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Recasting the Machine Age

Henry Ford's Village Industries

Howard P. Segal

Publication Year: 2005

Recasting the Machine Age recounts the history of Henry Ford's efforts to shift the production of Ford cars and trucks from the large-scale factories he had pioneered in the Detroit area to nineteen decentralized, small-scale plants within sixty miles of Ford headquarters in Dearborn. The visionary who had become famous in the early twentieth century for his huge and technologically advanced Highland Park and River Rouge complexes gradually changed his focus beginning in the teens and continuing until his death in 1947. Ford may well have been motivated to spend great sums on the village industries in part to prevent the unionization of his company. But these industrial experiments represented much more than “union busting.” They were significant examples of profound social, cultural, and ideological shifts in America between the World Wars as reflected in the thought and practice of one notable industrialist. Howard P. Segal recounts the development of the plants, their fate after Ford's death, their recent revival as part of Michigan's renewed appreciation of its industrial heritage, and their connections to contemporary efforts to decentralize high-tech working and living arrangements.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xv

I have spent a good deal of my academic life on this topic, infinitely more than I could ever have imagined when I decided to write the first book-length study of Henry Ford’s nineteen village industries. True, I have written other books and articles since the earlier versions, but the project has been with me long enough, and it is time to send it out into ...

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Introduction: Henry Ford, Centralization, and Decentralization

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pp. 1-5

“Technology Spurs Decentralization across the Country.” So read a 1984 New York Times article on real estate trends in the United States.1 Then in its early stage, the contemporary revolution in information processing and transmittal today allows large businesses and other institutions to disperse their offices and other facilities across the country and across ...

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Chapter 1: Henry Ford’s Village Industries: Origins, Contexts, Rationales

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pp. 6-16

Not far from the superhighways, skyscrapers, and huge auto plants of the greater Detroit area are the remnants of Henry Ford’s surprisingly little-known but still significant experiments in decentralized technology. The “village industries,” as Ford himself called them, were designed as small-scale, widely dispersed, frequently pastoral alternatives to ...

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Chapter 2: Decentralized Technology in the Village Industries: Scale, Scope, System, Vision

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pp. 17-26

Modern technology is what made the village industries possible and—today—makes them more than antiquarian specimens. As the experiments faded from public consciousness after Ford’s death in 1947 and as most were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the following years, this point was soon forgotten along with the entire enterprise. Yet the concept of avowedly decentralized production that lay behind ...

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Chapter 3: Farm and Factory United

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pp. 27-34

Smaller-scale tools and machines and networks of communities were not the only important dimensions of Henry Ford’s experiment. Equally significant was the prospect of healthier and happier living and working arrangements away from America’s crowded, congested cities. Despite his initial predictions that “every man will be a farmer . . . and every man will work in a factory or office,”1 Ford’s eventual dream was to ...

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Chapter 4: Buildings and Workforce [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 35-50

The village industries varied considerably, not just in the automobile part manufactured or assembled on the premises but also in building design and size of workforce. Some—like the first two, Northville (which began operations in 1920) and Nankin Mills (1921)—were reconstructed nineteenth-century mills, usually gristmills abandoned after railroads leading to large milling centers made them obsolete and unprofitable. ...

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Chapter 5: Administration and Relationship to Local Communities

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pp. 51-58

Contrary to the Ford Motor Company’s publicity agents, the village industries never resembled the bastions of yeoman purity described in their various press releases. They were commercial enterprises as well as social experiments and, like nearly all else in the Ford empire, were under the constant scrutiny of Ford himself. “Anyone who knows Henry Ford’s working principles knows that [they] are not primarily ...

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Chapter 6: Workers’ Experiences [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 59-74

As near as one can tell, in the absence of many contemporary inquiries of the village industry workers themselves, most appear to have enjoyed their factory positions, their diversity of employment, their comparatively lose authority structure (akin to Ford’s own first plant on Mack Avenue in Detroit), and the proximity of their residences to their workplaces. In the words of Francis Michaels, one of several former village ...

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Chapter 7: Unionization

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pp. 75-86

Nearly all the village industries had come into being by 1941, when the Ford Motor Company allowed its workforce finally to unionize—the last and most reluctant of the American automakers to do so.1 Ford’s personal and in turn corporate hostility toward unions has been well documented.2 Suffice it here to quote the 1937 pamphlet Fordism ...

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Chapter 8: The Decentralists and Other Visionaries

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pp. 87-107

Henry Ford’s village industries did not come about in a vacuum, as the realization of one very rich and powerful man’s unique fantasies. Rather, they were part of efforts in many parts of America between the world wars to reverse the course of industrial urban life by promoting decentralization through the depopulation of large cities and through the adoption of smaller-scale but still modern technology useful for ...

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Chapter 9: American Industry Also Preaches Decentralization

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pp. 108-120

Many mainstream businessmen and academics were also preaching the decentralization of industry, as they usually called it, between the wars. Admittedly, they did not have the missionary zeal of a Henry Ford or a Ralph Borsodi or a Helen and Scott Nearing or an Arthur Morgan or a southern Agrarian. Rather, they saw decentralization of industry ...

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Chapter 10: Decline of the Village Industries during World War II and After

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pp. 121-129

Just a s sentiments i n favor of decentralization were finally beginning to influence American industry, World War II intervened, and the notion that bigger was not necessarily better and that decentralization might be more efficient seemed illogical, if not subversive. Nevertheless, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, several of the village industries started gearing up for wartime production, and by ...

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Chapter 11: Contemporary Renewal of the Village Industries in High-Tech America

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pp. 130-151

Of the other eighteen sites besides Northville— the last of the village industries to cease operations—sixteen have become county or municipal government facilities—museums, offices, libraries, community and shopping centers, garages—or antique shops and, in six cases, plants or offices for other private businesses, some in high-tech areas. Willow Run has been abandoned and dismantled, and Ypsilanti was absorbed ...

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Conclusion: Henry Ford Evolves from Mechanical to Social Engineer

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pp. 152-159

Given the various decentralization efforts cited in chapter 11, one might quote approvingly the last line of the Ford Motor Company’s 1948 press release: “It all adds up to a realization that the seeds of the project planted . . . years ago by Henry Ford are bearing fruit” at long last, if not necessarily “for both the workers and the company.”1 Were the village industries more widely known today, Ford might be a folk hero to ...

Appendix: Basic Facts about and Present Status of the Nineteen Village Industries

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pp. 161-166

Notes

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pp. 167-222

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 223-230

I have identified and grouped here those primary and secondary works of greatest usefulness to my book and to any future research on the village industries. Save for a few, I do not evaluate their individual scholarly worth but rather accord all of them some basic scholarly significance. ...

Photo Credits

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pp. 231-232

Index

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pp. 233-244

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761601
E-ISBN-10: 1613761600
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558494817
Print-ISBN-10: 1558494812

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Ford Motor Company -- History.
  • Automobile industry and trade -- Location -- Michigan -- Case studies.
  • Industrial location -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Labor unions -- Michigan -- History.
  • Technology -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Ford, Henry, 1863-1947.
  • Industrialists -- United States -- Biography.
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