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Stephen L. McIntyre - The Failure of Fordism: Reform of the Automobile Repair Industry, 1913-1940 - Technology and Culture 41:2 Technology and Culture 41.2 (2000) 269-299

The Failure of Fordism: Reform of the Automobile Repair Industry, 1913-1940

Stephen L. Mcintyre

Figures


In a letter to an industry trade journal in 1931, an automobile mechanic complained:

The [factory] 'Guy' that sets the price for the Flat Rate system . . . is one of those 'Bozos' who never has given the system a practical work-out under actual working conditions. He is one of those fellows with a collar and a clean white suit whose wrenches have never come in contact with grime and dirt when working on a car which has been out of the factory. The engine is spic and span with no sign of the customary grease, oil, grime or a combination of all. . . . I rebel against the manufacturer and its office mechanics being permitted to dictate the price on Flat Rate to the mechanic. Are the mechanics permitted, or have they ever attempted to set the price of any make of car? Why shouldn't they have the same privilege? 1

The Ford Motor Company pioneered the use of flat rates--standardized work times for hundreds of automotive repair operations--in the second decade of the twentieth century as part of a campaign to rationalize the repair of Model Ts. But far from solving chronic problems in dealer repair shops, the introduction of flat rates provoked an angry response from mechanics who condemned them as an unfair effort to speed up their work.

Ford's initial decision to develop flat rates was prompted by a crisis in dealer repair shops early in the decade. Between 1909 and 1914 Ford's mass [End Page 269] production methods reduced the retail sale price of the Model T from $950 to $490, leading John D. Rockefeller to call Ford's Highland Park plant the "industrial miracle of the age." But no matter how much new production methods lowered the Model T's price, mounting customer dissatisfaction with dealer service during this period threatened to reduce sales of the Model T. Faced with such a dilemma, Ford executives decided that the principles of Fordism developed in the factory--use of modern machine tool technology, rationalization and reorganization of the labor process along Taylorist lines, and progressive layout of production and assembly lines--could be transferred to dealers' shops. Most of the company's efforts to do so occurred between 1913 and 1925, although company officials continued to refine their approach to repair work into the 1930s. In 1913 Ford executives initiated time-and-motion studies of repair practices that in 1914 allowed them to establish flat rates. Between 1915 and 1920 company officials also introduced modern laborsaving repair tools and machine equipment to the industry, recommended extensive specialization and division of labor among dealers' mechanics, and championed progressive layout of repair shop departments. By 1925 Ford had completed its standardization of repair procedures and endorsed the use of piece-rate wages for mechanics. Ford was the first automobile manufacturer to attempt such a rationalization of repair work, but by the early 1920s many companies were copying the practice. 2

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= In retrospect, the dramatic differences between Highland Park and a "typical" Ford dealer in 1914 make it seem obvious that Ford factory methods [End Page 270] were ill suited for dealer repair shops. The main building on the sixty acre Highland Park site had four stories and measured 865 feet long and 75 feet wide, giving it nearly 260,000 square feet--and making it the largest building in the state of Michigan (fig. 1). The plant overwhelmed visitors with the constant motion and dizzying pace of conveyors, slides, and rollways and the final assembly line where workers completed a Model T every forty seconds (fig. 2). Henry Ford observed, "Every piece of work in the shop moves." Ford invested $2.8 million in nearly 15,000 specialized [End Page 271] machine tools used by almost 13,000 workers who produced more than 230,000 Model Ts at Highland Park in 1914. 3

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= Customers seeking service for their Model Ts in the early 1910s had a different experience in Ford's more than four thousand dealerships. Most Ford dealers operated in fairly small quarters of a few thousand square feet (fig. 3). Their repair shops were often cramped and cluttered, with greasy floors and parts and tools piled haphazardly on the floor (fig. 4). Most work was performed at benches with hand tools, as these shops possessed few machine tools. Poor lighting and ventilation made for difficult working conditions. Customers often had a chance to survey the condition of dealer repair shops as they searched for the foreman, who only rarely was stationed at the shop entrance. 4 [End Page 272]

Automobile manufacturers were not alone in trying to adapt practices designed for the factory to nonfactory settings. Managers of department stores, hospitals, restaurants, and offices all experimented with various ways to rationalize the workplace, often using the methods of scientific management. But in most of these settings, managers soon discovered that methods designed to rationalize factory work were inappropriate for other businesses and significantly modified or abandoned their efforts. 5

Ford executives, however, were slow to recognize that dealer repair shops were too small and their mechanics engaged in too wide a variety of tasks each day to adapt methods based on large-scale production and repetition of tasks. Many small Ford dealers realized the inappropriateness of Ford's proposed reforms and balked at their implementation. Other dealers embraced the reforms but found that mechanics' hostility toward many of [End Page 273] the changes undermined their effectiveness. Eventually a few Ford executives realized that their plan was failing, but seemingly no company officials could envision an alternative means of improving dealers' repair work. In the end, Ford's reform campaign promoted the development of an industry in which repair shops were never successfully rationalized, and in which the wage system and authority structure discouraged the recruitment, training, and retention of skilled mechanics. Consequently, few mechanics displayed much enthusiasm for Ford's changes, and some concluded that they were the work of "Bozos."

The Early Automobile Repair Industry

Difficulties with dealer repair shops were not limited to Ford. Automobile repair posed a major problem for manufacturers and motorists from the very beginning of commercial automobile sales in 1896. In 1901 a motorist summed up the prevailing sentiment toward the repair industry with the comment that "when [mechanics] approach an automobile the owner just sits down and trembles until the job is finished." Early automobiles needed frequent minor adjustments and repairs as well as annual overhauling. These maintenance requirements could cost as much as five hundred dollars per year, putting automobile ownership beyond the reach of the vast majority of Americans. Most vehicles produced before 1910 lacked easily accessible, interchangeable, standardized parts, forcing mechanics to disassemble much of a vehicle and adjust or modify parts to complete their repairs. 6

Without interchangeable parts managers could not standardize repair procedures, and mechanics exercised a great deal of discretion in the conduct of their work. Automotive writers and motorists suspected that some mechanics took advantage of the situation to restrict their output, thus increasing the customers' bills. The editors of Motor World commented on this practice: "The most distressing feature of the [repair] business . . . was the prodigal waste of time. With no definite program for determining what work should be done on a given car, how it should be done or when it should be completed, it seldom happened that the labor charge was anywhere near reasonable as viewed in the light of actual requirements. Under the circumstances, [End Page 274] it followed that work was botched up, according to the fancy of the workman. . . ." One motorist concluded that many repairs "wouldn't take ten minutes, were it not for the system used by the workers." Such suspicions seem supported by the observations of industry analysts who noted that the same repair within a given shop might require as much as 80 percent more time on one job as on another. Such variations in time made it difficult for managers to satisfy a common request from early motorists for an estimate of repair prices before work commenced. Many motorists and automotive writers also complained that incompetence and dishonesty on the part of repair shop owners and their mechanics added to repair costs. 7

Well-trained, experienced mechanics were in short supply in the early days of the industry, yet repair shops proliferated because of the limited capital required to enter the field. As a result, in some cities an overabundance of repair facilities produced competition that drove down hourly labor rates and profits. The editors of Motor World explained that "most garagemen who devote themselves exclusively to the storage and repairing of cars are ready to declare that it is extremely difficult to extract a competence from the business by the legitimate conduct of its affairs." Under these circumstances some proprietors might have been tempted to cheat unsuspecting motorists by performing unnecessary repairs or charging for repairs they did not perform. Many customers certainly believed this was the case, as indicated by the comment of one disgruntled motorist that "brazen thievery . . . goes on in practically every garage." 8

Surveying the reports of motorists' dissatisfaction with the repair industry, the editors of Horseless Age, the nation's leading automotive journal, concluded in 1909 that "many car owners regard all garages with distrust." The editors of Motor World came to a similar conclusion, noting that "there is a lingering tendency on the part of motor car owners to regard a repair shop somewhat in the light of a stronghold of the enemy and to consider a business transaction with such an establishment a sort of battle in which one side or the other is worsted as a matter of course." 9 [End Page 275]

Service Problems at Ford

Ford dealer repair shops received their share of such criticisms. Some historians have concluded that Henry Ford's early emphasis on high-quality service led Ford to resolve most of its problems with dealers' repair shops by around 1907. But in the early 1910s company executives still expressed three concerns about dealers' repair work. First, they worried that high prices for repair work would dissuade potential customers with modest incomes from purchasing a Model T. One industry analyst recalled that "as people of smaller means entered the automobile market, they rebelled at high [repair] prices. . . . Makers and dealers found that high repair prices interfered with sales. . . ." Second, Ford executives believed that poor-quality repair work by dealers damaged the Model T's reputation. William Knudsen, a Ford engineer responsible for assembly operations and many of the reforms in repair shops, recalled that the company began studying repair methods because the Model T

was made the butt of jokes on every vaudeville stage in the country. Every professional or social comedian who had a joke to tell about an automobile breaking down or failing to run chose this particular car as his subject. I had charge of production and I knew there wasn't anything essentially wrong with the car. The trouble was that service facilities hadn't been built up in proportion to the increased sales. The lessons we learned from [our experiments] were codified and incorporated in a big national service program which resulted in getting the car out of the joke class--at least it stopped functioning as the vaudeville comedians' chief stock in trade.

