Appendices - Hirohito's War
ECONOMICS OF THE PACIFIC WAR – THE NEW DEAL MOBILIZED
Production Line and Management Systems: In looking at the speed of takeoff of America’s wartime rearmament, perhaps the key differentiator between the US and other industrialized economies was their expertise in production line and management systems. Henry Ford had played the critical role in transforming the production line. Having left Cadillac in 1902 Henry Ford founded his own company the following year. From 1,708 cars produced in 1903, Ford increased production to 308,000 by 1914 catapulting his company to a 60% share of US auto output. The transformative technology was a flow system of production whereby workers fitted standardized parts with custom made tools to a car that travelled along an assembly line.
This idea, commonplace now, was revolutionary at the time. Previously automobiles had been produced in batches with workers moving from one vehicle to another using general purpose tools. Essentially motor manufacture had been a craft production system – barely a step up from the production of horse drawn carriages. Ford thus developed a production system that focused on vertical integration, little handwork, automation, use of unskilled labor in assembly, moderate quality at low cost as well as high volume. Mass production had arrived.
Of almost equal importance were the development of management organization, branding and financial engineering by Alfred Sloan of General Motors. Though he recognized the astonishing rise is volumes and productivity achieved by Henry Ford’s assembly line revolution, Sloan understood that the management of a vast new industry by a one-man fiefdom was fatally flawed. By the end of the 1920s Sloan’s GM brands, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick had overtaken Ford in market volumes. Both of these giants, joined by Chryler (Dodge and Plymouth) not only survived the depression but gobbled their competitors market share through pricing and investment in new assembly-line technologies – notably the electric servo-motors that powered conveyer belts that brought parts to the work stations of assembly workers.
Although the technological and management innovations led by Ford and Sloan were broadly disseminated before World War II, America was the only country to implement the new mass technologies for war production. It was the auto manufacturers who led the way. In 1942 Ford, GM and Chrysler ceased to produce motor cars. Trucks continued to be built but the remainder of their capacity and new production was entirely geared to war – to the production of tanks, engines, munitions and most importantly aircraft. The Big Three brought their flow system technological expertise to bear on the militarization of the economy.
By comparison, Germany, Britain and Japan, in spite of their significant increases in military output, remained wedded to the batch system of manufacture – a system that was still semi-craft like in its structure. It is instructive to look at photographs of the aircraft assembly facilities of Ford, Heinkel and Mitsubishi. [See attached] At the Willow Run Plant Ford broke down the assembly of B-24 Liberator Bombers in 20,000 separate operations for the 500,000 parts involved not including rivets (700,000). Previously aircraft manufacture had been a hand-craft business. Significantly airframe weight produced by US employee per month increased from 21lbs in 1941 to 96lbs in 1944. The result was that the rate of growth of US aircraft production during the war was 298% greater than Britain, Germany or Japan.
In addition to transforming the systems of manufacture, the automaker also transformed their users into engineers with at least modest technical skills. Model Ts and their successors, Model Bs and ‘8s’ were designed to be repaired by their owners. The Model T came with a 64-page owners manual written in question and answer form showing how everyday tools could be used to solve some 140 problems that could occur with their cars. The need for self-training increased as the Great Depression made self-help an affordable necessity. By 1941 the US auto industry had trained a generation of mechanical engineers who were familiar with piston heads, carburetors and monkey wrenches. Thus, in a war that was highly mechanized from the outset, America, as soon as it had committed itself to compete had overwhelming industrial advantages.