Timeline: The History of the Assembly Line


1913: At Henry Ford’s new 57-acre Highland Park plant, designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the automaker introduces the moving assembly line, which brings each car past stationary workers for the first time. The line consists of two strips of metal plates – one under the wheels on each side of the car – that run the length of the factory.

1917: Construction begins on Ford’s Rouge complex. The facility eventually contains 93 structures, 90 miles of railroad tracks, 120 miles of conveyors, and 53,000 machine tools, and employs 75,000 workers. Kahn designs most of the complex. On three-story structure at the site is erected to build Eagle Boats for use in World War I. The war ends before the boats are put into action.

1922: At the Rouge, Ford manufactures more than 1 million cars for the first time. Henry Ford’s personal fortune is estimated at $750 million.

1941: When the nation goes to war against Germany, Italy, and Japan, the major automakers and their suppliers convert their assembly lines to build tanks, bombers, Jeeps, and weapons. President Roosevelt refers to Detroit as “the Great Arsenal of Democracy.”

1942-45: The first mass-produced airplane, the B-24 Liberator bomber, is manufactured at Ford’s Willow Run plant. Despite fairly high turnover rates and slow initial output, the plant manages to construct 650 B-24s a month in two nine-hour shifts a day. In total, the plant cranks out more than 8,600 aircrafts.

1961: General Motors installs the first robotic arm, invented by George Devol, for use on assembly lines. The arm weighs 4,000 pounds, costs $25,000, and is installed in a plant in Trenton, N.J.

1969: Victor Scheinman, at Stanford University, invents an all-electric, six-axis articulated robot arm. It is the first robotic arm capable of assembling parts and components in repeated, continuous patterns. The design becomes standard, and still influences robotic engineering.

1980s: The Japanese popularize “just in the time” delivery of auto parts to factory floors, thus reducing warehousing costs.

2013 and beyond: At an electronic factory in the Netherlands, 128 robot arms complemented by numerous video cameras handle multiple manufacturing tasks. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent injuries. And they do it all without a coffee break – three shifts a day, 365 days a year.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

30 in Their Thirties 2018

The 2018 class of 30 in Their Thirties spans the business world, including employee staffing, finance, food production, health care, insurance, real estate development, and technology.

Roll 'Em

The film industry in metro Detroit, which is very much alive despite the end of sizeable state incentives that were designed to attract top-flight actors and directors, can draw big-budget production companies like Disney and Warner Bros. by building up a creative infrastructure.

Q&A: Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas is a co-founder of Fontinalis Partners, a venture capital firm in downtown Detroit focused exclusively on investing in technology companies that improve next-generation mobility.

Line of Flight

A longer runway at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, new golf courses and wineries, upgraded resorts, and revamped marketing campaigns are attracting more tourism in northern Michigan.

Integrating Circuits

Not since Detroit absorbed California hot-rod culture have the Motor City and the Golden State embraced each other so tight. The quest to perfect self-driving cars and find innovative mobility solutions made it happen. Is this the biggest story in American business?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Retail Tenants Announced For Bedrock’s Shinola Hotel in Downtown Detroit
    Bedrock has announced four retail tenants that are coming to the 1400 Woodward block in Detroit,...
  2. Michigan Capital Advisors in Bloomfield Hills Invests in Wixom’s Ventech
    Bloomfield Hills’ Michigan Capital Advisors, a private equity firm focused on the automotive...
  3. Dearborn’s Ford and India’s Mahindra Group Sign Agreements to Share Powertrain, Connected Car Solutions
    Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn and Mahindra Group in India Wednesday signed two agreements to share...
  4. Blog: Bringing Humanity Back to the Workplace
    Last month as we celebrated one of my team member’s service anniversaries, it struck me that I...
  5. Detroit’s LIFT and Lansing’s Lifeline Firehose Develop Device Allowing Firehose to Deliver Breathable Air and Fire Suppressants
    Detroit’s Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) Thursday announced it helped Lansing’s...
  6. Macy’s Completes Store Improvements at Somerset Collection in Troy and Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi
    Macy’s today announced that its department stores at the Somerset Collection in Troy and Twelve...