Henry Ford

Innovators Who Shaped American Manufacturing: Henry Ford

Before his name was associated with F-150 trucks, Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, was better known for his iconic Model T car and his pioneering work in the manufacturing sector. With the introduction of the moving assembly line and novel, employee-focused business initiatives, his legacy set numerous precedents for today’s industrial landscape.

Though he is most commonly recognized in the context of automobiles, American industrialist and businessman Henry Ford is also often credited with revolutionizing manufacturing through his innovative approaches and groundbreaking achievements. Armed with a dream and a natural affinity for engineering, Ford’s unwavering determination and innovative mindset propelled him to become one of the most influential figures of the 20th century and one of the most impactful forces in creating the American middle class.

Cars for the Great Multitude

Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863. He was raised on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan, and showed an early interest in mechanics and engineering. Though he had little formal education, he found work as a teen apprentice in a machine shop, where he became proficient in operating and servicing steam engines. In adulthood, he started at the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit, quickly rising to become chief engineer within just a couple of years.

Growing up in a family of limited means, one of Ford’s most persistent dreams throughout his life was to produce goods in such a way that they would be affordable for anyone. After multiple career setbacks and failed business ventures, the Ford Motor Company was started in 1903, where he began producing a variety of automobiles. Five years later, after proclaiming he would “build a motor car for the great multitude,” Ford introduced the iconic Model T, which, at its peak, would eventually represent half of all cars on the road worldwide.

Pioneering the Assembly Line

Ford’s most notable contribution to the manufacturing industry came from the moving assembly line. In 1913, at his Highland Park factory in Michigan, Ford introduced the world to a groundbreaking method of mass production that involved breaking down the assembly of automobiles into a series of simple, repetitive tasks. This led to faster production times and a significant increase in the output of goods, as the time it took to build a car dramatically reduced from hours to just minutes. This innovation increased efficiency and productivity and made automobiles more affordable and accessible to consumers.

With the implementation of the assembly line, Ford achieved his vision of making the automobile a practical mode of transportation for the average American. By 1925, the Model T had become a reliable, affordable, mass-produced car that transformed the automotive industry. By standardizing parts and streamlining production processes, Ford lowered the Model T’s cost from $825 to just $260, making it a reasonable investment for millions of working-class families across the country.

Less Work, More Pay

In a bold move to combat high employee turnover and attract skilled workers, Henry Ford also introduced the “Five-Dollar Day” in 1914, doubling the average wage of his employees to $5 per day. This groundbreaking initiative improved the quality of life for Ford’s workers and set a new standard for employee compensation and welfare in the manufacturing industry. By paying higher wages, Ford aimed to attract and retain skilled workers, reduce turnover, and foster loyalty and productivity among his workforce.

As another method of enticing and keeping reliable employees and increasing production, Ford shortened the average workday by one hour from nine to eight. This allowed for the addition of a third shift, turning the company into a 24-hour operation, giving existing employees more time outside of the plant, and providing jobs for even more workers. Though critics called him “Crazy Henry” for his unconventional business practices, insisting he would quickly go bankrupt, Ford would eventually say it was “the smartest cost-cutting move [he] ever made.” Not only were his employees more likely to continue showing up to work, but a new class of consumers was created that could afford Ford cars – another win-win for both the company and its workers.

Lasting Effects on American Manufacturing

Ford’s introduction of the assembly line and unprecedented business initiatives transformed the automobile industry and set a precedent for manufacturing practices across various sectors. His innovative methods and forward-thinking approach, which emphasized productivity, standardization, and continuous improvement, laid the foundations of the modern industrial landscape and have had a profound impact on the way goods are produced to this day.

His legacy can be seen in modern production techniques, supply chain management, and labor practices that prioritize efficiency, quality, and employee well-being. As the manufacturing landscape evolves, Henry Ford’s foundational principles remain relevant, serving as a testament to his enduring impact on American industry and innovation.