Comedians probably subjected the Model T to such jokes because of its large market share rather than repair problems more severe than those of other automobiles. Nevertheless, Ford executives took concerns about poor-quality repairs seriously. Third, company officials feared that customers dissatisfied with dealer repair work or prices would cut into company parts sales by patronizing independent repair shops that used "pirate parts" not produced by Ford. 10

Ford executives considered expanding the role of their own branches as a way of resolving service problems. When Ford began Model T sales in 1908 it operated fourteen branches in cities across the country and contracted with 215 dealers. Branches had two roles: distributing vehicles and [End Page 276] parts to Ford dealers in their territory and selling and repairing Model Ts in business districts of large cities. By 1910 the company operated twenty-five branches and had more than one thousand dealers under contract. In 1916 Ford officials decided that they needed to expand their distribution network because of rapid increases in Model T sales. Ford had two options: increasing its own sales capacity by establishing more branches or adding new dealers to the more than eight thousand in existence. Norval Hawkins, Ford's sales manager, argued in March 1916 for establishing more branches in large cities "not only as a profitable venture but as indemnification against some of the practices of the larger agents which mitigate against the service which the Ford Company is anxious to give owners of Ford cars." Ford executives approved Hawkins's proposal, and planning began for the addition of twenty-three new branches. 11

Many of these new facilities opened that summer, but Ford soon faced a crisis in its branch repair departments. Ford executives found that customers expected many more free minor adjustments and repairs from branches than they did from dealers. "The reasons given for the congestion of the [branch] service stations at present," the minutes of the executive committee noted in mid-July, "was [sic] that every owner would expect more free service from the Company than from any garage or agency and therefore the matter of discontinuing retail business in the branches . . . was brought up for discussion." Branches were so overwhelmed with work that company executives concluded their current facilities were inadequate to meet future service demands. "Our present service stations or branches," company executives explained, "are already taxed to their utmost capacity and with our ever increasing output, complete service to owners would be entirely hopeless unless we were to invest millions of dollars in new buildings for our already established branches, and millions more in cities where we at present time have no branches." By August 1916 Ford had decided to abandon the retail sale and servicing of the Model T, at least in part because of the extensive service demands of its customers. 12 But abandoning service work in its branches did not solve the core problem. It was, after all, poor quality service at dealerships that had in part motivated Hawkins's initial plan to expand branch operations. Ford's success, registered in the sale of hundreds of thousands of Model Ts, had created a severe service crisis. [End Page 277]

The Flat Rate: Fordism in the Repair Shop

In 1912, a repair industry analyst, lamenting the lack of control over repair shop procedures by management, noted that much of this problem existed because "repair shop . . . operations may hardly be standardized." Mechanics' control over their work pace and the widely varying times spent on seemingly identical repair jobs prevented dealers from standardizing or lowering prices. Yet Ford was in a position to challenge the status quo because of its use of standardized, interchangeable parts for the Model T. In 1913 Ford engineers began to adapt production methods they had introduced in the factory--including time-and-motion studies, standardized procedures, modern machinery, and an extensive division of labor--to automotive repair. Central to this effort was the development of flat rates: standardized work times for hundreds of different repair operations on the Model T. This vision of repair work as an extension of factory production methods would guide Ford executives' efforts to cope with service problems throughout the 1920s and 1930s, even when experience suggested that such methods failed to transfer from the factory to the repair shop. 13

Ford's first step toward rationalizing repair procedures occurred in 1913, when company executives began contemplating the development of flat rates. In a July 1913 memo to branches, Ford's sales manager noted that "we have an idea that a definite time limit under which the men in branch shops should work can be established if we prepare charts showing the maximum amount of time to be allowed for the various operations in repair work." 14 To establish these limits, Ford collected data from branches that showed the time required for most repair procedures. These figures confirmed for Ford executives that times on the same repair job varied greatly within and among branches. As a result, Ford began time-and-motion studies of repair work similar to studies it conducted of production and assembly work. These studies provided the data on which flat rates could be based. Ford introduced the new rates on an experimental basis at its branch repair shops in 1914 before urging their adoption by dealers in 1915 or 1916. 15 The company [End Page 278] claimed that flat rates were "the average charge at which a reasonably well-equipped Ford repair shop could repair Ford cars, do the work properly, and yet make a reasonable profit." 16

Flat rates offered two advantages. First, as Ford executives noted, "flat rate charges appeal to the car owner, who generally wants to know in advance what the labor for a certain repair is going to cost." Second, flat rates potentially allowed dealers to cut repair charges. Ford executives understood that merely quoting a high price in advance was unsatisfactory. They also had to reduce mechanics' control over the pace of their work, and flat rates represented a first step in that direction. Company executives wanted to establish a "definite time limit" for repairs. Elsewhere the company explained that "the prime purpose of these time studies is to enable dealers to check the efficiency of their . . . repair departments." The company informed dealers that mechanics' time "must be recorded on a daily time sheet, also on the repair order. These must be checked closely to see that jobs are done in allotted time and that mechanics do not waste any time." After dealers adopted flat rates, "the customer does not have to assume the responsibility of slow and inefficient men and methods." 17

For flat rates to succeed, however, repair procedures had to be standardized. Yet Ford did so only gradually, sending new repair instructions to dealers via traveling service representatives and occasional written circulars. Not until 1919 did Ford establish a regular monthly service bulletin outlining systematic repair procedures, and it was 1925 before the company published a manual that incorporated all repair procedures into one reference book. Ford officials developed this three-hundred-page manual, titled Ford Service: Detailed Instructions for Servicing Ford Cars, "with the object of standardizing the methods of repairing Ford cars the world over." The book presented "the most efficient way of handling every repair operation in order that . . . even mechanics without experience can readily follow out the directions." According to a writer for Automobile Digest, the manual covered repair procedures "in minute detail, with numerous illustrations." The instructions for a complete engine and transmission overhaul, for example, covered forty pages and included 195 steps. Industry observers [End Page 279] noted that Ford's manual represented "the first move by an automobile manufacturer to establish complete standardization of methods employed in repair service." 18

Although these standardized procedures contained fewer details than many written instructions for machine tenders in factories, they represented a significant departure from previous practice, whereby mechanics developed their own repair methods. Ford executives insisted that by following such practices mechanics could meet flat-rate times. The company warned that should dealers "report that it is impossible to use this [flat-rate] schedule profitably, the Branch should detail a competent man to investigate conditions in the dealer's shop." 19

IMAGE LINK= In 1916 Ford also began to develop standardized tools and equipment for its dealers, and by 1919 the company required dealers to purchase 114 items, ranging from specialized wrenches to specialized machines (fig. 5). Ford's traveling service representatives regularly inspected dealers' shops and reported poorly equipped ones to the Detroit office. Modern tools and equipment not only allowed tasks to be performed more quickly but also reduced the reliance on mechanics, the pace and quality of whose work varied too much to suit management. "The flat rate cannot be successful or profitable," one industry analyst noted, "unless the equipment [and] time and labor-saving tools . . . reduce the human equation to almost a negligible term." Another writer claimed that without proper equipment "flat rates would be a failure, as the human element is not dependable enough to continuously repeat an operation in a specified time." 20 The increased use of [End Page 280] machinery reduced the need for skilled mechanics and thus undermined the ability of mechanics to restrict their output. A valve-grinding machine performed an operation in the same way and in the same amount of time each time it was used. Mechanics who ground valves by hand, conversely, might make mistakes and could vary the pace of their efforts.

Ford also encouraged dealers to adopt as extensive a division of labor in repair shops as their size would allow. At the most elementary level this meant separating the diagnosis of mechanical problems from their repair. Even small shops employing only two or three mechanics could adopt this practice. But as shops gained experience with flat rates Ford argued for a more elaborate division of labor, in which mechanics specialized in one type of work, such as engine, transmission, or brake repair. Large urban shops, often with more than twenty mechanics, sometimes instituted a division of labor within such specialties as engine work, using less skilled [End Page 281] men to remove engines from cars while more skilled specialists rebuilt the engines. Some Ford dealers created specialized departments in their shops. In 1919, for example, a Detroit Ford dealer established separate floors devoted to axle repair work, engine removal and installation, and engine repair. By the 1930s Ford encouraged all of its dealers to establish distinct axle, engine, brake, electrical, and lubrication departments. 21

In conjunction with departmentalization, Ford urged dealers to decentralize equipment by locating all of the equipment necessary for a given type of repair work in the department where that work was carried out. Although this practice required shops to own duplicate tools, it allowed dealers to institute the ultimate Ford ideal: progressive layout of machine tools. Ford noted that in "an ideal shop layout . . . the equipment is conveniently grouped and so arranged that as the work progresses through the shop each repair operation is performed in its regular order." This practice mirrored the progressive arrangement of machine tools for parts production that was instituted by Ford at Highland Park in 1912 and 1913. 22

Ford's successes with an extensive division of labor, mechanization, and progressive layout at Highland Park clearly influenced the decision to adapt such methods to repair shops. One executive noted that an ideal dealer service department had "so many men working in it that the men would be working on progressive jobs on a conveyor line in that dealer's repair department." 23 So strong was this Fordist paradigm that company executives could not envision alternative arrangements for dealer repair shops--including the possibility of developing more skilled mechanics.

