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Recasting The Machine Age: Henry Ford's Village Industries

Recasting The Machine Age: Henry Ford's Village Industries

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Book Description"Recasting the Machine Age" recounts the history of Henry Ford'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 itworked. 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.