325--Week 10 Questions/Comments

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In Cowan's "Social History of American Technology", on the forth page, the author discusses society's scorn for early doctor's use of tools as "unprofessional". Public perception on this issue has changed so incredibly since the invention of the blood pressure cuff and now it seems just the opposite. Mechanical and technical skills appear to be critical in the success in nearly every industry and occupation with companies spending millions to further educate their employees about new technology and systems as they become available. I just found this contrast eyecatching, as I had never thought about the scorn of tools in professional industries as a part of our past. -Adam Shlossman

I also thought the discussion about the scorn for medical implements kind of funny -- if one remembers that the simple tools used by early war doctors (i.e. Revolutionary and Civil) and how the only knockout drug was a swig of strong liquor, it becomes less funny and more depressing. And yes, there has been a great turnaround in the way we view doctor's tools. In fact, we tend to trust them more then the actual doctor. --- Jeff P.

Later on in Cowan's book he discusses an extended debate between top politicians like Jefferson and Hamilton about the desires of God for technology. This debate is portrayed as a rather widespread and fueled affair. I was curious, did many debates such as this get the founding fathers of America talking theologically? We have heard the bible discussed with regard to slavery but this seems suspiciously absent from many of early America's political reasoning. - Adam Shlossman

I could not help but notice how Nye's chapter on "Crosstown Transfer" relates to the current crises our local governments have been facing against a nearly identical problem. As Metro lines to Dulles and Tyson's Corner are being scapped halfway into production, it is becoming clear that the previous mentality distinguished by a lack of foresight is still at play. It is notable indeed to further pursue class discussion on this topic. American society gave up on trollies. Will buses and trains come next in this logical progression? Or is America's mindset really shaping everything? - Adam Shlossman

I thought it was interesting to read the memoir by Charles Sorensen and then to have that followed by Charles Madison’s description of his service to the Ford assembly line. The first memoir talked about the assembly line in terms of its great achievement in the field of manufacturing and production and proclaims at the end “Under this system man is not a slave to the machine, he is slave without it.” And after reading about Charles Madison’s experience, I’m sure he would stand to disagree. After moving from job to job in search of better pay and a better working experience, he finally decided to rid himself of the deceptive promises that Ford made to its workers and commit to the Dodge factory. It shows a real contrast between the two perspectives. –Jessica Kilday

I too thought that it was interesting; however, unlike Madison I would not disagree. Just by going off of what Dr. McClurken said in class on Tuesday of the rapid pace in which automobiles were being produced after the invention and adjustments were made to the assembly line. To think that anyone would disagree with the methods of the assembly lines and the speedy way in which it produced equipment is just insane. Who wouldn't want to make a car in 93 minutes instead of seven days? Not only did the assembly line help mass produce cars, it also helped during the wartime effort and has proved vital ever since the Model T.--Marren

“The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States,” explored how people adapted to technology in terms how they saw it to be most useful. The car began to be used for a lot more uses than transportation from place to place. So much so, that it became indistinguishable from other pieces of farming technology in rural areas. I was somewhat surprised that the automobile wasn’t readily adapted in the rural areas, especially since the conception is that rural farms are the most isolated and distanced from the expansions in the cities, including technology and access to consumer goods and department stores. On a side note (addressing some of the legislation aimed at preventing the use cars), the image of cars driving behind people waving red flags in Vermont is slightly entertaining. –Jessica Kilday

I completely agree with Jessica. I was also very surprised by this reading stating that cars were not automatically adapted into rural areas of the country. In my opinion I would think this would be the first place for the car to be welcomed with open arms. The famers have to most distance between not only each other but most parts of the town and they had much more work to do. But if you look at the statistics about who was buying cars and for what purpose cars were used when they were first made, one can see how this statement about rural areas actually makes sense. – Jimmy Conroy

I saw the reading on "The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States" quite interesting because it really outlined how the car was viewed in terms of usefulness. I would have figured that the rural areas would have accepted and adapted the car not as something fun but a means to connect them to more people to be social and improve their way of life by being able to have some of those things that can only be found in a city. Aislyn