Instead, Ford sought to train mechanics to follow standardized procedures. Before 1913 Ford employed "roadmen" who visited dealers and offered advice to mechanics, but provided no systematic training. After reforms began in 1913, Ford's instructional methods changed in two ways. First, Ford increased the number of educational opportunities for mechanics. [End Page 282] The company developed a series of slide shows and films for use at dealers and established service schools in major cities. Ford's school in Philadelphia trained over four hundred dealer service personnel in the first half of 1931 alone. 24

Second, Ford changed the type of training mechanics received. In the early years of the industry, many manufacturers' training schools emphasized theoretical instruction that prepared mechanics to analyze and solve problems. As Ford standardized repair procedures and separated diagnosis from repair work, company officials shunned theory and stressed practical training that would enable mechanics to meet flat-rate times. Company manuals noted that "it is not necessary for . . . mechanics to understand theory. Instruction for these men should be confined to method and procedure." Only "dealers' service managers, floor men, and shop foremen," the company concluded, "must understand the theory of operation . . . of the automobile." Ford urged dealers to employ "the right kind of mechanics, schooled in the repairing of Ford cars, who without question can turn out satisfactory work and turn it out in [the] time . . . suggested [by the] flat rate labor list." 25

But training alone could not induce mechanics to cooperate with the implementation of these reforms. At its Highland Park factory Ford introduced the five-dollar day to gain the cooperation of workers with assembly-line methods. Yet Ford executives were slow to recommend an incentive-wage system for mechanics, perhaps because they assumed that dealers would balk at any plan producing higher wages, even if it increased productivity. One Ford dealer in the late 1910s adopted the five-dollar day of its own volition, but few others followed suit. At least until the early 1920s most Ford dealers continued to pay mechanics as they always had, either with hourly wages or weekly salaries. 26

Such payment systems soon proved unsatisfactory. As the use of flat rates spread beyond Ford dealers to other dealer repair shops in the early [End Page 283] 1920s, managers and industry analysts commented on the less-than-satisfactory results produced by combining flat rates with traditional wage systems. A service manager for a Detroit Overland and Willys-Knight dealer commented that "during the month of November, 1920, we started our shop on the flat rate system of doing service and maintenance work. . . . That was fine as far as it went . . . [but] it did not solve the question of getting our workmen to speed up and give us their best work in the shortest reasonable time." Many in the industry concluded that repair shops needed a wage-incentive system to induce mechanics to follow standardized repair procedures and increase their productivity. A writer for Automobile Trade Journal noted that "the majority . . . believe that successful flat rate administration requires some form of extra compensation for the mechanic. The various bonus plans and the well-known piece work system are the recommendations of this school." The general manager of a Louisville Studebaker dealer agreed, calling the use of piecework "essential to the success of a flat rate system. If the mechanics are paid on an hourly basis there is no incentive to work fast to complete the work in the time allowed by the flat rate." 27

Numerous Ford dealers shared these sentiments and began to devise their own piecework wage systems in the early 1920s without the assistance of Ford. As one observer noted: "The Piece Work system is the 'very own' idea of Ford dealers, and is an achievement of which Ford agents may well be proud." Even without encouragement from the company the practice spread quickly. By 1925 Ford observed that "we find an increasing number of our dealers are no longer paying their men on an hourly basis, but are now operating some sort of a payment plan; namely paying labor a certain stipulated sum for each repair operation performed." That same year Ford finally endorsed a piecework system of compensation for dealers' mechanics. 28

Many dealers favored a plan known as the flat-rate payment system, by which mechanics were paid for the number of flat-rate hours they produced rather than the number of hours they actually worked. Mechanics typically received from one-quarter to one-half of the labor charge collected under the flat-rate system, with one-third and 40 percent seemingly [End Page 284] the most common figures. If, for example, a shop charged customers one dollar per flat-rate hour and paid mechanics 40 percent of the labor charge, a mechanic who produced twelve flat-rate hours of work in an eight-hour day would earn $4.80. To reduce the risk of haste diminishing the quality of work, most dealers required mechanics to make repairs without compensation on any jobs returned because of unsatisfactory workmanship. 29

Proponents of piecework claimed that its use in combination with flat rates, standardized procedures, and modern equipment greatly increased the productivity of mechanics. A Louisville service manager commented that "we pay our mechanics on a piece work basis. . . . It is wonderful to see how they work. Instead of dragging a job out an hour or two longer than is necessary they perform each and every job as fast as they can." Many dealers claimed increases in productivity ranging from 25 to 50 percent, but some shop managers offered examples of even greater increases in productivity. The Handy Motor Company, a Kansas City Ford dealer, claimed, perhaps with some exaggeration, that the introduction of piecework allowed it to reduce its shop force from fourteen to between four and six mechanics while increasing its volume of repair work by 50 percent. Proponents of piecework also claimed that their mechanics preferred the new system because it increased wages by about 25 percent. Ford argued that the system reduced labor turnover in repair shops and retarded mechanics' interest in unionization. 30

It is probable that by the early 1920s most Ford dealers used flat rates. No precise figures are available for Ford dealers, but in 1923 many companies that had copied Ford's repair methods reported that between 65 and 75 percent of their dealers had adopted flat rates. In 1924 a New York Times automotive writer concluded that "the flat rate is . . . quickly becoming close to universal practice in dealer service stations." Given the large number of Ford dealers in the nation it is unlikely an automotive writer would have drawn such a conclusion if most Ford dealers were not using flat rates. Furthermore, Ford's traveling service representatives complained in written reports about many dealer shortcomings, but failure to adopt flat rates was not one of them. 31 [End Page 285]

The introduction of flat rates and related reforms failed, however, to reduce significantly customers' complaints about dealer repair shops in the 1920s. In a survey conducted by the Illinois Automobile Trade Association in the late 1920s, motorists most frequently cited unsatisfactory service as their reason for not purchasing a second car from a dealer. A 1929 General Motors survey of hundreds of thousands of motorists found that poor service was one of the most significant reasons customers abandoned dealer repair shops. 32

Although no such Ford surveys survive, some Ford executives acknowledged the limited success of their reforms. In 1925 one Ford executive concluded that "we are losing a lot of our customers on account of not servicing Ford cars properly." The next year he told Edsel Ford that "there isn't much use in putting any other Model on the market unless we can service it thru [sic] our regular dealers." So concerned was Ford with the poor-quality service provided by its dealers and the loss of parts sales when customers frequented independent repair shops that it appointed independent shops as authorized service centers in the late 1910s and 1920s. Some customers with older Model Ts no doubt visited independent shops because they used cheaper "pirate parts." Yet Ford appointed independent shops as authorized Ford service centers on the condition that they sell Ford parts. Thus, much of Ford's concern was with customers abandoning dealers for reasons other than the price of parts. In 1920 Ford had 175 authorized repair shops in Kansas City alone, representing almost one-half of all independent shops in that city. By 1928 Ford had similar arrangements with nearly forty-five thousand independent shops throughout the country. In the early 1930s Ford grew so distressed with service problems among dealers that it briefly reentered the retail sales and service business; the company did not remain for long, probably because it again decided that it did not have the resources to take over the retail sale and servicing of all its vehicles. 33

To understand why Ford's successful factory methods did not transfer successfully to dealer repair shops, we need to look more carefully at the response of the company's dealers and their mechanics to Ford's reforms. [End Page 286] Although the majority of Ford's dealers may have been using flat rates by the early 1920s, beneath the surface many dealers and mechanics remained skeptical of the company's reforms and resented its interference in their repair shops.

