We start in the north. A big river and a railroad.
Detroit is fed by the trains and boats that it will render antiquated. It is thanks to them that industry arrives in the city. Henry Ford found investors for his new motor company from amongst the new industrial magnets scattered along the river.
Ford had already accidentally founded Cadillac by the time he created the company that bears his name. He’d worked for Thomas Edison. He’d set a new land speed record.
Ford wanted to make affordable cars. He wanted everyone to be able to drive a Ford. He wanted everyone to drive a Ford. In order for that to be possible they needed to be cheaper to make, which meant they needed to be quicker to make and easier to make. And so Ford reapplied the engineering strategies he had used to conceive his car to the mechanism for building it.
The assembly line. The logic of machine-building translated from product to process. Ford is building a machine for making machines. People become components.
But well-paid components, earning what today would amount to over a $100 a day. A Ford Employee can become a Ford Customer with only four months wages.
Another elegant machine. By 1925 there are Ford plants in Canada, England, France, Denmark, Germany, Argentina, South Africa and Australia. Ford creates the first franchise dealerships, to sell not only his cars but the idea of owning a car. He creates driver’s clubs to encourage people to discover everything their cars a capable of. Now Ford is engineering consumption, manufacturing his own indispensability to modern living.
Thirty years later on the other side of the country, in a state designed around the lifestyle engineered by Ford, the first McDonald’s restaurant is a popular stopping point for teenagers and their cars just off Route 66.
Owners Dick and Mac McDonald note that their restaurant’s most successful (and profitable) single item is easily the hamburger. Like Ford they re-build their process into an assembly line, selling only Hamburgers, French Fries and Milkshakes. Like Ford, the allure is not what you are buying but the way in which you are buying it – cheaper, faster, more efficient. It is an enormous success.
They too quickly acknowledge the next step – that once you are manufacturing and selling the means of consumption as much as what is being consumed, then you can also manufacture and sell that consumption as a lifestyle. You are not making hamburgers, you are making people who eat Hamburgers.
Within ten years there are over 100 McDonald’s franchises and billboard advertisements targeting hungry drivers.
Two years later the company starts advertising in Life magazine.
Let’s hear it for those that didn’t make it:
Let’s hear it for Tractmobile!
For Stout Scarab!
For Marion Flyer!
For Coats Steam Car!
For Colonial Six!
For Wizard Junior!
Let’s hear it for Peabody and Pawtucket, for American Steamer, American Tri-Car, American Underslung, American Napier, American Juvenile Electric, American Chocolate, American De Dion, American Motors, American Waltham!
Let’s hear it for American!
Let’s hear it for Henry H. Bliss!
For Donald Turnupseed!
For Roland Ratzenburger!
One last time for all of them. God bless them, every one!