From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States

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JHU Press, 1985 - Business & Economics - 411 pages

Previous writers on the American system have argued that the technical problems of mass production had been solved by armsmakers before the Civil War. Drawing upon the extensive business and manufacturing records if leading American firms, Hounshell demonstrates that the diffusion of arms production technology was neither as fast now as smooth as had been assumed. Exploring the manufacture of sewing machines and furniture, bicycles and reapers, he shows that both the expression "mass production" and the technology that lay behind it were developments of the twentieth century, attributable in large part to the Ford Motor Company.

Hounshell examines the importance of individuals in the diffusion and development of production technology and the central place of marketing strategy in the success of selected American manufacturers. Whereaas Ford was the seedbed of the assembly line revolution, it was General motors that initiated a new era with its introduction of the annual model change. With the new marketing strategy, the technology of "the changeover" became of paramount importance. Hounshell chronicles how painfully Ford learned this lesson and recounts how the successful mass production of automobiles led to the establishment of an "ethos of mass production," to an era in which propoments of "Fordism" argued that mass production would solve all of America's social problems.


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User Review  - mdobe - LibraryThing

Glenn Porter notes in his forward that Hounshell demonstrates the spread of "mass production technologies": The techniques were spread and improved by a close-knit network of key mechanics, who moved ... Read full review


The Sewing Machine and the American System
The McCormick Reaper Works and American
The Ford Motor Company and the Rise of Mass
The Limits of Fordism and the Coming
The Ethos of Mass Production and Its Critics
The Evolution of the Expression The American
Singer Sewing Machine Artifactual Analysis

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About the author (1985)

David A. Hounshell teaches history at the University of Delaware and is curator of technology at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington.

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