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Life on the Assembly Line – Views of Autoworkers on the Job

Today’s feature contains photographs of autoworkers performing various tasks on three different assembly lines. The lead photo shows women in an International Harvester plant putting together instrument panels. It appears that as part of a dress code the female workers were required to wear old-fashioned captain’s hats, probably to protect their hair while on the job.

An autoworker in the image below is using a torch on the roof of a Chrysler or De Soto Airflow unibody structure, possibly for filling an area of the surface with lead. At the same time, another worker is welding on the inside of the body on the passenger’s side of the windshield opening.

You can view other assembly line photos here on The Old Motor. The images are courtesy of the Detroit Public Library.

  • Workers below on a Willys-Overland six-cylinder engine assembly line about to install a crankshaft and flywheel into one of the Automakers six-cylinder engines in the mid-1920s.  

17 responses to “Life on the Assembly Line – Views of Autoworkers on the Job

  1. ‘Life on the Assembly Line’ ….. OSHA Field Day !!!

    – Standing shift work
    – Toxic lead fumes
    – Open garbage can with rags


  2. That Chrysler Airflow skeleton face is ugly as death. Chrysler worshiped the god of aerodynamics and ignored the god of beauty and harmony. How such an ugly car ever got built is still a mystery. The following Airstream cars were beauties. Chrysler learned its lesson fast and people are still cringing.

  3. On the photo of the Chrysler Airflow, the man sitting in the car has an interesting face shield on. It appears that one lens is shaded and the other clear. I’m not sure if he is welding or using a torch? Perhaps both men are heating the sheet metal?

  4. I believe that instrumentation is being assembled for military usage as I’ve never seen early IH trucks or farm machinery with that many instruments .
    My dad drove the largest ’39 semi IH built , and it didn’t have NEAR that much instrumentation !
    Also I doubt very much women would have been employed in that capacity prior to the war.

  5. Styling has been, and always will be, subjective. I love the early (1934) Airflow. It is the epitome of Art Deco auto styling. Originals are getting really pricey – especially coupes.

  6. 1st pic, it’s “Silly Hat Day”. Got a problem with that, see the 2nd lady down. ( I think that’s a gal) Probably military work, we couldn’t have won the war without them. I’m sure they were required to wear those, as there was a huge pro-war attitude then. I agree, those aren’t pickup truck dashboards.

  7. I did a bit of lead fill myself just like that. He’s got the coil of lead in his left hand, ready to apply when he gets the temperature just right. Notice that the torch isn’t pointing down because he only wants to warm the metal, not put a spot burn or hole in it.

  8. International built M425 tractors to pull 10 ton trailers, bulldozers, M5 high speed tractors used to pull artillery pieces like the M-155 Long-Tom. M7 and M22 tanks, 20mm Oerlikan anti-aircraft gun mounts for Battleships like the USS Arkansas, all manner of trucks and more.
    Take your pick. It’s amazing to see the industrial might this country was able to summon when necessary. May we never have to go through it again but I pray we will still know how if necessary.

  9. That is beautiful metal work in the Airflow. I would like to be that good. As modern as the Airflow was it still has the hole for the hand-crank. I love Airflows.

  10. The hat ladies have one lady without. either she dropped her hat just before the photo, or she might be a Fore-Person ! These Frying Pan sized hats —remind me of the (today’s) military hats of Russia, China, & North Korea!

    In WW-2, The Delco – Remy plant that made Ignition Condensers for 2-1/2 Ton, ( etc.) Trucks — were experiencing failures of the condenser’s Internal wax – paper insulators “between foils”. This trouble began with the huge increase in quantity for both parts & spare parts. By careful study – it was found that the hand perspiration of: Acid versus Base slight variations of normal adult female cycles — was the cause! The solution was simple & appreciated by All: White silk gloves were issued to all females who loved the Idea of this: “Rich lady fashion statement”, — coming to the Assembly Line! (No more dead condensers! ) The gloves were required to be cleaned, frequently (which also allowed for them to be used for going out to the Movies, etc., a: “Win – win – win – win – win ” situation, — for the War Effort , the Trucks, the Soldiers, the Factory, &the Ladies!!! Source : One US Army savvy Technical Inspector who examined & isolated the Problem and found the best solution for all!!! Edwin W.

  11. RE: Chrysler AirFlow body workmen. Did Chrysler do the actual body manufacturing? I was told that Briggs made all their bodies until Chrysler bought the Briggs Coach Works several years later. Briggs, Murray, Budd, Le Baron and others made bodies for several companies including some for Ford until they initiated full body manufacturing beyond truck cabs about 1939-1940. I think Chrysler`s move to own Briggs may have helped Ford finally move to build their own full modern body plant or perhaps they bought another destitute body company about that time. Most of the custom coach companies vanished after tough times of The Great Depression. Lincoln Motor Co. made at least some of their own “stock“ K series bodies (although Briggs was involved in making the Zephyrs). Lincoln body dept. modified the Briggs Zephyr body for the early production of the 1940 Continentals, perhaps a few others into 1941. Without the independent body manufacturers, the independents would not have had much to sell. Those skilled tool and die makers and production workers were amazing.

  12. Interesting that even this early in the evolution of automobile construction, engineers learned the value of balancing the crankshaft and flywheel as an assembly. Chrysler later in the pre-war period also balanced crankshafts with the fluid-torque drive and/or clutch assembly.

  13. “Beauty is within the eye of the beholder ! “, they say, and there are also examples of Chrysler’s “Airflow design” from Europe, —(as: “The Boys from Unterturkheim [Mercedes-Benz } “dabbled in ” a body design with “air-flow” as did Hank Ford’s Boy(s) with the 1937 through 1940 Ford . Only some of this “Streamline Era” —” turned out tolerable to the eye of the beholder” Most of the Coupes lent themselves well to “streamlining “. The Sedans? It was at a time when “bustles” began to appear to “meld” the Body & Trunk “together”; the ’36 Ford Fordor sedan being the last of a more complimentary design and the ’37 looking like an afterthought appendage ! Conversely, the ’37 Ford Coupe was a wind-tunnel success — that also had tolerable lines that (also) had established a Stock Car Racing (85 H.P.!!! ) Reputation that was very hard to compete with on the “Roundy- Round, Oval, Road Racing , or : Let us not dismiss The profitable American Business of Bootleg Whiskey, the Coupes being fast and having a huge cavern for a trunk!!! 1948 began the death knell for “Streamline ” styling , as “shoe-box ” styling came into vogue , for Ford’s next -Year’s Model. Edwin W.

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