Mass Production

Mass production is the manufacturing of a product in large quantities. The manufacturing is done on assembly lines in factories. Mass production is a very efficient way to produce goods. Mass-produced products are cheaper to make. So more people can afford them.

Before the Industrial Revolution, some craftsmen worked in small shops. Others worked in their own homes. In making textiles, for example, spinners would spin the yarn in their homes. The yarn was then taken to the weavers' cottages. There the yarn was woven into cloth. Most products were produced for a specific customer at the customer's request. They were custom made by hand.

That changed during the Industrial Revolution. Industries began using machinery. The machines would not fit in a worker's cottage. So factories were built to house the machinery. In the factories, hundreds of workers produced great quantities of an item. This was known as mass production.

There are two important elements to mass production. The first is the standardization of parts. The second is assembly-line production.

Standardized Parts

Standardized parts are also known as interchangeable parts. Instead of making one part at a time or only a few, manufacturers make large quantities. All the parts are identical. As a result, they are interchangeable. For example, a clock manufacturer will make all the mainsprings for the same type of clock the same. When a clock is put together, any one of the mainsprings can be used.

One advantage of this method is speed. The separate parts can be put together rapidly. Another advantage is that it is cheaper to make parts in large quantities than to make a few at a time.

The idea of standardized parts was developed early in the 1800s. Two Americans were responsible. They were Simeon North and Eli Whitney. (Whitney was the inventor of the cotton gin.) Both were gun manufacturers. Each man independently came up with the idea of using standardized parts for the guns. Other manufacturers soon started using this method. Clocks, watches, sewing machines, and farm machinery were among the first products to be made with standardized parts.

Assembly-Line Production

The assembly of interchangeable parts into finished products still required a great deal of manual labor. Parts and materials still had to be moved efficiently around the factory. This led to another important development in mass production—the assembly line.

In an assembly line, the basic part of a product is put on a conveyor. That part moves slowly along the conveyor. As it reaches each worker's station, the worker adds another part. By the time the conveyor reaches the end of the assembly line, the product is complete.

The idea of the assembly line had its roots in the Industrial Revolution. In 1784 inventor Oliver Evans developed a mechanical process to produce flour. He installed a system of conveyor belts and chutes in his flour mill in Delaware. The use of conveyor belts gradually came to be used in other industries.

But it was Henry Ford who revolutionized mass production. He combined the use of the conveyor and interchangeable parts. Ford developed the first moving assembly line in his automobile factory in 1913. The bare frame of the famous Model T Ford started at one end of the assembly line. As the frame moved slowly along the conveyor, parts were added. Each worker was responsible for putting on a part—a fan belt or a door handle, for example.

With this method the time needed to assemble a car was eventually reduced from over 12 hours to only 11/2 hours. Soon cars were being mass-produced by the thousands. Manufacturers of many other products quickly adopted Ford's innovations.

Promoting Mass Distribution

Many manufacturers began using mass production during the Industrial Revolution. They needed to find a way to sell the large quantity of products they created. They used the railroads to bring their products to new areas. And they found new ways to advertise and sell their products.

Cyrus McCormick was the inventor of the mechanical reaper. He pioneered some important sales techniques. The first American traveling salesmen sold McCormick reapers. McCormick allowed farmers to pay over time on a credit plan. And he offered them written guarantees and mail-order parts.

In the late 1800s mail-order shopping began to grow. It was especially popular in the Midwest. Rural families often did not live near stores. Shopping by mail helped them buy the goods they needed. Two early mail-order companies were Montgomery Ward (which started in 1872) and Sears (1886). They became huge marketers of general merchandise. They sold a wide variety of mass-produced goods to huge numbers of shoppers.

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SOURCE: The New Book of Knowledge

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