To learn more about manufacturing, check out Effects Of The Industrial Revolution On Wisconsin, History Of Manufacturing In Eau Claire, and Supporting Employee Mental Health In The Manufacturing Industry

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A Guide to Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

While you probably use products just about every day that include rubber, you might not have realized that different kinds come from different sources. Natural and synthetic rubbers each have their unique properties based on how they are processed and are both useful for different applications.

Rubber, the versatile material that bounces, stretches, and provides grip, is essential to our daily lives. Whether it’s the tires on our cars or the bands that keep things together, rubber plays a crucial role. But did you know that not all rubber is created equally? There are two main types with different characteristics: natural rubber and synthetic rubber.

Natural Rubber

Sourcing and Production

Natural rubber, as the name suggests, is derived from natural sources – rubber trees, primarily the Hevea brasiliensis species. Some of the earliest evidence of its use is from Native Americans thousands of years ago, followed by the first major production efforts beginning in the 18th century. The manufacturing process begins with tapping the trees and collecting the sap, which contains latex.

The latex is then transported to a processing facility, where it is mixed with acid to induce coagulation. Additives such as carbon black and silica may also be included based on the specific properties desired. Once the clumps are formed, they are rolled into a flat sheet and dried. The rubber is then vulcanized, which involves heating the material with chemicals and creating cross-links between the polymer chains, thus improving strength, elasticity, and resistance to heat, chemicals, and wear.

Properties and Advantages

Natural rubber tends to be quite durable and resilient, with a unique set of chemical and physical traits. Some of its main properties include:

  1. Excellent Elasticity: Natural rubber offers exceptional stretchability and rebound. It can stretch many times its length and return to its original shape, making it ideal for applications that require strength and flexibility.
  1. Low Heat Generation: Natural rubber generates less heat during rolling and friction, contributing to better performance and longevity.
  1. Biodegradability: Natural rubber is biodegradable, which means it can break down naturally over time, reducing environmental impact.
  1. Cold Resistant: Natural rubber maintains flexibility in a wide range of temperatures and is resistant to breaking between -58 and 212 degrees F.
  1. High Durability: Natural rubber is impressively strong, and does not easily get cut, chipped, or torn. It is resistant to repeated stress, wear, and abrasion.

Uses and Applications

Natural rubber is widely used in a variety of industries. It’s favored in situations where high resilience and durability are required. A few of its main applications are:

  1. Tire Manufacturing: Because of its excellent elasticity, resilience, and low heat buildup during rolling, natural rubber is a vital component in tire manufacturing. It provides grip, durability, and the ability to absorb shocks, making it ideal for off-road automotive, construction, aerospace, and other applications that require the ability to withstand harsh conditions.
  1. Flooring: Its water and wear resistance make natural rubber an excellent option for flooring and fatigue mats in gyms, animal shelters, and commercial kitchens where padding and anti-slip surfaces are needed.
  1. Clothing: The flexibility, comfort, and waterproof qualities of natural rubber make it a preferred choice for the production of various types of footwear, including sneakers, rain boots, and flip-flops, as well as other types of clothing that require stretch, such as waistbands and wetsuits.
  1. Latex Products: Natural rubber latex can make gloves, balloons, pencil erasers, and paint. Its natural stretchiness and flexibility make it well-suited for products that require a significant amount of elasticity.
  1. Industrial and Mechanical Goods: Natural rubber is used to manufacture conveyor belts, gaskets, seals, hoses, and various industrial goods. Its resilience and durability are valuable in these applications.

Synthetic Rubber

Sourcing and Production

Synthetic rubber is a man-made creation, invented during WWII when the United States was cut off from international natural rubber supply lines and needed an effective alternative to continue manufacturing essential military supplies. It is produced through chemical processes by polymerizing various petrochemical compounds derived from crude oil and natural gas. The compounds undergo a chemical process known as polymerization, where individual molecules (monomers) are chemically bonded to form long chains or networks of polymer molecules.