From the selection of readings about technological acculturation, I liked the prizewinning essay. I never would have guessed that it was written by a 15 year old. It is suppose to portray what the effects of electricity were on the family in the early 20th century. However, it more shows how the electric company wanted people to think about the effects of electricity. Since it was a contest, people were writing in and describing images of electricity in the home in ways that they thought would be positive for the company (it’s one of those, tell them what you think they want to hear, even if you disagree). Given the prompt was to write about how it “adds to the happiness of the family” obviously people are going to take it a certain direction. I would only wonder how the essays were published in the original sources, was it explained as an essay aimed to address this particular prompt? Or was it used as more of an advertising tool? To suggest something like “see, even the children see a more positive family dynamic, so if you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your children…” –Jessica Kilday

Nye 133-137 Nye's article describes the growing gap between the social classes during the 1920s. "[T]he automobile had created a gap between those who drove and those who rode." (133) I find that more and more, new technologies are for the privileged not for all Americans. Thinking about it today - who has the new I-phone? The people who can afford it. Basically new technology does intensify the awareness of who can afford what new gadget (for today, and apparently in the 1920s as well). --Elle

Kind of going off that, do you think that the absence of technology, or greater technology in the hands of a few, does that cause people to become angry, or to want it. The reason I say this is because in another class we've been discussing the aspects of early communism, and how the disenfranchised worker/poorly mistreated soul becomes angry and goes with the commies. Would a stranglehold on some forms of technology by the upper classes cause problems like that? --- Jeff P.

I agree with Elle in terms of comparing today's technology with the 1920s; however, I would disagree with the fact that Ford wanted his automobiles to be affordable and even encouraged his workers to buy a car for their family. In other words what I am trying to say is the car was a way to close the social gaps created by finances in the 1920s and cars seemed to be more affordable then where as in today's society it is not the fact that you have a car in which you are judged on but rather what type of car. The same goes for other sorts of technology (I-phones, IPODS, computers, etc.)--Marren

Marren, I definitely agree. I think iCulture and car culture have gotten to such an extent that we know the newest Chevy, Lexus or iPhone more than we can name our local Senate representative (being registered in the Fred Vegas area, it's Rob Wittman, for me). As for judging car by car, I really kinda miss my 125,000-mile '97 Jetta. That thing was rad. -Cash

Nye's article was a good one because he does illustrate the growing gap of the social classes during the 1920's. Not for nothing I can see the gap between the social classes in the 21st century with all sorts of technology.It shows a gap in financial gaps, as well as social classes, and geographic areas are seperated, so the car as well as many others seperate and have a huge impact of life. Aislyn

I also found this article interesting, and I think the gap in social classes can still be seen in terms of transportation. I was reading one of those bizarre advice columns in the Post a couple weeks ago and saw someone writing in to complain about people who sniffle and sneeze on the Metro coming to and from the city. The columnist chastised this particular contributor, stating that the solution to this problem is not for people to stop riding the train if they're a bit under the weather but to realize that people can't "sacrifice the $20" to park in a public garage because not everyone has a car. Automobiles have become such a prevalent part of the American lifestyle that now, we tend to forget that not everyone is lucky enough to have one. -Cash

My Life and Work, 1929 - Henry Ford The way that Ford describes the Model T is somewhat disturbing to me. Simplicity being the key - I didn't realize a car could run with only 4 main parts - he may be oversimplifying for us (undoubtedly), but the intentions of car producers and marketers has definitely shifted. Imagine if this statement were still true today - "The parts could be made so cheaply that it would be less expensive to buyy new ones than to have old ones repaired..." (315) Maybe I am just a little bitter about some recent car problems, but wouldn't it be nice if people could still use the words "cheap" and "new car parts" in the same sentence? The assembly line came up several times too and all I could think about was the dis-assembly line (euw). -- Elle

I think nowadays we cherish the fact that our cars are full of parts, technolgy and gadgets. Ford came to realize during his time that Americans wanted simple, cheap and better. There was no better way to get them that then the ever-efficient assembly line and his Model T. --- Jeff P.

I was really impress by how the new technologies made the car parts as well as the cars cheaper so that more American could afford them. This really seemed like the one way that new technology was available to most. Yet there were some places and groups that were excluded from being able to purchase the cars. Today it seems that the new technologies are only available to the select few. -- Kellye S

Full Social History of American Technology - There is definitely a trend that new technology tends to deskill the laborers involved with the old process. For example - the sphygmomanometer vs. the finger - some felt that by adding this new technology, it was taking away from the importance of fine-tuning skills learned to be a doctor. While this is true (in my opinion) it also makes the profession more technical and standardized - which helps everyone in the long run. --Elle

