These days, everyone is fighting for a higher minimum wage, but in may years gone by, people were happy to get what little they were given. The Great Depression was one of those times for sure, but there were others. On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford and his vice president James Couzens absolutely stunned the world when they announced that Ford Motor Company would double its workers’ wages to five dollars a day. Now in this day and age, the workers would just go out and look for another job if that was offered, but back then, they were all going to be rich!! Of course, newspapers around the world were gushing with the great news. The notion of a wealthy industrialist sharing profits with workers on such a scale was unprecedented. Everyone wanted to work for Ford.
In the century since, many people have theorized that the increased pay was to justify assembly line speed-ups, while others speculated it was to counteract high labor turnover due to increasingly monotonous assembly line work. Those who were fans of Ford called it pure philanthropy. Those who didn’t like Ford called it little more than an elaborate publicity stunt…maybe to gain fame or to brag about his successes, but the truth was likely a little of both. A successful boss should share his successes with those who helped him to achieve the level of success he has gained. Of course, not all do, and my guess is that those who wouldn’t do that are the ones who screamed the loudest. There is no pain in business bigger that when someone does the right thing when you won’t.
In order to really understand why Ford implemented the Five-Dollar Day, one must realize that his advances in the moving assembly line, and experiments through 1913 and into 1914 reduced the time required to build a Model T automobile from 12½ hours to just 93 minutes. Increased efficiencies lowered production costs, which lowered customer prices, which increased demand. The public was eager to buy all of the cars Ford could build. That meant that he needed to increase production, and good help is always hard to find. When you find good workers, you should pay them well. Explosive production gains came at the cost of worker satisfaction. The workers were skilled in their little area of the project, and after a while, doing the same job over and over again can get monotonous. The very goal of the moving assembly line was to take what had been relatively skilled craftwork and reduce it to simple, rote tasks. Workers who had previously taken pride in their skilled labor were quickly bored, and some took to lateness and absenteeism. Many simply quit, and Ford found itself with a crippling labor turnover rate of 370 percent. The assembly line was a great invention, but it was hard on the workers, and the assembly line depended on a steady crew to run it. Training replacements was expensive and time consuming, so Ford decided that a bigger paychecks might make the factory’s tedious labor more tolerable.
The increased wages may have seemed like the best solution, but it backfired in a way. The need to retain workers and the subsequent Five-Dollar Day as an effort to do so, worked too well in the end. Within days of the announcement, thousands of applicants came to Detroit from all over the Midwest. They parked at Ford’s gate, and immediately overwhelmed the company. Riots broke out, and the crowds were turned away with fire hoses in the icy January weather. To overcome the problem, Ford announced that it would only hire workers who had lived in Detroit for at least six months. Finally, the rioting stopped and peace returned to the area. Of course, for those who had jobs at Ford, there was the “fine print” to deal with If you made $2.30 a day under the old pay schedule, for example, you still made that wage under the Five-Dollar plan, but if you met all of the company’s requirements, Ford gave you a bonus of $2.70. I don’t suppose that garnered a lot of good feelings either. Many people couldn’t wrap their minds around the profit-sharing plan. They needed the money now.
Part of Henry Ford’s reasoning behind the Five-Dollar Day was that workers who were troubled by money problems at home would be distracted on the job. If higher pay was intended to eliminate these problems, then Ford would make sure that his employees were using his gift “properly.” The company established a Sociological Department to monitor its employees’ habits beyond the workplace. “To qualify for the pay increase, workers had to abstain from alcohol, not physically abuse their families, not take in boarders, keep their homes clean, and contribute regularly to a savings account. Moral righteousness and prudent saving were all well and good, but they were not generally an employer’s business…at least not outside of working hours. In contrast, Ford Motor Company inspectors came to workers’ homes, asked probing questions, and observed general living conditions. If ‘violations’ were discovered, the inspectors offered advice and pointed the families to resources offered through the company. Not until these problems were corrected did the employee receive his full bonus.” At this point, I would have to say that the company was taking far too much control. Many others agreed, and by 1921, the Sociological Department was largely dissolved. The Five-Dollar Day was a good idea in the beginning, but in the end, it was one that just got a little out of control.
Since I became a great grandmother a little over a year ago, I can say that I can relate to just how excited my husband’s grandmother, Nettie Knox felt when she became a great grandmother. Of course, for her, becoming a great grandmother was also a birthday present. It was a gift she was very pleased with. That birthday present was one that I gave her, and I didn’t even know I was doing it…her first great grandchild.
After my daughter, Corrie Petersen was born, Bob’s parents and grandparents came to the hospital to visit. The very first words spoken as they walked in the door were from Grandma Knox when she said, “She was born on my birthday!!” She was literally floating on air, and that was just the beginning of an amazing bond that would last until Grandma’s passing, and for Corrie, it has continued in her heart and will always be a part of her. I’m sure that Grandma feels the same way too in Heaven, because a bond like that continues on forever. They shared far more than just a birthday.
Becoming a grandmother is a wonderful experience, as any grandmother knows, so when your grandchild has a child, and you find yourself a great grandmother, you realize that your legacy has gone to the next level. Your line will continue on into the future, and the next generation will no doubt witness even greater things than your generation, or that of your children or even your grandchildren. The future will find things common place that this generation thought were science fiction. Grandma Knox saw many changes in her years of life. Airplanes were very new then…just 5 years since the first flight. The first Ford Model T was produced that year. I wonder what she would think today, knowing that we have cars that have actually driving by themselves. Telephones, for most of us anyway, were still attached to the house. Cell phones came out in 1973, but they were something only rich businessmen had for a long time. Grandma passed away on July 29, 1990, having witness many changes in this world, but there are many that have happened since that would be completely shocking to her. Those things are for her descendants to experience. That is a part of what has become her legacy as a mom, grandmother, great grandmother, 2nd great grandmother, and now a 3rd great grandmother. I think she would be pleased with her family. Today would have been Grandma Knox’s 111th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandma. We love and miss you very much.