Various additives, such as antioxidants, accelerators, and curing agents, are mixed with the polymer to enhance specific properties like heat resistance, durability, and curing characteristics. Fillers like carbon black or silica may also be added to improve strength and wear resistance. The rubber is then cured via vulcanization.

Properties and Advantages

The versatility of synthetic rubber lies in the ability to customize its properties. Some are designed for high-temperature resistance, while others prioritize oil resistance, chemical resistance, or flexibility. Some of the main advantages of this type of rubber include:

  1. Versatility: Different types of synthetic rubber can be formulated for particular properties, such as oil resistance, heat resistance, or chemical resistance, making it suitable for a wide range of industrial applications.
  1. Damage Resistance: Synthetic rubber is highly resistant to chemicals, oxidation, and abrasion. This means it does not deteriorate easily and has excellent longevity.
  1. Weather Resistance: Synthetic rubber can withstand extreme temperatures, especially high heat, and is not heavily affected by outdoor conditions such as sunlight, and ozone exposure, making it less susceptible to degradation.
  1. Adhesion: Some synthetic rubbers can bond well with other materials, allowing them to be used as adhesives and sealants to join various components. Varieties with a tacky surface are excellent for applications where grip is essential.
  1. Tear Resistance: Synthetic rubber can be stretched twice its length without deformity. It can handle significant stress and immediately return to its original shape and size without tearing or permanent damage.

Uses and Applications

Synthetic rubber offers a wide range of applications due to its versatility and ability to be tailored for specific purposes. It can have a variety of uses, such as:

  1. Tire Manufacturing: Synthetic rubber is a key component in passenger tire manufacturing. Different synthetic polymers are blended to achieve the desired balance of properties such as tread wear resistance, traction, and impermeability. 
  1. Automotive Components: It is also used in various other automotive components, including engine bearings, clutches, seals, and hoses. Synthetic rubber’s durability and resistance to automotive fluids make it ideal for these applications.
  1. Industrial Products: Synthetic rubber is used in cable installation, belts, gaskets, and rollers in machinery. Its resistance to abrasion, chemicals, and extreme temperatures makes it suitable for industrial use.
  1. Commercial Goods: From wearable items like hair ties, boots, and raincoats to household items such as dishwashing gloves, jar seals, and garden tools, synthetic rubber can be found in many items people use every day due to its impressive versatility.
  1. Medical and Laboratory Equipment: Due to its high durability and resistance to chemicals, synthetic rubber is excellent for lab flask corks, fatigue mats, and prosthetics. 

Outside of their functional properties and applications, one of the biggest deciding factors when choosing between natural and synthetic rubber is typically the cost. The latter often tends to be cheaper, which makes it the best option when price point is critical. However, this is not always the case, as both types are subject to fluctuations in market rates of necessary ingredients, which can change due to a variety of factors.

In the world of rubber manufacturing, natural and synthetic rubber have unique roles and advantages. Natural rubber shines in its eco-friendliness and exceptional elasticity, making it a top choice for tires and various consumer products. On the other hand, synthetic rubber offers versatility, allowing engineers to fine-tune properties for specific needs, whether heat resistance, chemical resistance, or durability. Together, both of these types of rubber keep our world rolling, bouncing, and gripping, meeting many significant industrial and consumer demands.

To learn about rubber mixing and weighing at American Phoenix, visit our services page. And for more rubber-related content (our specialty), check out 5 Quick Facts About the Rubber Manufacturing Industry and Seven New Uses for Old Tires.

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Effects of the Industrial Revolution in Kansas

To round out our Industrial Revolution-themed “Tour de API Plants” series, we have Kansas. This centralized major agricultural state became a significant national manufacturing hub during this time via technological innovations, urbanization, and infrastructure development.

The effects of the Industrial Revolution in the United States reached far and wide, including the heartland state of Kansas. This transformative period had a profound impact on the Sunflower State, where agriculture met industry and manufacturing took root in the Great Plains.

