Terry Smith, in his book “Making the Modern,” argues that the assembly line and Fordism were not new ideas coming at the end of the Industrial Revolution but rather that the lasting impact of Henry Ford on modernity was a symbolic one. His efforts to reduce production cost and human input in order to maximize profit was one that took place at expanding ranges in the 1910’s and 20’s, initially focusing on the small scale factory, moving to large scale global production and then turning towards creating a standardized populous of working and consumer classes.
Smith argues ultimately Ford’s lasting implication was in achieving machine efficiency in order to reduce costs and increase profits, and in doing so he changed notions of consumer markets, labor structures, product design and supply chains. Smith demonstrates firstly that nothing Ford did was original by dissecting the different parts of the structure and comparing them to previous models already in existence. He then shows that what ford did do was focus on steam lining a system of parts that were easily manufactured and interchangeable. In focusing on massive production of just one product with no variation at any level Ford was able to drastically reduce his production costs. Because he held a virtual monopoly on car production he was able to create a mass market and mass demand. Smith, through using River Rouge as an example, is then able to demonstrate how Ford was successful in implementing efficient supply chain as a way of production and economic efficiency. At River Rouge, he argues, the plan and the city are both present but through the autonomous and predictable movement of parts and surveillance of workers and inventory the plan wins out as the predetermining factor. This could be said to be the main contribution to modernity of Ford, that through production geared towards the masses Ford was able to implement an overarching plan of control something modernity consistently strived for.
Furthering the idea that every action taken was one devoted to cost efficiency were Ford’s actions in implementing social order. By offering higher wages he was able to employ large portions of the population. Through controlling their actions by making stipulations for how they acted outside of the office he was able to produce a model of mass consumer that would not only purchase a car but would encourage others to follow their actions. By implementing social orders through economic incentives he was able to control the market, producing for it in order to maximize sales.
Design in America, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993): 15-55.