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Labor Industrial Relations

American automobile workers, 1900-1933 by Joyce Shaw Peterson

By Joyce Shaw Peterson

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The contours of mass production helped determine the specific tasks for which workers were employed, as well as the work rules and work atmosphere in which they worked. Detroit's growth as an auto-associated city placed many auto workers within a specific urban and labor relations context that gave shape to workers' lives both on and off the job. The industry's history provided a setting of change, success, and growtha setting within which auto workers lived a complex pattern of experiences characterized by hope and despair, acceptance and rebellion.

Previously, only a few automobiles had been produced in the United States. In 1897, the Pope Manufacturing Company put Columbia electrics as well as a few gasoline cars on the market; the Stanleys began commercial production of steamers; Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton formed companies to manufacture gasoline engine automobiles. ) Alfred Chandler has suggested a three-stage approach to the early history or the automobile industry. The first decade of auto history was one of experimentation, slow but steady growth, and many small producers who managed to launch companies with little capital and experience.

Producing for a mass market, the concomitant price reductions, and the attendant development of assembly lines and interchangeable parts were the decisive developments in the automobile industry before the 1920s. That automobiles became genuinely popular articles between 1910 and 1920 is clear in the following figures. 11 Even the Model T, however, needed better roads if automobile ownership was to expand and encompass long-distance travel. Leaders in the automobile industry soon understood the necessity of improving and expanding the highway system.

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