Mass Production and Consumerism in America During the 20th Century

Up until the end of the Civil War, mass production was a means of industry. Textiles, producing metals such as iron for railroads, and John D. Rockefeller’s mass refining of oil was a part of the Industrial Revolution that was aimed at lowering the cost of products for businesses, which lowered them for consumers. After the Civil War, mass production began to directly benefit the people of the United States. Industrial products that were generally used by businesses were now available to consumers directly, such as sewing machines that had rarely been seen outside of industrialized textile factories before the Civil War. 

Interchangeable parts with the help of Albert Pope and Eli Whitney made mass production in America explode.

Colt’s Manufacturing Company made use of interchangeable parts expanded upon by Eli Whitney, and soon guns could be mass produced more efficiently than the rifles that were used during the Civil War, and with the payment installment plan of Isaac Singer’s sewing machines, more expensive products were available to Americans who did not have all of the money to pay for it at once. Such ideas would drive the so-called “Roaring 20s” where consumer buying exploded until it came back to haunt them in 1929 with the collapse of the stock market and the Great Depression. Americans in cities increased the sale of bicycles by numerous times to make travelling to work easier than walking or having to worry about getting the street car. These bicycles used interchangeable parts, making it easy to mass produce different kinds cheaply to both the maker and the consumer.

Because of John D. Rockefeller’s success in the oil industry, the demand for cars was increasing with the influx of oil to American markets. Cars had originally not been consumer products because of the cost it took to buy them due to the large cost cars took to be built one by one. 

In Michigan, Henry Ford began targeting the average American for his market, but he needed a way to make cars easily affordable. 

Instead of them being built one by one, Ford’s company developed the assembly line one year before World War I erupted in Europe. The assembly line along with mass production would be incredibly important for American success in both World Wars. With the assembly line in 1913, Ford was able to produce a mass amount of cars that dropped the price of cars by a large amount, allowing them to be affordable to average Americans. 

Soviet premier Vladimir Lenin distinguished Ford’s monumental accomplishment of mass production and even attempted to hire him to advise Lenin as the Soviet Union began to industrialize after its revolution.

With Ford’s success, he also broke away from much of the rest of the business by offering his employees larger wages out of his own pocket, though it did little to put a dent in the profits they were making. The men on the assembly line doing menial work were soon able to afford the products they spent all day building, as most other workers doing similar work would not be able to afford such “luxuries.” More thought was put into the management of industries in an attempt to make the most efficient use of their time. The idea of “micromanagement” came into play at the beginning of the 1900s as well as advertisements to sell the now cheaply mass-produced products. 

The consumer industry was now revolutionized with mass production, though some revolutions such as “buying on credit” and installments would have harsher consequences when unchecked buying on credit helped lead to the stock market crashing on Black Friday in 1929.

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