Resistance to Reform

Many dealers opposed the full Ford reform package. Flat rates, piecework, and standardized repair procedures were appealing because they offered the hope of undermining the control mechanics exercised over the pace of their work. But investment in new tools and equipment, an extensive division of labor, departmentalization, and progressive layout of equipment appeared inappropriate for the relatively small-scale operations of many dealers. Ford's branch repair shops in the 1910s sometimes employed as many as two hundred mechanics, making an extensive division of labor, creation of specialized departments, and extensive capital investment seem feasible. But few Ford dealers operated repair shops as large as Ford's branch shops. A 1915 survey of all manufacturers' dealers found that the average dealer had eight employees spread among sales, service, and office work. Six years later a repair industry analyst estimated that the average repair shop employed only six mechanics. Given Ford's many dealers in small towns, there is little reason to believe that the company's average dealer was much larger than other manufacturers' dealers. 34

Small size meant limited capital for reorganizing service departments and purchasing tools and equipment. Again, no statistics are available specifically for Ford dealers, but surveys indicate that dealers as a group had fairly limited resources to devote to their repair shops. In 1915, for example, the average dealer had only twenty thousand dollars of capital invested. Furthermore, repair shops generated only a small percentage of dealers' profits. A 1929 survey indicates that 61 percent of dealers had total sales in excess of fifty thousand dollars and nearly 40 percent had sales of more than a hundred thousand dollars, but that sales from the parts and service departments accounted for only about 17 percent of total sales. Thus, even dealers with capital available to invest in their service departments may have been reluctant to do so because of the limited volume of service and parts sales. 35 [End Page 287]

Small dealer size discouraged the division of labor and specialization of mechanics that Ford hoped to establish in repair shops. Again, no figures for Ford dealers are available, but general industry statistics indicate that while specialization was on the increase during the 1920s and 1930s it remained far from universal in dealer shops. Surveys of repair shops during the 1930s indicated that specialization occurred primarily in larger shops in urban areas, while smaller shops frequently employed general mechanics. Although some larger Ford dealers probably had mechanics who specialized in one type of work, it is unlikely that Ford dealers with only three or four mechanics employed a specialist for engines, transmissions, electrical systems, brakes, and lubrication as Ford suggested. Furthermore, few Ford dealers created distinct departments for different types of repair work, as recommended by the company. In 1936 Ford reported that only 30 percent of its dealers were so organized. 36

Smaller dealers also frustrated Ford's efforts to install modern tools and equipment in repair shops. Dealers of all makes purchased more power tools and equipment in the 1920s than did nondealer shops, but as late as 1927 one survey found that 47 percent of dealer shops still relied primarily on hand tools. Ford executives complained throughout the 1920s and 1930s that many dealers lacked adequate equipment. One company memo in 1926 noted that "a large percentage of Ford dealers throughout the country are in need of service equipment." During the Great Depression, dealers hesitated to spend even a few dollars for inexpensive tools the company considered indispensable. "Too many dealers," the company commented in 1935, "have been very slow in acquiring the precision tools they need to correctly and efficiently perform certain service operations." Small dealers, the company found, were particularly lax about tool and equipment standards. In 1936, 81 percent of large and medium-sized dealers met the company's minimum equipment standards, whereas only 49 percent of small dealers were properly equipped, despite Ford's lower standards for them. 37

Yet even those large dealers who embraced all of Ford's reforms found that mechanics' resistance often undermined the effectiveness of their new methods. Records of mechanics' responses to Ford's reforms are somewhat limited, but when anecdotal evidence from both Ford and non-Ford dealer shops is combined with the observations of Ford executives, a pattern of mechanics' responses emerges that suggests their resistance was a major [End Page 288] factor in the failure of Ford's reforms. Despite the limited and anecdotal nature of the evidence, the existence of widespread mechanics' resistance becomes more believable when seen as part of a generalized pattern of resistance by workers in this era to management efforts to rationalize workplaces along Taylorist lines. 38

Many mechanics disliked flat rates because they were aimed at speeding up the pace of work. Some mechanics cautioned that speedups would result only in poorer repairs. One mechanic who began working before the introduction of flat rates later recalled that "there was one thing that was in our favor in the good old days: we were not fighting the flat rate time allowances that were introduced later by factories as 'low upkeep' selling points for their cars. The customer allowed us plenty of time to do things." 39

Before the introduction of piecework wages, mechanics sometimes successfully resisted the enforcement of flat rates by characterizing the time allotted for a repair as unreasonable or unattainable. They complained that manufacturers established flat-rate schedules under ideal conditions, with the most up-to-date equipment, and on new cars that did not have rusted or seized parts. One automotive writer noted that with the use of flat rates "workmen are quick to realize any fault and use it consciously or unconsciously as an excuse for not producing the best results." Continued restriction of output frustrated Ford executives, one of whom complained in the late 1920s that mechanics were "stallers" who did not "really work." 40

Dealers who introduced piecework wage systems in the 1920s in response to their mechanics' continued restriction of output made no secret of their goals. A New York Times article bluntly noted that the purpose of piecework was to "speed up the work." Opposition to piecework compensation quickly developed among mechanics and continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Workers in this era commonly resisted piecework, as the legendary Hawthorne studies confirmed. Even supporters of the piecework system acknowledged that mechanics objected to the effort to speed up their work. One service manager admitted that "many mechanics still oppose the system, usually because they fear that they will have to work too hard." Another manager observed, "Many of the better grade of mechanics are against the flat rate or piece work plan." 41 [End Page 289]

Mechanics disputed the claim that piecework provided higher wages than an hourly wage system. "Are the mechanics from the 'Old School' to be censured," one mechanic asked, "for being hostile to a movement that is taking the just wage scale from them in violation of one of the fundamental principles of personal liberty?" Whenever they unionized, mechanics usually demanded abolition of such wage systems. 42

Mechanics expressed a variety of specific complaints about piecework systems, the most common of which was the propensity of managers to cut pay rates if productivity increased. Some proponents of piecework for mechanics warned that rates must not be cut once instituted. "Confidence," one of the early proponents of the system noted, "is one of the essential needs of successful piece-work. The piece-work rates must not be frequently changed, or the mechanic will lose confidence and will not do his best." Despite such warnings, managers of repair shops frequently cut rates. Ford observed that "there are cases where the dealers have thought after the plan was put in operation, that the mechanic was making too much money, and in some instances, they even went so far as to cut the rate to the mechanic." The company warned dealers that "this immediately caused trouble in the shop and has frequently caused the failure of the plan." One Ford dealer claimed that many shops ignored Ford's warnings. "The general tendency on the West Coast," this dealer concluded, "is to reduce the Flat Rate schedule of labor charges (under the percentage plan) to such an extent that it is difficult for mechanics to earn as much under it as they did when receiving weekly salaries." 43

Mechanics also objected to the irregularity of their weekly earnings with piecework wages. As the number of repair jobs in a given shop fluctuated from week to week, so, of course, did the mechanics' wages. In June [End Page 290] 1926, for example, a mechanic at a Kansas City Hudson dealer had weekly earnings of $48.20, $67.70, $35.05, $73.40, and $44.60. Mechanics further complained that managers required them to stay in their shops even when no work was available. Consequently, mechanics often spent between forty-eight and fifty-four hours in the shop each week but were paid for many fewer hours of work. 44

Piecework, some mechanics argued, also allowed managers to single out workers for mistreatment, a complaint that was not unusual among workers paid by the piece. Shop managers quickly learned that some mechanics could perform some jobs in the allotted flat-rate time while struggling to do so on other repairs. Consequently, managers could discriminate in job assignments against mechanics who did not win their favor. Comeback jobs also created resentment among mechanics paid by the piece. Most shops with such pay schemes required mechanics to perform repairs without pay when prior work proved unsatisfactory. Yet mechanics complained that managers often forced them to perform such work even when parts failed or customers abused the vehicle--both conditions beyond mechanics' control. One Ford dealer concluded that difficulties encountered with job assignments and comeback jobs vitiated piecework payments. "Considerable animosity," this dealer noted, "would be aroused between the mechanics and inspector. Foremen and superintendent would come in for considerable [ill] feeling, on account of adjustments of guarantee responsibility, and distribution of jobs." 45

Mechanics adopted a number of strategies to combat piecework. Often when shops introduced this payment method mechanics simply quit. A service executive for a Detroit dealer admitted that when his shop instituted piecework "We did have some sore-heads. In fact, about a third of our force quit." Some mechanics opted to continue their restriction of output, refusing to be lured into higher levels of productivity by the momentary possibility of higher wages. A dealer who introduced piecework in the early 1920s observed just such behavior. "If we assume a typical shop having ten employees," he noted, "a sense of loyalty to fellow mechanics will cause the [End Page 291] ten men to stick together, and they will solidly oppose the introduction of any system which will make it possible for six men to do the work previously done by ten, and thus cause four fellow-mechanics to be thrown out on the street at a time when work is scarce." 46

Some service managers remained so certain that the lure of higher wages would induce mechanics to increase their productivity that they may have observed coordinated restriction of output without understanding it. The mechanics at a Milwaukee Chevrolet dealer, for example, insisted that any bonus for increased productivity be paid to mechanics collectively rather than individually. The shop manager concluded that they adopted this policy to benefit specialists whose work proved more difficult to perform in flat-rate time and men who missed a few days while ill. It is equally possible, however, that they did so to prevent one or two mechanics from undermining a collectively enforced stint in an effort to boost their own wages. Whether restriction of output under piecework occurred frequently in shops is difficult to determine because of the clandestine nature of such activity. Clearly, however, some mechanics availed themselves of this strategy. 47

Other mechanics responded to the inducements of the piecework system by working more quickly--and more shoddily. California Ford dealers complained that comeback jobs increased dramatically after they introduced the new wage system. An inspector at one dealer found that mechanics performed 50 percent of the jobs in his shop unsatisfactorily when paid by the piece. These problems led the manager at another Ford dealer to oppose the system because, as he put it, "We believe that the productive mechanics as a whole would be working . . . in an effort to put over poor jobs on customers." Ford executives came to similar conclusions after surveying dealers throughout the country. They noted that piece-rate payments led to "hasty and careless workmanship when the shop is busy." 48