The short Nye reading was really interesting to me because it showed the political sociological, and economic reasons for the rise of the automobile. One reason that stuck out for me was the fact that riders did not accept the "zone system of payment," which Europeans used (134). Why Europeans like it but not Americans. Anyway, the reading described more about why one piece of technology is chosen over another and specifically discussed the automobile. Just another reason to not believe technological determinism. --Kirsten Walleck

Social Reconstruction- The "anti-auto crusade" discussed in the beginning of the article is very entertaining. The laws, such as the one from Vermont that "required a person to carry a red flag and walk ahead of the car," and the personal attacks on motorists in states all over the country surprised me and made me think about all of the opposition new technology takes (i.e.electricity). I also found it interesting that one law addressed scaring carriage horses. My horse absolutely hates cars and almost kicked his foot through a driver's side window when someone sped past us, so I can only imagine what those horses thought of the weird machinery. Funny how opposition can be seen in politics, social settings, and the environment.--Kirsten Walleck

I enjoyed reading Henry Ford's "My Life and Work, 1929". In it, Ford describes the process of developing the ideas behind the Model T, as well as the execution of its production. Throughout its development, you can clearly see the ideas of previous American inventors embedded in the creation of the Model T. Eli Whitney and John Hall's systems of interchangeable parts, the American System of Manufacturing, and Taylor's Scientific Management are all ideas utilized by Ford to create the Model T. - Lon

Reading about Henry Ford's "My Life and Work" was good because through out the reading I saw how he improved on the ideas of others, which is a good thing. I am not at all a fan of Henry Ford because what I have learned in another class. As a person he was not so good, but what he accomplished for industry was wonderful. Aislyn

The 15 year old girl's essay "How Electricity Effects Economy in the Home and Adds to the Happiness of the Family" is a clear demonstration of how electricity and electrical appliances effectively changed American's day to day lives. It is also an example of how people saw electricity not only as a technological development, but progress for society overall. Fern Van Bramer asserts that through electricity, Americans can now enjoy both happier, and efficient lives. For Van Bramer, the past is literally seen in the dark, while the future is flooded with light and warmth. - Lon


The encyclopedia article from 1926 about mass production seems to be informative, but perhaps skeptical? The article first explains what mass production is, “the focusing upon a manufacturing project of the principles of power accuracy, economy, system, continuity and speed”. Next, the article lists the effects of mass production on society: 1. Increase in industrial control, as distinguished from financial control 2. Highest standard of quality ever attained in output of great quantities. 3. Wide variety of single-purpose machines. 4. The physical load is lifted off men and placed on machines. Finally, the article makes an interesting ending argument about the need for skilled labor. It seems almost out of place! The article states, “the need for skilled and creative genius is greater under mass production than without it,” then goes on to say, “it has been debated whether there is less or more skills as a consequence of mass production. The present writer’s opinion is that there is more”. Based off of this, I get the feeling that the encyclopedia was almost trying to cover their butt. As we have discussed in class, the rise of mass production meant the decline in skilled workers. It seems as though the author of this article knew this too, but was reluctant to say it. Rather, the argument was justified by a generalization/opinion that in modern times, every field of work requires knowledge and responsibility. Does this suggest that there is no longer a distinction between skilled and unskilled workers? Everyone is just a worker? And what does that mean for the worker? -- Erin Sanderson


I found the essay, How Electricity Effects Economy in the Home and Adds to the Happiness of the Family, to be hilarious! The argument of this prizewinning essay states, “if more wives and mothers would only understand that money spent in beautifying their homes is the truest form of economy, fewer fathers and sons would be paying for the bright lights in unwholesome places”. The argument is that light from electricity would motivate men to come home rather than go to “unwholesome places” which allure them solely based off of their bright lights! Rather, Women should embrace electricity so the men can come home to them where they can have a home cooked meal waiting! Very indicative of the time, did people really buy into this!? – Erin Sanderson

When we learn about Henry Ford and his development of the assembly line and how it brought a lot of progress to American manufacturing it is easy to forget the common people working in the factories. In "Detroit Motors" by Edmund Wilson, a man named Bert describes his experiences working for Ford. The workers are forced to work very long hours, have very short lunch breaks and are kept in a constant fear of loosing their jobs. It seems that in an effort to maximize production not much attention was given to those doing the actual work. This shouldn't be a very big surprise however, since employee rights wasn't considered even a possibility at that point. -Lauren Milner

