The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, is a monument to the Industrial Revolution in America. Created by Henry Ford himself, it chronicles Ford’s innovations that changed forever the nature of work in America. Ironically, next door to the Ford Museum is a different kind of monument – also created by Ford – called Greenfield Village. Named after Mrs. Ford’s childhood community, Greenfield Village is an exact replica of a typical small town of the late nineteenth century. It was Ford’s memorial to the simple, pre-industrial world that the automobile helped destroy forever. No one knew better than Henry Ford that the mass production assembly line had done far more than create a new product; it had changed the nature of life itself.
Ford’s assembly line shortened the time needed to construct an automobile from 12.5 hours to just 1.5 hours, but this technical efficiency came at a high human price. As worker boredom increased so did absenteeism. As production quotas continually increased, workers began to suffer stress-related ailments, and the incidence of alcoholism increased. In a short time, Ford found it difficult to keep enough workers on his assembly lines to meet the production schedule.
What went wrong? To put it simply, the Industrial Revolution completed the process that began at the Fall – the corruption of work. In the Garden man was separated from his Creator; on an assembly line man was separated from his work. Once, work was the deepest expression of who a person was; now, there was nothing of the person in his work – he had become little more than an extension of the machine he operated.
Laborers often had little idea what their monotonous task contributed to the final product – in fact, from where most of them stood, they couldn’t even see the end of the assembly line. Once, a worker might have felt esteemed as a respected craftsman in a field that required years of training and experience. Now, almost anyone could do almost any job. For the sake of productivity, something terrible had been sacrificed – the meaning of work.
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