When shops lacked work and their wages suffered, mechanics sometimes performed unnecessary repairs on customers' cars. Although this practice might have occurred prior to the introduction of the flat-rate system, when mechanics were usually paid an hourly wage, the introduction of flat rates and piecework wages greatly increased the likelihood of such practices by tying mechanics' wages directly to the number of repairs completed [End Page 292] . In his 1929 study of restriction of output among unorganized workers, Stanley Mathewson observed just such practices in an automobile repair shop. He claimed that when work was slow mechanics either intentionally damaged parts or installed defective parts on customers' cars in order to get more work and increase their wages. By the late 1920s Ford concluded that piecework "might be the means of more service work being applied to individual Model A cars than is necessary, thereby causing the owner to become dissatisfied." Because managers required them to perform comeback jobs without pay, mechanics also tended to replace parts that might have been reusable. As the editors of Motor Age noted, mechanics "cannot afford to take a chance of a comeback, so that when in doubt new parts are put in rather than risk the use of the old ones." 49

Once paid by the piece, mechanics frequently adopted a work-to-rule approach on repair jobs, performing only the work specified by the flat-rate schedule and the repair manual. Thus, if a vehicle needed an additional five-minute adjustment after a four-hour job, mechanics sometimes refused to do it because the repair manual did not call for it and they would not be compensated for it. If, for example, rebuilding an engine did not call for a minor adjustment of the carburetor when finished, mechanics might refuse to do it, even though the engine would not perform well without such an adjustment. One service manager complained that "if a man was getting $1.50 for removing a crankcase and pistons, that is all he would do for the $1.50," even though the job description was obviously incomplete. Another service manager summed up the situation by noting that "it is very hard to get the general run of mechanics to do a job without trying to see how little they can do on a job, rather than see how well they can do it." 50

IMAGE LINK= Some mechanics paid by the piece also refused to perform duties not associated with repair work because under the piecework plan they received no compensation for it. They ignored, for example, tool and equipment maintenance and shop cleanliness, insisting on the right to arrive late or leave early rather than perform such auxiliary tasks without pay. Some mechanics also frustrated managers by refusing to keep customers' cars [End Page 293] clean while being repaired. Ford made such cleanliness a major goal in the 1920s, but the piecework system tended to undercut that goal by encouraging mechanics to disregard cleanliness in favor of speed (fig. 6). Ford recognized this problem when it explained to dealers that with an hourly rate of pay instead of piece-rate wages, "more thought is given to protecting customers' cars by the use of covers." 51

By the late 1920s, piecework systems had fallen out of favor with many Ford dealers. One commented in 1927 that "we regret that pressure has been placed on any Ford dealers to use this [piece-rate] plan--as we do not think the . . . plan should be forced down any dealer's throat." By 1929 Ford reversed its position and instructed dealers to abandon piecework. "We feel that it is not advisable for this 60-40 [piece-rate] plan to be continued in effect," the company told its dealers in April of that year, [End Page 294] citing the propensity of mechanics to perform unnecessary work under such plans. 52

Yet abandoning piecework meant that dealers faced the prospect of mechanics restricting their output again. Ford had no solution to this dilemma when it recommended the discontinuation of piece-rate payments in 1929. The company merely suggested "leaving . . . in the dealers' hands . . . the adoption of [a] wage scale or plan of payment." Yet Ford made clear in the early 1930s that it preferred hourly wages over wage-incentive systems. The company noted that "by removing the idea that haste means more money, the mechanic is less likely to do poor work . . . and a more personal interest is taken in each car." 53 Dealers thus had a difficult choice to make: either accept their inability to force mechanics to meet flat-rate times or live with the problems created by the use of piecework. Ford dealers never satisfactorily resolved this dilemma prior to 1940. 54 Some experimented with weekly salaries, but many shops returned to hourly wages during the 1930s. In the end, neither Ford nor its dealers could force recalcitrant mechanics to embrace Ford's new repair methods.

* * *

In 1922 an automotive writer using the pseudonym "Ed Technical" published an article titled "Running the Ford Agency Like a Factory" that captured the essence of Ford's efforts to reform dealer repair shop practices. 55 From 1913 to 1925 Ford tried to rationalize repair work using the company's successful factory methods as a model. In 1915 Ford began urging dealers to use flat rates to calculate customers' bills. Between 1915 and 1920 the company pressured dealers to employ specialized tools and equipment, specialized mechanics, and standardized repair procedures.

Ford's goal seemed straightforward: improve the quality and lower the cost of repair work so that consumers would continue to purchase Ford [End Page 295] vehicles. But company executives miscalculated the ease with which this goal could be achieved and remained wedded to a factory model for repair work even when experience suggested their methods needed rethinking. It had been difficult enough to get factory workers to accept the company's mass production methods at Highland Park, but Ford had much less control over the actors involved in automobile repair work. Ford dealers, mechanics, customers, and independent repair shops all had their own ideas about what constituted good work at fair prices. All of these actors were capable of frustrating Ford's efforts by refusing to accept the company's definition of best practice for repair work. 56

Although some dealers welcomed Ford's repair program, many small dealers resisted the company's initiatives, insisting on their right to define the best procedures for repair shops with limited capital, highly varied repair tasks, and an irregular flow of work. Many mechanics also resisted Ford's efforts to rationalize repair work, arguing that it was impossible to standardize repair work because no two jobs were identical, even when the tasks were the same. The condition of each car differed, thus requiring mechanics to make judgments about how best to complete a job. As one mechanic explained, "the problems aren't all in the manual." Furthermore, much repair work required complex diagnosis that could neither be standardized nor easily separated from the actual repair process. Yet the nature of Ford's training procedures had produced mechanics who were unprepared for these challenges. A veteran mechanic captured this shortcoming when he commented in 1931 that "I have seen mechanics come and go and my findings are that one out of every hundred of the present flat rate mechanics is a good trouble shooter." 57

Some dealers and shop managers echoed mechanics' sentiments. As one shop foreman complained, "there are many first class mechanics, but the great trouble is that their growth has been stunted by lack of cooperation on the part of their employers who are trying to whip them into the yoke of a machine and require them to do their daily stint in a given time instead of helping them to be clear-thinking, consciencious [sic], intelligent human beings, and real doctors of the ailing motor car." 58 In short, Ford undertook its campaign to rationalize automobile repair without respecting the knowledge and desires of those who worked with their vehicles every day--the thousands of mechanics employed by Ford dealers. Instead, company [End Page 296] officials assumed that they alone were capable of devising the best means of repairing their vehicles and that dealers and mechanics would defer to their superior methods. Rather than defer, many mechanics rebelled and left the trade or moved to independent repair shops. 59

Customers also hampered Ford's efforts to define best practice for the repair of automobiles because they made choices about where to take their vehicles for repairs based on a variety of considerations, only some of which were technical. What, after all, did a good repair shop offer to its customers? Was it quality repair work that mattered most? Or did price count more? Might some customers have cared more about cleanliness and courtesy than price? Or was a convenient location most important? All these factors mattered in varying degrees to motorists. The manner in which they weighted them was affected by differences of class and gender as well as place of residence. Middle- and upper-class customers may have perceived even the most perfectly performed repair job as unsatisfactory if they found the mechanic to be rude or the car dirty when it was returned to them. Conversely, poor customers may have rejected perfectly performed repairs as too expensive, preferring instead that mechanics do as little work as possible to keep their vehicles operating. 60

Many motorists chose to abandon dealers in favor of independent repair shops operated by mechanics-turned-proprietors. These shops frequently rejected the rationalization of repair work promoted by Ford and other manufacturers, instead choosing to rely on the skill of their mechanics and the smallness of their shops to guarantee good workmanship. One such shop owner commented that if you "give me the right tools and five good workmen watched on every job . . . I won't worry about . . . scientific management and meeting flat rate prices at a profit." 61 The persistence of these small, independent shops meant that Ford could not unilaterally impose its system on customers. They might choose to purchase Ford's automobiles, but nothing could compel them to frequent Ford dealers for repair work many concluded was unsatisfactory.

Any Ford executive who walked into a small, independent repair shop in the 1920s probably would have been horrified at the manner in which repairs were undertaken. In many shops vehicles were pulled into cramped quarters at whatever angle they could be made to fit, tools and parts were stored haphazardly, few repair manuals were available and fewer consulted by mechanics before making repairs, and customers' bills were computed after the shop manager inquired of the mechanic how many hours he had [End Page 297] spent on the job. From the point of view of Ford executives these methods of repairing automobiles seemed extremely inefficient. But historians of technology are increasingly recognizing that what appear to outsiders to be the most efficient, best technological practices are often ill conceived and inappropriate when applied to the actual conduct of specific businesses. 62 Thus, small, independent automobile repair shops thrived by using practices that were good enough to provide customers with satisfactory repairs at acceptable prices.

