An American Industrial Revolution Unit

for Middle School Students and their Teachers

home inventions horrors of workplace big business labor production

Interchangeable Parts


In the early 1800's, Eli Whitney came up with an idea that had a great impact on the way goods were produced.

Before his idea of interchangeable parts, most goods were produced by skilled workers who made each item by hand from start to finish. For example, a gunsmith worked long and hard on each gun he made. First the stock was made, then the barrel, and also the trigger. Each gun came out a little different, so if a part on a gun broke, the gunsmith would have to make a new part for that particular gun. This took a lot of time.

Whitney's idea was to build a machines that made each separate part of the gun.That way, all the parts would be exactly alike. Each barrel would be the same length, and stocks would be the same size and shape. If something broke, it could be easily replaced.

Whitney's idea of interchangeable parts made it possible to put together and repair things quickly.

This idea began with guns but soon spread to other industries.



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The Assembly Line

In 1913, Ford introduced the idea of the assembly line. In his automobile factory, he had an assembly line where the frame of each car moved along on a moving belt. Workers on each side of the belt added parts to the car. This allowed Ford to make cars faster. He was then able to sell them for less than his competitors.



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Scientific Management

Many of the factories in the early 20th century operated under the philosophy of scientific management. This theory was made popular by Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American industrial engineer.  Taylor believed that workers should be hired to perform a small number of tasks, in a repetitive manner.

Scientific management principles discouraged workers from working more effectively and efficiently. The theory was that workers would definitely make mistakes, but inspectors would catch these at the end of the assembly line. Workers could then be docked for faulty workmanship. If a worker made too many mistakes, they could be fired.

These same principles made their way into the public schools at the turn of the century.



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Total Quality

 William Edwards Deming is the person who popularized the Total Quality Philosophy. He felt that the Taylor method of scientific management was degrading to the human spirit. He thought that workers could be trained to conduct their own quality controls. Deming believed that if workers were trained and empowered to manage their own work processes, the quality of their output would increase. If workers could do this, then the inspectors at the end of the line would be unnecessary. Therefore, total quality would lower manufacturing costs.

Total Quality Control 



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Connection to Today

Think about a business.  What type of production system are they using? 


1.  McDonald's

2.  Subway 

3.  Pizza Hut 

4.  Royal Fork (a buffet)

5.  Alaskan Bowl Company

6.  Alaska Window

7.  Alaska Taxidermy


Call each business and ask how they control for quality.  Are any businesses moving toward Total Quality?  



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Student Activities


Before the Industrial Revolution

Before factories, things were made at home, each one was crafted individually.   Mom made clothes for all the kids, each one was different.  Dad fixed the plow, milked the cows, etc.  Made the farm run.

Before big schools, children were taught in one-room school houses with one teacher teaching all ages of students.  The teacher was a craftsman of her own, crafting each students to his/her individual needs. 

FACTORIES:  (Henry Ford) Factories and interchangable parts:  One factory has one worker putting one part on the product and sending it long the convor belt to the next worker.

SCHOOLS:  One teacher teaches one part, say Kindergarten, and puts the student on a conveyor belt and sends him/her to the next worker.

FACTORIES:  (Frederick Winslow Taylor)inspectors would catch MISTAKES at the end of the assembly line 

SCHOOLS:  Iowa Test of Basic Skills is implemented to test for quality control.

Factories in Japan adopt Deming's Total Quality and then surpass the US in production standards and quality.

SATURN Company adopts Total Quality

SCHOOLS?    What's in store for schools if we continue to follow factories?  Have some schools started making a change toward Total Quality?  What would a school that's adoped TQM look like?  sound like?  be like?



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