These days, so many things are automated, that we hardly know how to work in an environment that requires us to hand build everything. Machines often make most of the things we buy, but it wasn’t always so. In the beginning of the automobile age, cars had to be put together by hand, making it a very slow process. If you are going to sell mass quantities of something, you have to be able to mass produce it. Selling mass quantities of his now famous, Model T, was exactly what Henry Ford wanted to do. So he came up with a way to move the vehicles from one worker to another. Each worker had a specific part they were to place, before the vehicle moved on down the line. Ford’s dream was to make the automobile available to everyone, not just the rich, who could afford to order the new fangled machines. Of course, most people those days didn’t really think that the automobile would ever amount to much, but as we all know, they were very wrong. The automobile has become an absolute necessity for most people…except maybe some in the bigger cities, where owning a car isn’t really feasible because of parking issues and heavy traffic.
On this day, October 7, 1913, Henry Ford’s entire Highland Park, Michigan automobile factory started running on a continuously moving assembly line where the chassis, which is the automobile’s frame, was assembled using a state of the art, revolutionary industrial technique. A motor and rope pulled the chassis past workers and parts on the factory floor, cutting the man hours required to complete one “Model T” from 12-1/2 hours to six. Within a year, improvements in the assembly line reduced the time required to 93 man minutes…to build a car!! That is just amazing to me. The increase in productivity brought about by Ford’s use of the moving assembly line allowed him to drastically reduce the cost of the Model T. Ford’s goal was to make the car affordable to ordinary consumers. This new process allowed him to realize that goal, and before long, everyone had an automobile.
Since the days of Ford’s antiquated assembly line, automation has vastly improved. These days machines can do so much more that their human counterparts. Of course, that has eliminated more than just a few jobs, but as people have learned to run that equipment, new jobs have opened up. In this world, time doesn’t stand still, and progress waits for no man. You have to learn the new skills as they come along so that you can keep up in this fast paced automated world. Assembly lines have come a long way since those old days, and it’s a good thing, because the automobile is now in very high demand around the world, and people won’t wait very long to get one.
My great grandfather, Carl Ludwig Theodor Schumacher, was born in the Province of Pommern in northern Germany, on May 23, 1859. He was one of the twelve children of Johann Freidrich Theodor Schumacher and Maria Maehling. He came to America after taking care of a wealthy landowners driving horses for several years beginning when he was 15. It was a job he loved very much, because he really loved horses. By the spring of 1884, he had saved enough money to pay for passage to America, with the plan of moving to Minnesota, where he had cousins.
Henriette Albertine Johanne Hensel was born in Schönwalde in the southern part of the Province of Pommern, in northern Germany on December 11, 1860. At the time she lived there all this land was part of the Prussian Empire. She was the second youngest of nine children of Carl Hensel and Henriette Tonn. Her father died before her younger brother was born in 1865. About that time, Henriette was sent to her older sister’s home to tend the 5 cows and 52 sheep she had. As time went on, she grew up and had a boyfriend…she was happy and content. Then everything changed for her. Her sister’s husband wanted to immigrate to America, and since Henriette was not married, her mother wanted her to go with them to help her with her two small daughters. She didn’t want to go, but she did go. The voyage was long, and the family spent much of it quite ill. Her sister’s husband never really recuperated fully, and he died just a few years later.
One Sunday a friend of Carl Schumacher’s asked him to sponsor at a baptism in his stead. At the baptism celebration, Carl met the mother of the baby, and her sister Henriette Hensel, who had both just recently come to America from Germany. For Carl, it was love at first sight, and he married the young lady just a year later in Belchester, Minnesota on November 12, 1886. Their marriage was blessed with seven children, Anna Louise (who became my grandmother), Albert August, Maria (who died at just three years of age), Mina Albertine, Frederick Carl, Bertha Emilie, and Elsa Ernestine.
About a year after Elsa was born, the family moved to a farm 12 miles from Lisbon, North Dakota. It was so different from Minnesota, and Albert, who was 15 at the time, fell in love with the wild country. In Minnesota he fished, but there was not much to hunt. Here there was lots to hunt, and guns quickly became Albert’s lifelong hobby. It was here, in 1910, that the family purchased their first surrey. It was a surrey with a fringed top. Anna married my grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer, then Albert married Christine Ida Froemke, and Mina was away at college in Fargo, finishing her high school. The neighbors started getting the new Model T car, and Albert had to have one, but Carl loved his horses, so he kept his surrey. Albert spent all of his spare time studying mechanics. Mina hated the farm, so Henriette wanted to make sure that her daughter received an education. In 1917, Henriette and Fred were both in bed with arthritis, but Henriette didn’t want Bertha to miss her senior year of high school, so she left her bed to care for Fred. After a few family meetings, they decided to leave Fred, who was feeling better now, to run the farm and the rest of the family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where Carl and Henriette would spend the rest of their lives. Bertha graduated from Secretarial School and Elsa from high school. Mina married John Clark Spare. Bertha married Arthur C Hallgren and Elsa married Frank Lawrence. Bertha and Elsa would not have children of their own, but would “adopt” their niece, Pauline Spare Holmberg’s children, Lisa, John, Kristen, and Julie. Between the four remaining children, Carl and Henriette would receive twenty one grandchildren, and a growing number of great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, and these days, great great great grandchildren. All this from a chance meeting when Carl stood in the stead of a sponsor who was unable to be there for a baptism…wow!!