What was made on the world's first moving assembly line?

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  • Henry Ford
    American industrialist and business magnate
Some workers at the assembly line, making fly wheels for the Ford Model T car in Highland Park Ford Plant. Highland Park, 1914 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio\Mondadori via Getty Images)
Some workers at the assembly line, making fly wheels for the Ford Model T car. (Mondadori via Getty Images)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.

When the Model T Ford first appeared, it certainly didn’t seem like it would conquer the world — it was $850 and windscreens and headlights were optional extras. 

But the car would go on to become the first motor vehicle to sell a million, becoming the most popular car on Earth. 

But even more revolutionary than the ‘Tin Lizzy’ itself was the method by which it was made — on the world’s first moving production line. 

Maker Henry Ford had been inspired by similar rapid production in the baking and butchering industries. 

His production line, launched on this day in 1913, reduced the time to build a car from more than 12 hours (when done by teams of men working together on one vehicle) to just over an hour and a half. 

Vehicles moving between teams of workers down a production line made the process far faster. 

Ford said his mission was simple: “When I’m through, about everybody will have one.” 

Ford broke down the assembly process into 84 steps: instead of workers doing several, they focused on one or two. 

Workers constructing a Model-T engine on an assembly line in a Ford Motor Company factory. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Workers constructing a Model-T engine on an assembly line. (Getty Images)

Motors were built on conveyor belts that were pulled along by ropes and pulleys: soon he added a mechanised belt which moved at six feet per minute. 

Ford boasted that the invention allowed the work to be taken to the workers, rather than the worker moving to the vehicle. 

By 1924, Ford boasted that a boat-load of iron ore delivered on a Monday morning could be a complete car by Wednesday morning and in a showroom by noon. 

Henry Ford (1863-1947), American industrialist known for his revolutionary assembly-line process for factory production and the Model-T automobile.
Henry Ford (1863-1947), American industrialist known for his revolutionary assembly-line process for factory production and the Model-T (Getty)

Ford’s innovations weren’t restricted to the technical parts of the work.

After some workers left his plant, he began paying $5 per day (around double the average wage for workers at the time).

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This meant he had a loyal workforce, and some have suggested that it created the dawn of the American middle-class. 

It worked: Ford’s workers stayed at the plant, ensuring he had a steady supply of skilled labour. 

Part of the production line at Ford's Highland Park factory, Detroit, Michigan, USA, c1914. The factory, 4.5 miles from the centre of Detroit was the first to make use of assembly-line techniques, in the production of Henry Ford's famous Model T. Designed by Albert Kahn, the plant opened in 1910. (Photo by Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Part of the production line at Ford's Highland Park factory, Detroit, Michigan, USA in 1914. (Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images)
View of a portion of the assembly lIne for Model T automobiles at a Ford manufacturing plant (probably the one in Highland Park, Michigan), 1913. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Part of the assembly lIne for Model T automobiles at a Ford manufacturing plant 1913. (PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

His workers could also afford to buy his product.

Ford said: “We believe in making 25,000 men prosperous and contented rather than follow the plan of making a few slave drivers in our establishment multi-millionaires.”

By the time production of the Model T Ford ceased in 1927, it had sold 16 million, a record that would only be broken in 1971 by the Volkswagen Beetle. 

Watch: Joe Biden floors it in electric Ford F-150

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