After reading the text and Lauren’s comment about Henry Ford I was somewhat confused. From my understanding in class was that Ford cared about his employees and saw them as a leading part to the success of his company. Long hours and short breaks completely contradict these thoughts and this leads me to believe that maybe all the good that was said about Ford may not be entirely true. But I can also see where this makes some sort of sense because the changes that were made in his factories were done not because it made work easier for the employee, but because it made production and the flow of money faster. It always all comes down to money – Jimmy Conroy

Charles Madison's Seven Years of Automotive Servitude also helps to bring to light how Ford's advertisers got the best of many seeking work in his factories. When Charles tried to get a job under the $5-$7/day system he was surprised to learn that it came with fine print. Its kind of a shame that he didn't stay in the drafting room as he could have worked his way up but just like my brother he quit and later came crawling back. The juxtaposition of the harsh "hell" like conditions of Ford and the nicer, slower Dodge are interesting. Ford, being a way more popular company in terms of sales, shows how one can't be nice and slow to get ahead in any industry. -Lauren Milner

I found the passage from Henry Ford's autobiography, "My Life and Work, 1929," very interesting because Ford describes the development of the Model T and assembly line manufacturing process as scientific. Ford's research team made it their goal to reduce the amount of time that it took one to complete a given task. They valued production, and to some degree worker comfort, enough to repeatedly shut down operations in order to make tasks easier. It's interesting to note that while Ford paid his workers well and allowed them the mobility they desired in switching jobs, he was adamant that work had to be done by the book or else the factory would descend into utter chaos. While it may be true that some people legitimately preferred to not have to think while working, it seems unlikely that unskilled work satisfied every factory worker. After all, Ford himself claimed that he could never do the jobs of his employees. -Bryan Lees

The document on "Colonial Radio Saves Wasted Motion, 1934" is a good example of how the notion of unskilled, assembly line labor permeated all venues of American industry after Ford adopted the principles. It was clever of the company to show its female employees that using the assembly fixtures and improved bins greatly increased their production while reducing the amount of energy they exerted in their work. Did other companies and industries use similar tactics in training their employees in not only how to do their work, but in "proving" that their way was so much better than thinking for one's self? -Bryan Lees

There’s a lot to be said about Henry Ford, but let’s keep it simple. He was pretty much a jerk. His autobiography certainly shows some of these jerkass qualities. The fact that he was terrified of repetitive labor himself but imposed it on his workers says a lot. He seemed to believe that being a creative man made him unsuitable for that kind of work, while the ordinary working majority actually craved a job without physical or mental exertion. Also, Ford may have offered his employees high wages, and he may have given jobs to immigrants and African Americans, but there were so many strings attached before anyone got anything. For instance, before being accepted for the Five Dollar Day plan, Ford’s Sociological Department first investigated workers at home. The department encouraged the “right” way of life, which included good morals, sobriety, family values, etc. The department also aimed for the Americanization of immigrants. For instance, it was required that they speak English at all times. With his Sociological Department, Ford expanded control over his laborers from the workplace only over into their personal lives. There was a reason Hitler considered this fellow a hero. --Taylor Brann

It’s interesting to see how amateur involvement with the radio actually led to government restriction. The federal government didn’t have much of a place in quickly consolidated technological systems like electricity and telephony. What was the reason that large companies didn’t consolidate radio technology and stations right away? Why were amateurs allowed to become so involved and knowledgeable in radio technology? Even young boys were encouraged to make their own, despite the interference that they could cause on commercial and navy stations. --Taylor Brann

I enjoyed reading Henry Ford's account of how things went down in the assembly plants and then reading Charles Sorensen's account of the assembly line. The impression that Ford's article made for me was that he was the main thinker for the changes that we made to accommodate to the efficiency of the assembly line so that mass production would work to the best of its ability; while Sorensen's article explained that the idea of the assembly line was taken from previous ways of moving pieces to work on and that the ideas were a joint effort. "[Ford] was glorified as the originator of the mass production idea. Far from it; he just grew into it, like the rest of us" (321). -Melissa Graham

Another thing that I found interesting was Ford's insistence that the average worker could work mind numbing activities day in and day out and be alright with it only because they didn't want to move up in the hierarchy that is job positions. I found the points that he made about the workers in the factory were belittling. -Melissa Graham

[In response to above] >>>> "American worker no need brain stimulation when working shift. If you no like it, another worker replace you. Enjoy living in cardboard box next to sewer, then" <<< [Russian factory foreman rant off] --- Jeff P. =)

