An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which individual parts of a larger product are put together in a specific order. Today this process is usually performed by computers, but in its early days it required human hands. The assembly line sped up the manufacturing process dramatically. It allowed factories to churn out products at a remarkable rate, and it also managed to reduce labor hours—benefiting many workers who used to spend 10 to 12 hours a day in the factory trying to meet quotas. The Ford Motor Company adopted the assembly line between 1908 and 1915, and it helped the company become a significant force in the United States economy.

  • Assembly Line: An article that discusses how important the assembly line was to the advancement of the auto industry.
  • Mechanization of the Assembly Line: A page that explains how assembly lines were used in industries other than the auto industry.
  • Mass Production: The first section of an article on the "Roaring Twenties" that examines the historical importance of mass production by assembly lines.

A number of industries, including the meatpacking, artillery, and auto industries, use the assembly line process. The meatpacking industry was already using assembly lines by the 1860s. Workers would stand in stations and operate a pulley system to bring over each animal carcass in turn. They would cut the meat as needed, then move on to the next animal. The firearms industry started using the idea around the same time, allowing weapons to be assembled much more quickly. But those weren't the only industries to use assembly lines. As time went by, other smaller industries—such as the clock-making industry—started using them as well.

During the 1920s, the United States was on the verge of a massive change. As more and more machines were being invented and used all around the country, people continued looking for ways to increase productivity. One of the most significant inventions to come out of that time was the assembly line. This process spread to many different industries, and it helped turn the United States into a major economic power.

  • First Ford Assembly Line: A page that discusses how important Ford's assembly line was to his company and to industry as a whole.
  • Henry Ford Changes the World: An article that includes an account by a real individual who saw how the assembly line improved the Ford company's productivity.
  • The 1920s: A look at the 1920s and the importance of assembly lines in that period.
  • Ford's Assembly Line: A discussion about the importance of the assembly line that hypothesizes where the world would be without it.
  • 1920s: An article that briefly discusses how the assembly line revolutionized the 1920s.

Today most assembly lines are automated, and they require a human worker only at the end of the process—to inspect the products to make sure they are not defective. This is why the assembly line is a valuable part of every major manufacturing industry in the world. These assembly lines operate in manufacturing plants that require goods to be produced on an "as-needed" basis. Effectively, the plants have a two- or three-day supply of the parts they need. A worker watches over the assembly line as machines attach parts together: The human hand is only needed at certain stages. The modern assembly line focuses on speed and quality, so that finished products can be put out on a regular basis.

The assembly line was not invented by one single person. It grew out of a combination of smaller advancements and discoveries. Various people invented cogs, fixtures, and machine tools. By the time Henry Ford started using the assembly line in his company, it had already evolved. Today, almost everything goes through an assembly line at some point. Without it, the world would still be constructing everything by hand.

Though the assembly line's history is not very long, the world can hardly function without it now. From major automobile makers to fast food chains to clothes manufacturers, our world's most integral industries use this process to increase their speed and accuracy—profoundly impacting the lives of nearly 7 billion people. It will continue to be a valuable asset to the manufacturing industries. The ease and uniformity it produces has helped manufacturers provide standardized products for their customers, and has made constructing replacement parts very simple. The very simplicity of the assembly line makes it one of the most useful and inspiring inventions ever.

About the Author

Michael Marcin of Crest Capital. Michael oversees all operations and finance for this national equipment finance lender. He is an excellent technical writer on topics including equipment, vehicle, and software finance and associated tax implications.