Technological Advancements and Industrial Expansion

Known as the “Wheat State” and “Breadbasket of the World,” Kansas has a long history of being a prominent farming state. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new technologies and machinery, such as steel plows, threshers, and mechanical reapers, allowed Kansas farmers to increase their productivity significantly. This led to the expansion of agriculture and the birth of large-scale commercial farming.

The state’s other abundant natural resources, including coal, lead, zinc, and salt, contributed significantly to its economic development. Mining for these and other mineral deposits became a top industry for the state, and companies began producing commercial products using these materials.

Technological advancements in manufacturing processes at the time quickly revolutionized production, and Kansas cities became hubs for manufacturing products such as stoves, washing machines, and other furniture. Factories began to sprout up, adopting mass-production techniques that made goods more accessible and affordable to consumers. This shift diversified the state’s economy, providing new opportunities for employment and growth beyond just the fields and mines.

Urbanized Transportation and Infrastructure Development

As Kansas became more industrialized, the need for improved infrastructure, including roads, railways, bridges, and utilities, became evident. Government and private investments were made to develop and modernize cities across the state, facilitating economic growth and urban expansion

The state’s strategic location in the country’s center made it a vital transportation hub. The construction of railroads facilitated the movement of goods and people, connecting rural communities to urban centers and linking Kansas to the broader national market.

As industries flourished and railroads crisscrossed the state, Kansas saw the rise of urban centers, and cities like Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City experienced rapid growth as people flocked to these emerging industrial hubs in search of work and opportunity. Skyscrapers replaced silos, and bustling streets replaced quiet country lanes.

Workforce Growth and Workers’ Rights

As industries boomed, so did the need for a workforce, and the Industrial Revolution created new job opportunities in Kansas, particularly in the manufacturing, mining, and transportation sectors. Factories required a skilled workforce to operate machinery and perform various tasks, increasing labor demand. Jobs such as machinists, textile workers, and railroad employees became prevalent.

However, the growth of industrialization brought challenges for workers, including long hours, low wages, and often unsafe working conditions. In response, labor unions and workers’ rights movements gained momentum in Kansas, which advocated for better pay, fair treatment, and job security. Strikes and collective bargaining efforts became part of the struggle for workers’ rights, shaping the labor landscape for generations to come.

The effects of the Industrial Revolution in Kansas were transformative, forever shaping the state’s economy, society, and landscape. Today, as we look at the thriving manufacturing sector in the state, we can trace its roots back to the era when Kansas embraced industry and became an integral part of the nation’s industrial tapestry.

For more history lessons about the Industrial Revolution, check out these articles on Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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Effects of The Industrial Revolution in Alabama

All of our API locations are situated in states with rich histories in manufacturing. Alabama experienced significant growth following the Industrial Revolution, becoming the most industrialized state in the South.

Alabama, once a quiet agrarian state, found itself on the cusp of change in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The arrival of the Industrial Revolution set off a chain reaction that revolutionized the state’s economy, society, and culture. Gone were the days of small-scale farming, as factories and mills began to spring up everywhere.

A Boost to Manufacturing

Amidst the cotton fields and picturesque landscapes, Alabama’s manufacturing sector surged. The state was primed for industrial success with abundant natural resources, including iron ore, coal, and limestone.

Technological breakthroughs like steam engines and mechanized cotton gins transformed the cotton industry, propelling Alabama to the forefront of cotton production. This surge in cotton manufacturing fueled the need for more textile mills, creating thousands of job opportunities and driving economic growth across the state.

The Rise of Steel and Iron Production in Birmingham

A beacon of progress in the heart of Alabama, Birmingham witnessed an unprecedented boom during the Industrial Revolution. With the discovery of rich coal seams and iron ore deposits, Birmingham’s furnaces roared to life, becoming a hub for steel production. As this new industry soared, the city’s skyline expanded, and its influence grew exponentially.

