The moving assembly line was introduced at the Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant in Detroit on the 1st of December 1913. Taking work to workers was not a new innovation: it is well documented that the Ford Company’s assembly line has its roots in the “disassembly lines” already used in antebellum meat processing plants. Ultimately the Ford Company’s adoption of the moving assembly line played a considerable part in establishing the dominance of petrol-driven vehicles as means of transport, entrenching reliance on fossil fuels, and transforming landscapes as road infrastructure and parking spaces were developed, thus making this a key event in the narrative of the Anthropocene.
The large-scale implementation of the assembly line revolutionised the conditions of production and consumption of consumer goods by making them more affordable. Assembly line thinking relies on an ideology of progress, and natural resources have been consumed on an unprecedented scale since the Great Acceleration by constantly reinvented and improved assembly lines. Yet often recycling is also based on the assembly line model. The assembly line is therefore both a cause as well as a possible solution to some of the wicked environmental problems associated with the Anthropocene.
Nye, David E. America’s Assembly Line. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013.
Shukin, Nicole. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
Image: “Workers on the first moving assembly line put together magnetos and flywheels for 1913 Ford autos,” taken by an unknown photographer at Highland Park in 1913 – in the public domain. Held in the National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency (306-PSE-73-1534).