Recasting The Machine Age

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"Recasting the Machine Age" recounts the history of HenryFord's efforts to shift the production of Ford cars and trucks from the large-scale factories he had pioneered in the Detroit area to nineteen decentralized, small-scale plants within sixty miles of Ford headquarters in Dearborn. The visionary who had become famous in the early twentieth century for his huge and technologically advanced Highland Park and River Rouge complexes gradually changed his focus beginning in the late 1910s and continuing until his death in 1947.

According to Howard P. Segal, Ford decided to create a series of "village industries," each of which would manufacture one or two parts for the company's vehicles. Although he imagined that the rural setting of these decentralized plants would allow workers to become part-time farmers, Ford's plan did not represent a reaction against modern technology. The idea was to continue to employ the latest technology, but on a much smaller scale—and for the most part it worked. All nineteen of these village industries helped save their communities from decline, in several cases ensuring their survival through the Great Depression. The majority of workers in the village industries, moreover, appear to have preferred their working and living conditions to those in Detroit and Dearborn.

Ford may well have been motivated to spend great sums on the village industries in part to prevent the unionization of his company. But these industrial experiments represented much more than "union busting." They were significant examples of profound social, cultural, and ideological shifts in America between the World Wars as reflected in the thought and practice of one notable industrialist. Segal recounts the development of the plants, their fate after Ford's death, their recent revival as part of Michigan's renewed appreciation of its industrial heritage, and their connections to contemporary efforts to decentralize high-tech working and living arrangements.

"A fascinating subject, one well deserving of a modern scholar's attention. . . . The book makes a significant impact on our understanding of Henry Ford's auto industry, America's machine age, and patterns of industrial decentralization."— Amy Sue Bix, author of "Inventing Ourselves out of Jobs?: America's Debate over Technological Unemployment"

"Howard Segal's treatment of his subject is the best I have read, going far beyond anyone else's work and being as definitive as we likely shall see. 'Recasting the Machine Age' is fair, objective, scholarly, and up-to-date."— David L. Lewis, author of "The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company"

HOWARD P. SEGAL is professor of history at the University of Maine and author of "Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America" (University of Massachusetts Press, 1994).

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Editorial Reviews

History: Reviews of New Books
Recasting the Machine Age' makes two important contributions to the literature: first, a solid history of Ford's fascinating village industries and second, a sophisticated analysis of the history of decentralization in American industry. Remarkably enough, both of these are interrelated--but non-Fordist--issues can be traced directly to Henry Ford.
Winter 2006
Journal of American History
"Howard P. Segal has written a fine disquisition on a little-known project of Henry Ford's to decentralize his auto operations. This investigation is important because it sheds light on Ford's sometimes-confusing attempts at social engineering and on many current business trends. . . .Segal has written a thoughtful analysis of decentralization in the machine age."
June 2006
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Parts of this book are rewarding, thanks to the author's creative, interdisciplinary approach to the subject. . . .Among the book's strongest parts is a short chapter dedicated to labor history, in which Segal draws upon his own interviews with former employees of the village industries.
Segal has produced a scholarly, thoughtful study that appraises Ford's various motives for creating and funding these 19 manufacturing plants. This well-documented, balanced history contributes to the understanding of not only Henry Ford and his company but also the array of connecting between social and technological change. This study will appeal to a variety of readers.
H-Net Reviews
[Segal] has woven this extensive research into an informative narrative that recounts the story of Henry Ford's dream of re-establishing small-scale manufacturing in rural America. . . . Howard P. Segal has written an important book that extends the scholarship of both the history of technology in America as well as its utopian ideals."
—Rob Vaughan, University of Hawaii at Manoa
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558496422
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 5/19/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction : Henry Ford, centralization, and decentralization 1
Ch. 1 Henry Ford's village industries : origins, contexts, rationales 6
Ch. 2 Decentralized technology in the village industries : scale, scope, system, vision 17
Ch. 3 Farm and factory united 27
Ch. 4 Buildings and workforce 35
Ch. 5 Administration and relationship to local communities 51
Ch. 6 Workers' experiences 59
Ch. 7 Unionization 75
Ch. 8 The decentralists and other visionaries 87
Ch. 9 American industry also preaches decentralization 108
Ch. 10 Decline of the village industries during World War II and after 121
Ch. 11 Contemporary renewal of the village industries in high-tech America 130
Conclusion : Henry Ford evolves from mechanical to social engineer 152
App Basic facts about and present status of the nineteen village industries 161
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