Few Ford officials grasped or acknowledged the shortcomings of flat rates and their associated reforms during this era. Having succeeded in using mass production methods to improve the quality and lower the price of the Model T, Ford executives assumed that such methods could easily be adapted to repair work. So strong was the grip of the Fordist manufacturing paradigm on Ford executives that they never seriously considered the alternative of creating a cadre of highly skilled, factory-trained and supported mechanics capable of exercising sound judgment in the repair of customers' vehicles. Perhaps they assumed that to do so would have undermined their efforts to reduce the cost of repair work. Yet in the end it seems unlikely that customers saved money in shops whose wage system encouraged excessive repairs and whose practices encouraged misdiagnosis and shoddy workmanship. 63 Many mechanics were eager for Ford to provide them with more technical information and training, but envisioned this as a shared enterprise in which Ford executives should respect the everyday knowledge mechanics gained in the course of their work.

Labor historians have noted that factory methods often adapt poorly to the service sector of the economy, in part because of the difficulty of rationalizing labor processes for which a key component is human interaction. Thus, scientific management methods were not well suited to controlling the work of department store clerks, nurses, and waitresses, whose work depended on their interpersonal skills. 64 This article's findings suggest that the maintenance and repair of complex technological systems proved equally difficult to rationalize. Yet while managers in other service industries abandoned or radically modified efforts to Taylorize their workplaces, Ford executives persisted in their efforts to adapt mass production methods to the repair of motor vehicles. Consequently, the automobile repair industry [End Page 298] developed two distinct sectors, one composed of smaller dealers and independent shops that resisted Ford's initiatives, the other dominated by larger dealers who embraced flat rates and standardized procedures. This diversity within the automobile repair industry suggests that historians of business, labor, and technology must exercise care when developing and applying typologies to such industries. Neither the term "small business," which obscures differences between the automobile repair industry's two sectors, nor the term "service sector," which lumps the work of waitresses with that of automobile mechanics, seem adequate for characterizing the operations of this complex industry. Philip Scranton and other historians have recently emphasized the variety of types of manufacturing industries, stressing the differences among industries devoted to custom, batch, bulk, and mass production, for example. 65 Historians interested in small businesses and the service sector may need to follow his lead in developing a more complex schema for the classification of industries such as automobile repair.

Dr. McIntyre is assistant professor in the Department of History at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. He is at work on a book on the automobile repair industry before 1940. He thanks Susan Porter Benson, Kevin Borg, Thomas Dicke, Beth Ruffin McIntyre, Jonathan Rees, John Staudenmaier, and the anonymous Technology and Culture referees for advice on the preparation of this article.

Notes

1. O. E. Gundstrom, "Is There Any Peace in Piece-Work?" Automotive Merchandising, June 1931, 48.

2. On the principles of Fordism, see Stephen Meyer, The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921 (Albany, N.Y., 1981), 11. A few dealers may have begun the development of flat rates independently of any automobile manufacturer between 1909 and 1912. These differed from the flat rates developed by Ford, however, because they merely represented the average amount of time similar repair jobs had taken in a given shop and were not based on time-and-motion studies. Franklin seems to have begun designing flat rates in 1917, but no other manufacturers appear to have introduced flat rates in dealer shops before 1920. Some manufacturers, such as Cadillac, expressed hostility toward dealer initiatives to develop flat rates. For more on the origins of flat rates, see Stephen L. McIntyre, "'The Repair Man Will Gyp You': Mechanics, Managers, and Customers in the Automobile Repair Industry, 1896-1940" (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri--Columbia, 1995), 183-98.

3. Allan Nevins and Frank Hill, Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company (New York, 1954), 451-52, 471; Daniel Nelson, Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States, 1880-1920 (Madison, Wisc., 1975), 16; James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), 48-49; David Hounshell, From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore, 1984), 224-28; Meyer, 1-2; Lindy Biggs, "Building for Mass Production: Factory Design and Work Process at the Ford Motor Company," in Autowork, ed. Robert Asher and Ronald Edsforth (Albany, N.Y., 1995), 43-47.

4. This is a composite portrait of a "typical" Ford dealer drawn from many sources. See Henry L. Dominguez, The Ford Agency: A Pictorial History (Osceola, Wisc., 1981), 14-58; Thomas Dicke, Franchising in America: The Development of a Business Method, 1840-1980 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992), 62, 72-74; Richard S. Tedlow, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York, 1990), 137; K. H. Lansing, "Wins By Making Them Wish to Call Again," Ford Owner and Dealer 17 (July 1922): 71-72; B. M. Ikert, "Some Faults of Southern Service," Motor Age 35 (17 April 1919): 18-19.

5. On scientific management, see David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (Cambridge, 1987), 217-29. On scientific management's application to nonfactory settings, see Susan Porter Benson, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940 (Urbana, Ill., 1986), 124-28; Barbara Melosh, "The Physician's Hand": Work Culture and Conflict in American Nursing (Philadelphia, 1982), 171-73, 183-84; Dorothy Sue Cobble, Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century (Urbana, Ill., 1991), 46; Sharon Hartman Strom, Beyond the Typewriter: Gender, Class, and the Origins of Modern American Office Work, 1900-1930 (Urbana, Ill., 1992), 3-4, 35-47, 236-37, 249-50.

6. "Repairs Are Difficult," Horseless Age 8 (21 August 1901): 441; Flink, Automobile Age, 34-37, and America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910 (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), 70-71, 83-85, 225-30.

7. "Garages and their Repair Shops," Motor World 27 (25 May 1911): 587; "Garages and Repair Charges," Automobile Dealer and Repairer 4 (September 1907): 224; H. N. Davock, "A Modern Motor-Car Service-System," Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers 15 (December 1924): 564. On restriction of output among workers in other industries during this period, see David Montgomery, Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (Cambridge, 1979), 11-15, and Fall of the House of Labor, 4-20, 191-94. On restriction of output in automobile manufacturing, see David Gartman, Auto Slavery: The Labor Process in the American Automobile Industry, 1897-1950 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1986), 31-35.

8. "Problems of the Garage Trade," Motor World 16 (25 July 1907): 753; "Complains of Treatment at Garages While on Tour," Horseless Age 24 (8 September 1909): 272; McIntyre (n. 2 above), 65-78.

9. "The Present Status of the Garage Business," Horseless Age 23 (21 April 1909): 591; "Giving Repairmen a Better Name," Motor World 33 (3 October 1912): 13.

10. Nevins and Hill (n. 3 above), 249; Dicke (n. 4 above), 63-64, 66; J. Howard Pile, "Flat Rates, Piece Work and Better Service Business," Motor World 75 (16 May 1923): 10; Norman G. Shiddle, "Service After the Sale: That's the Dealer's Biggest Job, Says W. S. Knudsen," Automobile Trade Journal 34 (April 1929): 46. On automobile jokes, see B. A. Botkin, "Automobile Humor: From the Horseless Carriage to the Compact Car," Journal of Popular Culture 1 (spring 1968): 395-402.

11. Dicke and Tedlow stress that Ford lacked the necessary capital to take over all retail operations and that Ford preferred to concentrate on what he did best: manufacturing automobiles. Dicke, 63, 70, 72; Tedlow (n. 4 above), 137; Nevins and Hill, 388, 401-3; "Minutes of Executive Committee," 14 July 1916, accession 85, box 5, Ford Motor Company Collection, Ford Archive, Edison Institute, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan (hereafter FA/EI).

12. "Discontinuance of Retail Sales," 3 August 1916, acc. 78, box 1, FA/EI.

13. Some historians see Fordism as an extension of the principles of scientific management. Taylor himself praised automobile manufacturers for being "the first . . . to install the principles of scientific management without the aid of experts." Ford did not hire outside experts to reform its dealer repair shops either, instead relying on the same engineers who designed the company's production methods. Meyer (n. 2 above), 20; Gartman (n. 7 above), 42-43, 50; Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor (n. 5 above), 233-34; Joyce Shaw Peterson, American Automobile Workers, 1900-1933 (Albany, N.Y., 1987), 44-45; "Record of Shop Materials," Automobile 27 (12 September 1912): 534; George V. Thompson, "Intercompany Technical Standardization in the Early American Automobile Industry," Journal of Economic History 14 (winter 1954): 11-12.

14. Memo to branches, 12 July 1913, acc. 509, box 1, FA/EI.

15. Shiddle, "Service after the Sale," 46; Fordex Editorial Staff, The Model T Specialist (Detroit, 1925), 123; Nevins and Hill, 461; "Schedule for Repair Charges for Ford Model T Cars and Trucks," 1927, acc. 175, FA/EI, n.p.; Letter to branches, 15 April 1915, acc. 509, box 2, FA/EI; "Auditing," 19 July 1915, acc. 509, box 2, FA/EI; Justin R. Moore, "Applying Business-Like Principles to Ford Car Repairing," Fordowner 8 (February 1918): 44; Murray Fahnestock, "Flat Rate Labor Charges," Ford Owner and Dealer 18 (October 1922): 34.

16. Murray Fahnestock, "Piece-Work System of Ford Repairing," Ford Owner and Dealer 16 (February 1922): 55.

17. "Schedule of Suggested Labor Charges for Lincoln," 18 February 1925, acc. 78, box 75, FA/EI; Memo to branches, 12 July 1913; "Time Studies of Lincoln Repair Operations," 23 November 1923, acc. 78, box 74, FA/EI; "Questions and Answers to Service Roadman's Questionnaire," n.d. [January-December 1924 file], acc. 78, box 74, FA/EI.