The rise of iron and steel mills earned the city the moniker “The Pittsburgh of the South.” Innovations such as the Bessemer Converter, a revolutionary steelmaking process, enabled the industry to flourish. The Bessemer process reduced production costs, increasing output and making steel more affordable for various applications.

Impact on Society and Culture

Beyond the economic boom, the Industrial Revolution also impacted Alabama’s residential conditions. As factories emerged, the state saw a significant influx of immigrants and rural-to-urban migration. The workforce diversified along with the industries, bringing in people from various backgrounds and laying the foundation for a more cosmopolitan society.

Population densities in major cities increased quickly as Alabama became the most industrialized state in the south, which also led to the establishment of several workers’ unions.

Over the years, Alabama’s identity has been shaped by embracing modernity while preserving its rich traditions and history.

The Industrial Revolution’s effects on Alabama were transformative, forever altering the state’s landscape and identity. From the rise of steel mills in Birmingham to the mechanization of cotton farming, manufacturing advancements played a key role in this remarkable journey. The spirit of innovation that emerged during this era continues to shape Alabama’s progress, reminding us of the power of change and adaptation.

For more history lessons, check out Effects of the Industrial Revolution in Wisconsin, Effects of the Industrial Revolution in North Carolina, and The History of Manufacturing in Eau Claire.

For more articles From the Plant, check out our blog.

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History of Manufacturing in Eau Claire

While API is currently one of the largest employers in Eau Claire and custom rubber mixing plants in America, the area has a long history of manufacturing spanning over a century before its founding. Check out this article to learn more about what products and companies came first.

According to the City of Eau Claire Economic Development Division, “Manufacturing employs about 10,000 people in Eau Claire and the sector contains some of the area’s largest employers.

American Phoenix, Inc. is proud to be one such employer that strives to honor the history of Eau Claire manufacturing in the work we do each day. To do this, we’ve taken a look back at how the area’s major industries evolved over time.

Sawdust City

In the second half of the 19th century, settlers arrived in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area and started working in local sawmills as the lumber industry began to boom. The first mill was erected in 1846 and, after being destroyed by a flood and subsequently rebuilt, eventually became the host of Eau Claire Lumber company.

By 1890 there were more than 75 sawmills and factories in operation in the area, leading it to become the largest lumber-producing center in the world. This earned Eau Claire the nickname “Sawdust City”, which remained until the early 20th century when the lumber industry began to decrease.

The Rise of Rubber

As lumber production declined, the rubber industry started to gain traction. In 1916, Raymond Gillette founded Gillette Safety Tire Company in Eau Claire, which became a major manufacturer of automobile and bicycle tires alongside other rubber products. The company soon became the largest industrial employer in the city and one of the world’s leading producers of automobile tires.

A series of acquisitions took place in the following years, and the plant eventually became Uniroyal, Inc. (formerly U.S. Rubber) for approximately fifty years. It was then bought by Michelin in 1990, only to shut down just two years later and subsequently be purchased and renamed Banbury Place. Then, in 1992, American Phoenix, Inc. was founded, taking over a large manufacturing section of the property as well as the area’s tire production. Currently, the Eau Claire branch of API is one of the largest custom rubber mixing plants in America.

Diversifying Production

Today, Eau Claire hosts numerous other types of manufacturing companies such as Silver Spring Foods, the world’s largest grower and producer of horseradish; Nestle USA, which locally produces infant formula and a variety of nutritional products; Lippert, which manufactures and engineers highly-quality components for the RV, marine and automotive industries; Phillips Medisize, a medical device development company; Veritas Steel, a leading bridge fabricator.

Due to its well-diversified economy and growing population, it is likely that Eau Claire will continue to be a hotspot for a variety of manufacturers as demand in certain industries increases. Currently, 20% of businesses in the area are part of the manufacturing industry cluster.

If you’d like to be part of the manufacturing history of Eau Claire, visit our careers page to see our available opportunities.