One thing I found striking was in the passage by Henry Ford titled "My Life and Work," he writes "the parts could be made so cheaply that it would be less expensive to buy new ones than to have old ones repaired." The cars he was building would not last forever and would inevitably need repairs or replacements. He made it cheaper to buy new parts, so customers would buy new parts from Ford instead of going to a repair shop. Even after a person purchased a car, the company could still make money from the sale of replacement parts. This demonstrates Ford's shrewd business skills because he was guaranteeing the success of the company. -- Karen Siegmund

In class we discussed Ford and Professor said how Ford encouraged the term "Fordism," and James J. Flink's "Modern Times" addresses the term. He describes the term and is read with a negative tone, thats how i perceived it. He opens with the end to skilled workers and then in the definition, says "apprenticeship required for becoming a competent craftsman" were no longer necessary. It shows with just those sentences, how the workplace went from a prestigious job/ability to where anyone could do it. I realize it is more efficient, but it seems the workers lost their ability to contribute to the end product, it was now a fixed result. Also, the lunch break, 15 min, is just ridiculous. Flink goes on to explain the workplace conditions. There were "gang labor spies and thugs": to keep control of the workers. --Maggie Wroe

In this week's readings "Colonial Radio Saves Wasted Motion" is another document where women are bring used in the workplace (from the watch texts). I like that it describes the need for training girls, and the steps through it. --Maggie Wroe

Charles Stevenson's piece highlights an important theme that has been brought up several times in this course. The person who gets credit for an invention is not always the person solely responsible for creating it. Stevenson refers to Henry Ford as a "sponsor" of the process of mass production and not as the sole inventor. In the cases of many other artifacts such as the cotton gin and the Bessemer steel process, it is unclear as to who should receive credit. Thomas Edison was given credit for inventing the light bulb, when in fact he had dozens of people working in his laboratory helping him. It also seems common to forget that none of these artifacts were created out of the blue, but came from antecedents. Stevenson is just stating his role in developing the process of mass production. -- Karen Siegmund

I found "How Electricity....Happiness of the Family" to be a rather unintelligent essay. Blaming wives for not making the house pretty enough as the cause for their husbands to "wander" is ridiculous. Electricity does not constitute fidelity. Additionally, food cooked from non-electric sources, like charcoal grills, usually smells and tastes ten times better than anything cooked with electricity. -Brian Brown

I thought the clipping from the article about high schoolers and college kids working as radio operators to be quite interesting. Not only was the fact that freight vessels could change over to passenger vessels in the summer intriguing, but also that the new laws put into place about radios had an impact on the people who could actually serve as operators. -Brian Brown

And this is where the technology nerd in me comes out -- I loved the section pertaining to technology and hobbies. My favorite was the Electrician and Mechanic Magazine, where the author discusses his friend who decided spontaneously to take up electrical telegraphy. I think we forget how much trial and error goes into creating a successful "science experiment" so to speak. We learn about all these great inventions like the cotton gin and the light bulb and when we're little there really isn't much trial and error thrown into the lecture. It was nice to read about some realistic failures in this article in particular because it kind of made everything seem more realistic. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were not perfect, you know. -Kelly W.

I liked the Cowan article that supplemented the reading in the book as well. It was interesting to see what a short and atypical history the word "technology" had before it came to be what it is today. I would not have guessed that it actually meant "knowledge of the arts" in its original form. I also wouldn't have guessed that the arts it referred to did not mean ballet and painting. -Kelly W.

Mass production was obvious in itself that machines will take over human's job because of the greater level of efficiency. Why not find a different profession while you still have the chances to do so. This was no over night process. If a human could make something in about a day and machines could do the same thing in half the time and the product still being up to par, then why not go with the wiser choice.-- Paul Kim

Paul, I think the situation was that these people had been working factory work all their lives. The idea that the very objects they would build would one day erase them from existence was too much for them to handle, so they refused to accept it as a possibility, or rather, an inevitability. Just think of the workers who went from making cars by hand to constructing them in an assembly line. I'm sure they wondered if work was to become that mechanized and automated, what would be next? -Cash

Henry Ford was a brilliant man. As stated in his "My Life and Work" article, "The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work," made a tremendous impact on the whole process of assembling a car. His idea of eliminating multitasking by having someone perform a certain task on the product and sliding it down to the next person who performed a different task on the product made it possible to increase productivity. Even though a great idea, I think that people's skill sets started to diminish from this process because they only focused on a particular job that needed to be done. The new employees would only know how to perform the task of their station and not the whole process of putting the part together.-- Paul Kim