18. Minutes of the Operating Committee, 7 March 1916, acc. 85, box 5, FA/EI; "Reminiscences of Artemas Litgot," 12, FA/EI; Minutes of the Operating Committee, 14 December 1916, acc. 85, box 5, FA/EI; Letter to branches, 26 March 1919, acc. 78, box 46, FA/EI; "To Help You," Ford Service Bulletin 1 (1 April 1919): 1; Ford Service Bulletin 6 (September 1925): 49; memorandum, "New 'Ford Service' Book," 10 October 1925, acc. 78, box 75, FA/EI; "Book to Standardize Repair Service Brought Out by Ford," Automobile Digest 14 (January 1926): 96; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service: Detailed Instructions for Servicing Ford Cars (Detroit, 1925), 50-90; "A Valuable Book for Every Repairman," Ford Dealer and Owner 24 (December 1925): 113.

19. "Suggested Schedule of Repair Charges for the Use of Dealers, Service Dealers, and Garages," 24 November 1923, acc. 78, box 74, FA/EI.

20. In 1919 Ford required dealers to purchase thirty-six specialized wrenches, thirteen reamers, thirteen carburetor tools, eight coil unit adjusting tools, twelve arbor press bushing drivers and ball race tools, thirteen miscellaneous small tools, and twenty-nine machines, jigs, and fixtures, including a machine for burning in bearings and a cylinder reboring machine. By the 1930s Ford's list of required tools and equipment had expanded from two to eight pages and included more sophisticated and expensive equipment, such as a laboratory test set for checking engine performance, a battery-regulator-starter tester, and a distributor stroboscope. Minutes of the Operating Committee, 9 March 1916, acc. 85, box 5, FA/EI; Letter to dealers, 26 March 1919, acc. 78, box 1, FA/EI; Ford Service Bulletin 1 (2 June 1919): 36; "Repair Shop Equipment for Ford Dealers and Garages," Ford Service Bulletin 1 (1 July 1919): 50; "Reminiscences of Frank Bennett," 94, FA/EI; "Service Equipment," 5 June 1924, acc. 78, box 74, FA/EI; Letter to branch managers, 2 September 1924, acc. 78, box 74, FA/EI; Letter to dealers, 29 November 1933, acc. 235, box 73, FA/EI; "Important Items Relating to Good Service for Owners," n.d. [General Letters July-December 1940], acc. 235, box 70, FA/EI.

21. J. T. Shaw, "A Standardized Ford Service Station," Horseless Age 44 (15 April 1918): 22; "Ford Methods Make Money for Dealer," Motor World 55 (17 April 1918): 34; "Basis of Labor Charges," Ford Owner 9 (October 1918): 102; "Blueprint Designs for Automobile Dealers Show Rooms/Service Stations," acc. 1698, box 1, FA/EI; Letter to dealers, 11 June 1937, acc. 235, box 71, FA/EI; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development (Detroit, 1935), 64-65.

22. "Model Shop and Garage Offers Ideas to Ford Dealers," Ford Dealer and Owner 24 (November 1925): 118; "Decentralization of Equipment," Ford Service Bulletin 15 (March 1934): 168; "Merit Club Qualifications," 9 November 1934, acc. 235, box 73, FA/EI; "The 1936 National Merit Club Contest," 8 May 1936, acc. 235, box 72, FA/EI; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development, 64-65; "Overhauling the Ford Engine in the Repair Shop," Fordowner 11 (August 1919): 58; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service: Detailed Instructions for Servicing Ford Cars, ix-x; Meyer (n. 2 above), 29.

23. "Meeting of Roadmen and Department Heads, San Francisco Branch, conducted by S. A. Stellwagen," n.d. [Letters 1924-1931], acc. 23, box 4, FA/EI.

24. Letter to dealers, 9 April 1934, acc. 235, box 73, FA/EI; Letter to dealers, 10 August 1934, acc. 235, box 73, FA/EI; "Here's a New Help for You!" n.d. [January-October 1934 file], acc. 78, box 82, FA/EI; Letter to Ford Service Department, Dearborn, 18 May 1931, acc. 78, box 79, FA/EI. For similar efforts to train workers at a gas and electric company in the early twentieth century, see Mark H. Rose, Cities of Light and Heat: Domesticating Gas and Electricity in Urban America (University Park, Pa., 1995), 65-89.

25. "Training Men for Dealers' Service," Motor World 32 (5 September 1912): 15-16; Clyde Jennings, "Steps Taken Toward the Standardization of Automobile Mechanics Study Courses," Motor Age 42 (7 December 1922): 17-18; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development, 17; Letter to dealers, 7 May 1926, acc. 509, box 4, FA/EI.

26. Meyer, 108-12; "Dealer Adopts $5 Wage for all His Employees," Motor World 58 (22 January 1919): 42; "A Good Repair Work Checking System," Automobile Trade Journal 21 (April 1917): 152; "The Deal that Labor Gets," Motor World 60 (6 August 1919): 16; "Payment of Shop Mechanics," Ford Dealer and Service Field 26 (November 1926): 85-86.

27. George W. Stroh, "More Profit, Better Work, Our Experience with Piece Work," Automobile Trade Journal 27 (August 1922): 30; Paul Dumas, "How Should Mechanics Be Paid?" Automobile Trade Journal 30 (September 1925): 26; Donald D. Blanchard, "Universal Flat Rate Plan Pays Mechanics on a Job Basis," Motor World 72 (23 August 1922): 14.

28. Murray Fahnestock, "How the Meldrum Motors of Buffalo Solve Shop Profits Problem," Ford Dealer and Owner 24 (October 1925): 82, and "Piece-Work System of Ford Repairing" (n. 16 above), 55; Letter to branches, 7 April 1925, acc. 78, box 75, FA/EI; "Questions and Answers to Service Roadman's Questionnaire" (n. 17 above), FA/EI; "Bonus or Profit-Sharing Plan for Paying Shop Mechanics," 25 May 1926, acc. 78, box 77, FA/EI; "Profit Sharing Plan for Paying Shop Mechanics," 22 November 1926, acc. 78, box 77, FA/EI; Ford Service Bulletin 8 (May 1927): 157.

29. Joseph Mills, Garage Management and Control (Chicago, 1928), 95; Fahnestock, "Meldrum Motors of Buffalo," 82, and "Piece-Work System of Ford Repairing," 55.

30. "The Service Manager Speaks," Motor Age 40 (21 July 1921): 15; C. P. Shattuck, "This Piecework System Gets Results," Automobile Trade Journal 27 (March 1923): 46; "Flat Rate is Outstanding Topic at S. A. E. Meeting," Automobile Trade Journal 27 (March 1923): 41; DeVelle Thatcher, "Increased the Business--Cut Out a Deficit--Made Money," Ford Dealer and Service Field 26 (December 1926): 104; "Governing Factors in Automobile Service," Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers 12 (March 1923): 307; Letter to dealers, 3 April 1926, acc. 509, box 4, FA/EI.

31. J. Howard Pile, "Makers Endorse Local Service Associations," Motor World 73 (22 November 1922): 20; J. Edward Schipper, "Flat Rate System Will Have Marked Effect on Future Car Design," Automotive Industries 48 (19 April 1923): 874; Donald D. Blanchard, "Factory Service Managers Recognize Need for Service and Maintenance Education," Motor World 75 (23 May 1923): 26; George Strobridge, "Value of Service Station to Automobile Buyers," New York Times, 6 January 1924; L. Z. McKee, "How to Make Shop Equipment Pay," Accessory and Garage Journal 18 (October 1928): 22; "Special Shop Equipment Recommended by Car Makers," Automotive Merchandising, August 1927, 17.

32. Unfortunately, these sources provide no details about motorists' specific complaints. "Personal Interest and Service," Motor Service, February 1929, 23; "Bids Dealers Look to Service," New York Times, 9 April 1933.

33. Gaston Plaintiff to Edsel Ford, 29 December 1925, acc. 66, box 1, FA/EI; Gaston Plaintiff to Edsel Ford, 11 June 1926, acc. 66 box 1, FA/EI; "Super-Service for Ford Drivers," Fordowner 19 (February 1919): 22-23; Letter to dealers, 3 September 1920, acc. 78, box 46, FA/EI; Dicke (n. 4 above), 72, 76; Letter to dealers, 24 October 1932, acc. 78, box 80, FA/EI.

34. One of Ford's largest urban dealers in the 1930s employed only forty mechanics. J. Edward Schipper, "Long Island City Provides Service for 100,000 Cars," Automobile 30 (7 May 1914): 951; Dicke, 74; Clyde Jennings, "The Meaning of Service to the Automotive Industry," Automotive Industries 45 (3 November 1921): 851; Ford Parts and Accessories Merchandising Bulletin 3 (December 1937): 3.

35. Dicke, 74; Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States: Census of Distribution, Retail Distribution, Automobile Trades (Washington, D.C., 1934), 16-17, 22, 24-25, 41.

36. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wages and Hours of Labor in Gasoline Filling Stations and Motor-Vehicle Repair Garages: 1931 (Washington, D.C., 1933), 44; Royalston F. Jennings, "The Future for Automobile Mechanics," Industrial Education Magazine 36 (September 1934): 193; Letter to branches, 22 April 1936, acc. 235, box 72, FA/EI.

37. A. V. Comings, "The Business of Service," Automobile Trade Journal 31 (April 1927): 20-21; "Dealer's Ford Service Equipment," 14 July 1926, acc. 78, box 77, FA/EI; Letter to branches, 21 June 1935, acc. 235, box 72, FA/EI; Letter to branches, 10 February 1936, acc. 235, box 72, FA/EI.

38. See Hugh G. J. Aitken, Scientific Management in Action: Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal, 1908-1915 (Princeton, N.J., 1985), 135-85, and Montgomery, Workers' Control (n. 7 above), 103-8, 127-34.

39. Edward H. Mattson, The Role of the Auto Mechanic in the Early Auto History (Newberry, Mich., n.d.), 7 [located in the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan].

40. J. Willard Lord, "Service Station Layout and Equipment," Motor Age 36 (18 September 1919), 26; Ford Service Bulletin 8 (February 1927): 131.

41. On the Hawthorne studies and resistance to piecework systems in the electrical industry, see Ronald W. Schatz, The Electrical Workers: A History of Labor at General Electric and Westinghouse 1923-1960 (Urbana, Ill., 1983), 42-46. C. P. Shattuck, "Cost of Keeping Car Steadily Growing Less," New York Times, 9 January 1927; "Eliminating the Come Back Jobs," Automobile Trade Journal 32 (September 1927): 23; "How Flat Are Flat Rates?" Automotive Merchandising, May 1931, 67.

42. Gundstrom (n. 1 above), 51; Letter to Los Angeles automotive machinists/ mechanics, 6 October 1927, reel 279, file 48, IAM International Records, State Historical Society of Wisconsin; Investigation of grievance blank, 4 April 1938, correspondence with Local 777, St. Louis, Mo., microfilm reel 35, IAM International Records; J. J. Murphy to F. D. Laudemann, 22 January 1941, correspondence with Local 762, Akron, Ohio, microfilm reel 35, IAM International Records.

43. Fahnestock, "Piece-Work System of Ford Repairing" (n. 16 above), 56; "Model Sales and Service Plant Opens at Flint for Buick Company," Automobile Trade Journal 28 (May 1924): 42; H. N. Davock, "Running a Service Department," Automotive Industries 51 (27 November 1924): 922; H. N. Davock, "A Modern Motor-Car Service-System," Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers 15 (December 1924): 564; "Florida Shop Gets Splendid Results with Piecework," Automobile Trade Journal 27 (May 1923): 36; Percy E. Chamberlain, "The Movies Make It Pay," Automobile Trade Journal 32 (October 1927): 26; Letter to dealers, 3 April 1926, p. 6, acc. 509, box 4, FA/EI; "Profit-Sharing for Mechanics," Ford Dealer and Service Field 26 (March 1927): 91.

44. "Evening Up the Money Mechanics Make," Automotive Merchandising, January 1927, 624; Report of strikes and lockouts, 31 March 1938, correspondence with Local 777, St. Louis, Mo., microfilm reel 35, IAM International Records; Letter to Los Angeles machinists/mechanics (n. 42 above).

45. Louis Lamphere has noted similar complaints about unfair rates and mistreatment of workers in the apparel industry; "Fighting the Piece-Rate System: New Dimensions of an Old Struggle in the Apparel Industry," in Case Studies on the Labor Process, ed. Andrew Zimbalist (New York, 1979), 271. "Is the Flat Rate Plan Right?" American Garage and Auto Dealer 25 (May 1926): 28; Truman Mills, "Boost Service Sales $100 a Day," Automobile Trade Journal 36 (June 1931): 24; Letter to Los Angeles automotive machinists/mechanics (n. 42 above); Roy Alsen, "Shop Force and Company Both Profit by Bonus System of Payment," Automobile Trade Journal 33 (1 November 1928): 24; "Profit-Sharing for Mechanics," 91.

46. Discussion of Don T. Hastings, "The Development of a Modern Service System," Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers 12 (June 1923): 540; F. B. Connelly, "Why Customers Send their Friends to Us," System 42 (November 1922): 541; Shattuck, "This Piecework System Gets Results" (n. 30 above), 47; "Flat Rates Again," Motor Service, June 1923, 15-16; Murray Fahnestock, "Dixon Motor Company Simplifies Piece-Work Payment of Mechanics," Ford Dealer and Owner 24 (November 1925): 100.

47. "Service Equipment for Milwaukee Chevrolets," Motor Service, January 1925, 86, 90.

48. "Profit-Sharing for Mechanics," 91; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development (n. 21 above), 12.

49. Stanley B. Mathewson, Restriction of Output Among Unorganized Workers (New York, 1931), 92-93; Letter to dealers, 19 April 1929, acc. 78, box 78, FA/EI; "The Flat Rate for Labor and the Bill for Parts," Motor Age 42 (7 September 1922): 27.

50. On the origins of "work to rule" in the IWW, see Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Chicago, 1969), 158-64, and Salvatore Salerno, Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the Industrial Workers of the World (Albany, N.Y., 1989), 134-35, 181. "Profit-Sharing for Mechanics" (n. 43 above), 91; Frank L. Drinkwater, "Brainy Service Plus Equipment," Motor Service, February 1929, 28, and "Equipped for Ford Service," Motor Service, December 1929, 27; William F. Gow, "Installing the Piecework System in the Shop," Motor Record 15 (June 1924): 8; E. V. Hancock, "There Are Few Good Mechanics," Automotive Merchandising, November 1939, 34.

51. Murray Fahnestock, "Mutchler-Moody Company Uses New Salary and Commission Plan for Piece-Work Payment of Mechanics," Ford Dealer and Owner 24 (December 1925): 83; Drinkwater, "Equipped for Ford Service," 28; "Flat Rate Group Plan Makes Happier Men," Automotive Merchandising, February 1927, 114; "Give Your Mechanics a Chance to Grow," Automotive Merchandising, September 1926, 72; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development, 12; Drinkwater, "Brainy Service Plus Equipment," 28.

52. "Profit-Sharing for Mechanics," 91; Letter to dealers, 19 April 1929, acc. 78, box 78, FA/EI.

53. Letter to dealers, 19 April 1929, acc. 78, box 78, FA/EI; Ford Motor Company, Ford Service Mechanical Development, 12.

54. I have limited my study of Ford's strategy for reforming dealer repair shops to the period prior to 1940 for two reasons. First, World War II interrupted Ford and its dealers' operations in a number of ways. As Ford geared up for war production, company executives gave less attention to repair issues. Dealer repair shops were also disrupted by the war, as experienced mechanics were inducted into the armed services and replaced by inexperienced men and women. Second, unionization of mechanics after World War II changed the power dynamics of dealer shops. Neither of these developments meant that Ford abandoned its efforts to rationalize dealer repair shops after 1940, but more research is needed on this era.

55. Ed Technical, "Running the Ford Agency Like a Factory," Ford Owner and Dealer 16 (March 1922): 53-59.

56. For a discussion of best-practice technological thinking see John Staudenmaier, "In this Issue," Technology and Culture 40 (April 1999).

57. Douglas Harper, Working Knowledge: Skill and Community in a Small Shop (Chicago, 1987), 127; Gundstrom (n. 1 above), 50. On similar corporate efforts to standardize the diagnosis and repair of photocopiers, see Julian E. Orr, Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job (Ithaca, N.Y., 1996), 104-15.

58. Glenn Stillwell, "The Good Mechanics--Where Are They?" Automobile Digest 16 (April 1928): 21, 90.

59. For a more extensive discussion of mechanics' options, see McIntyre (n. 2 above), 460-90.

60. On customers in the automobile repair industry, see McIntyre, 312-455.

61. Harry Hooper, "You Can't Be a Mossback and Hold on in this Game," Motor Service, May 1928, 50. On independent shops' resistance to Ford's repair methods, see McIntyre, 182-291.

62. See, for example, Pierre Claude Reynard, "Unreliable Mills: Maintenance Practices in Early Modern Papermaking," Technology and Culture 40 (1999): 237-62.

63. Prior to 1940 no estimates were made of consumer losses due to fraudulent or incompetently performed repair work. Today, estimates of such losses range from thirty-five billion to forty-five billion dollars per year. See Arthur P. Glickman, Avoiding Auto Repair Rip-Offs (Yonkers, N.Y., 1995), 4; Gary Belsky, "Watch Out: Car-Repair Crooks Have Some New Tricks Up Their Grimy Sleeves," Money, June 1996, 172.

64. Benson (n. 5 above), 124-28; Melosh (n. 5 above), 171-73, 183-89; Cobble (n. 5 above), 46.

65. On the difficulties of defining small business, see Mansel G. Blackford, "Small Business in America: A Historiographical Survey," Business History Review 65 (spring 1991): 2-4. Philip Scranton, Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865-1925 (Princeton, N.J., 1997), 10-22.

Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Launched on MUSE
2000-04-01
Open Access
No
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