Outside Supply: Managerial Expertise and the Rise of Scientific Purchasing, 1900-1930

Damon Yarnell, University of Pennsylvania and PACHS Dissertation Writing Fellow

Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science

Monday, November 2, 2009 2:30 pm EST

337 Claudia Cohen Hall, University of Pennsylvania

Join scholars from the area at the Regional Colloquium in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine to reassess the development of mass production in American Industry.

3:30 - 5:30 p.m.

337 Claudia Cohen Hall
University of Pennsylvania

Please note special time and day. There will be no pre-circulated paper for this colloquium.
Between 1908 and 1923, annual output at Ford Motor Company exploded from 6 thousand to 1.8 million automobiles. Henry Ford, the integrated assembly line and the company’s sprawling plant at Highland Park quickly became icons of a new industrial order: mass production. Most historians have understood the Ford system as a textbook case of vertical integration. Recent scholarship in business and economic history, however, has complicated this account: through World War I, Ford relied on outside suppliers for half of the 5,000 parts in each Model T.
The company’s dependence on outside suppliers requires that we reconsider Ford’s significance. From the beginning, mass production was networked production. The assembly line facilitated an exceptional degree of internal control, but it also called for an unprecedented degree of external coordination. This paper considers industrial procurement as a form of technical expertise, tracing methods of “scientific” purchasing to the systematic management movement, and documenting the subsequent contributions of a set of inter-related groups and institutions including the Harvard Business School, the trade press, the War Industries Board, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.