wouldn’t have to spend too much time inspecting each chair before I bought them because I can assume that they’re made on an assembly line, therefore they’re probably all going to be more or less identical. This type of manufacturing is what’s known as mass production, and when it was first introduced over 100 years ago, it dramatically changed millions of lives.Mass production is a way of producing large amounts of standardized material goods, which means that they are all generally identical. In most cases, mass production involves the use of an assembly line, which involves a product being moved down a line as the individual parts are added until it reaches the end of the line as a finished product.Prior to the 19th century, most objects and products were produced by hand, either by a single person or a group of people working together. This process was slow and often produced small batches of items that had no standard shape or size. Throughout the 19th century, however, new tools and technologies allowed for labor to become mechanized, which increased the speed of production and the output of material goods.
Eventually, this type mechanization developed into the type of manufacturing we are familiar with today.
As you can probably imagine, things like cars, airplanes, and other machines require many small parts and chemicals in order to be functional. Because the larger machines are designed on an assembly line and are intended to be nearly identical, these parts and chemicals also have to be standardized in order to ensure they work properly. As noted above, standardization is the idea that each object coming off the line will have the same size, shape, and components, and it is the key to successful mass production.Prior to mass production and the industrialization of labor, it was nearly impossible to create a large quantity of something and have each individual piece be identical. Imagine if you were working in an auto plant and had to create each ignition switch by hand. What do you think the odds are that they would all be compatible with the cars coming off the line? In mass production, the standardization of processes and technical specifications allowed for these individual pieces to be identical, which in turn allowed for more complex objects, like cars, to be produced quickly and affordably.
If you were to ask a group of people what they thought was the most significant invention of the 20th century, it’s likely that one of the most popular answers would be the automobile. But as much as the automobile changed the way people lived and traveled, it also dramatically altered the way in which products were manufactured.Although cars were being produced throughout the first decade of the 20th century, their production was often slow and costly, which made them expensive and out of reach for most individuals. In 1913, however, Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Motor Company, developed a new way of manufacturing that cut the production time of around 12 hours per car to two and a half hours. Rather than having different groups working on different parts around the factory, Ford had the workers stand in one place on an assembly line and focus on one particular part before passing it to the next group. This led to lower rates of injury and much faster production, which resulted in higher wages for workers.Ford’s new model for the assembly line was so popular that it was quickly imitated by other automobile manufacturers around the world.
This led to the rapid development of automobile technology. As a result of Ford’s changes in manufacturing, cars became much easier to produce and in the early 1920s, had become much more affordable for ordinary people.
The Effects of Mass Production
Mass production made manufacturing safer, cost effective, and more efficient, dramatically effecting societies around the world.
For workers, higher efficiency and productivity meant higher wages, less working hours, and a rise in overall quality of life. In a broader context, the rapid development of production and transportation allowed for goods and raw materials to be processed and sold at an unprecedented rate, leading to substantial economic growth for the manufacturing industry and overall prosperity.While mass production and assembly lines allowed for a boom of economic growth, it also brought a substantial increase in collective and individual prosperity throughout the 1920s. This, however, was brought to a halt at the end of the decade by the Great Depression.In 1929, the Great Depression was the result of a combination of events, including the stock market crash, hundreds of bank failures, federal trade policies, and drought, which caused many people to lose their life savings. Because people had no money, they were unable to buy as many things, which drove down the demand for material goods and slowed production. In response, manufacturers had to lay off workers, causing a scarcity of jobs and a general decline in quality of life.
As one of the most significant changes to 20th century life, the mass production of goods in the 1920s allowed for products to be made quickly and in large quantities. Mass production was made possible by changes to manufacturing, including a new model for the assembly line, which required workers to stay in one spot on the line and focus on creating specialized small parts. This paved the way for efficient standardization, which is the idea that each object coming off the line will have the same size, shape, and components, and it is the key to successful mass production.
Using this method of production, Henry Ford, the owner of Ford Motor Company, was able to substantially cut the time and money that it took to create automobiles, making cars more affordable to a much wider consumer market. Although these advances increased the overall quality of life for millions of people, the prosperity of the 1920s was brought to an end by the Great Depression of 1929, which was the result of a combination of events, including the stock market crash, hundreds of bank failures, federal trade policies, and drought, which caused many people to lose their life savings. This caused many people to lose their jobs after mass production slowed as a result of the depression.