GHDI logo

Friedrich von Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, "Fordism" (1926)

page 2 of 2    print version    return to list previous document      next document

[ . . . ]

It is no mere distance but a profound and purely intellectual contradiction that separates Ford from Taylor! What Taylor accomplishes through his ingeniously thought-out system of management Ford achieves as well, but through the completely different, thrilling verve of leadership. To judge by the many interesting examples Ford cites from the concrete world of his plants, the output potential of a Ford worker is scarcely inferior to that of a Taylor worker. It is only that this amounts to the whole of Taylor’s success, with the question remaining of how much his direction detracts from it. Meanwhile it represents only a partial success for Ford when his workers owe the plant nothing in the way of honest performance, and this concerning a plant to which he lends such grandiose form quite independently of questions of individual output! For Ford plays not only the role of the watchmaker simply “mending” the flaws in plant operations; he is also the mighty forger who hammers the plant into shape in the red-hot glow of stormy transformations.

I scarcely believe that anyone would have to struggle harder than myself against the temptation of following in Ford’s footsteps precisely in the context of his incomparable example of the administration of technical reason. I will content myself with a single example, which, however, is equally singular in kind. This example, incidentally, also blesses the quite numerous family of my Principles of Technical Reason with a new member: it falls, namely, under the principle of the “unitary linkage of all processes through intersecting pathways”—a highly gifted offspring of my principle of “properly linked execution”!

Every Ford automobile is composed of more than 5,000 parts, all of them interchangeable, so that each part would fit in its assigned place on every car. Even though this number naturally includes many of the same parts, and even though the numerous machines devoted to their manufacture operate in concert (accomplishing much while demanding little in the way of operator movements, little in the way of labor), about 8,000 different functions still result. Every worker is devoted to only one function, but the same function is often assigned to several and even many workers, for in all Ford employs not 8,000 but 50,000 workers, the majority of whom are continually occupied operating machines. Ford calculates that it would take 2,000,000 trained workers, specialists of all sorts, if one were to match the production of his plants by traditional toolmakers’ means; he is obviously presupposing optimum organization and the highest level of desire on the part of the workers, so that given production in artisanal style these millions would have to be further multiplied. In any case, it is necessary to distribute properly in space not only the workers but also the machines they are to operate. Expressed more precisely, the various processes themselves, which are at the same time the specific acts in the production process, must be arranged properly in space. For that there is only one law: that productive functions be organized into an ideal succession; and this ideal of a closed, unified production process—for the processes in fact are accomplished in separate locations—simultaneously generates an ideal arrangement of processes, that is, of machines and workers. For a product as complex as an automobile does not result from a linear process, but from the coordinated march of interwoven tasks. At first they march separately, that is, the parts are conducted through to completion individually from station to station; then they are put together one after the other, that is, “assembled” (in that, for example, a wheel is made up of a rim, hub, and spokes); likewise must the chassis be put together, and the motor, and finally the automobile as a whole. It is also always necessary to conceive of these assembly procedures as a succession of operations, so that here too an organized march results: from the basic part, for example, a wheel rim—to which the spokes are attached one after the other and then the latter connected in succession to the hub—to the point of final completion.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Friedrich von Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, “Fordism” (1926), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 400-02. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Friedrich von Gottl-Ottlilienfeld, Fordismus. Über Industrie und technische Vernunft. Jena: Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1926, pp. 6, 13, 16–18.

first page < previous   |   next > last page