Assess the significance of Henry Ford in shaping modern America
Out of all the people associated with the American boom, Henry Ford is amongst the most well known. It was due to his work ethic; aim to make an affordable car for all Americans, and his invention of the assembly line that improved America’s infrastructure and made personal mobility easier and more affordable. In this essay, I will explore the changes that occurred in America due to Henry Ford, and weigh up their significance to modern America today. I will compare modern America with America in the 1920’s and will look at the significance of Henry ford in the changes between them.
Henry Ford wanted to make a car that was cheap enough for all American families to afford. Although this was a near impossible dream, it did result in Henry Ford trying to reduce the cost of cars, and therefore ending up with the idea for the ‘Model T’. A great fan of ‘Taylorism’, Ford wanted to make the production of his cars faster and more efficient. Workers were timed and they were then given tasks that required less time and effort in order to speed up the process of making the ‘Model T’.
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Taylor’s ideas and Fords aim (to make a car cheap enough for average Americans to buy) eventually amounted in the birth of the assembly line. This meant that instead of the workers in the Ford factory going to each car, and spending lots of time making the parts of the cars, then attaching them, the cars were brought past the workers. The workers towards the beginning of the assembly line may do a job such as attach the spokes of the wheel to the main frame, and then a worker near the end of the line would attach the fully completed wheel to the body of the car.
The assembly line meant that more and more cars were being produced every day, and at the factories best, they were producing a car every 60 seconds. The mass production of the ‘Model T’ sparked the idea of using assembly lines in many other industries, and many other companies began to emulate Fords idea. Mass production of radios, clothes and refrigerators began, and this therefore resulted in the increase of advertising. America in the 1920’s had very little advertising, but as household products began to be mass produced, there was a need for advertising as the companies needed to reach their target audiences.
This relates to the booming advertising industry that now advertises nearly every product on the market in America. Without the idea of an assembly line, mass production wouldn’t have come about, and there would have been no need for advertising. This is one significant affect Ford had on America. Because the ‘Model T’ was being mass produced, the price of it went down – in 1914 a ‘Model T’ cost $850 whereas in 1926 they cost $295. This meant that more people could afford one, and more people began to purchase them. Because of the increasing sales of the ‘Model T’, ford was getting more money.
This was useful, as in order to stop workers leaving the factories to work elsewhere (due to their repetitive and tedious jobs on the assembly line) he could increase their wages. Ford increased his workers wages from $2. 50 to $5, twice the average pay per day. This also created a ready market for the ‘Model T’ car, as workers were offered the chance to save their extra money in order to buy a car. Because Ford increased his workers wages, he brought up the average wage for workers in America, which meant more people had more disposable income, creating a market for buying cars.
It also meant more people could afford to buy more in general, especially as they could buy with credit as well. This meant that people were spending their extra money, and in some cases (because they used credit) money they hadn’t got, which meant the American economy was booming with the extra amount of money being spent on goods within the country. The increase in the workers wage, and the ease at which people were allowed to use credit to buy goods, meant that more and more people were buying cars.
In 1930, 23million cars were on the road, and half of them were ‘Model T’s’. This shows just how popular the cars were, and how many people were buying them. The increased number of cars on the road also meant that the government had to build more roads for people to travel on. This meant that Americas infrastructure dramatically improved, with links from major cities being built for cars to travel along, which improved connections between cities, and meant that American citizens could explore their own country without having to rely on public transport.
This is true to this day, as 1 out of 6 Americans have never left their own country. Ford contributed to this, as the impact of so many people having cars meant that people could go on holidays around their own country more often. This meant, and still means, that fewer people feel the need to travel outside of America. It also meant that the leisure industries began to flourish, as more people had the time to enjoy leisure activities, and due to the rise in average wage, they had more money to spend on leisure activities too.
The increasing number of car owners also meant that more people could choose where they wanted to live, as they now didn’t have to live near their work. Instead, they could live further from the cities and travel in each day in their cars. This resulted in the growth of suburbs, which are today some of the most desirable places to live in America. They offer the space that people wanted/still want, without being to far away from the cities where people generally worked/work.
It is due to the mass production of cars, which was started by Ford, which led to people being able to commute to their work places. In conclusion, Ford was an important figure in shaping modern day America. The mass production of cars, which originated from his business idea of the assembly line, meant that more people were able to afford a car. This meant that more roads had to be built around America, linking major cities, and improving communications.
The car also meant that people could carry out daily tasks, such as shopping, with more efficiency, and because they were able to buy larger things, or produce in bulk, they spent more money which went into America’s economy. Because businesses emulated Fords idea of an assembly line, mass production of goods such as the radio came about. This meant more advertising, and so the advertising industry was born. Ford’s aim of making an affordable car for average American citizens meant that more people lived away from work, hence the growth of suburbs which are now spread across America, and are seen as desirable places to live.
Ford had a lot of significance in shaping modern America, as his ideas and business ethic meant that cars became a necessity. Americans could live and travel wherever they wanted in the country. Because so many people were buying cars due to the ‘Model T’, roads had to be improved, and the infrastructure of America grew and vastly improved. Workers were paid more on average due to Ford raising his workers salaries, and due to the increase in disposable income and credit, more money was constantly being paid into the economy.