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Men and Women at Work on the Assembly Line

The lead assembly line image today was taken on the engine line at the Maxwell (1904 to ’25) factory located in Detroit, MI. on Oakland Ave. It appears that just before this spot on the assembly line, the cylinder heads were installed and the bolts hand tightened. If you follow the light-colored tracks on the floor left behind by the engine dolly wheels, the motors take a 180-degree turn here and begin down the next row where a worker is using an impact wrench to tighten the head bolts.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these photographs courtesy of the Detroit Public Library.

  • The women at the end of the body assembly and paint line in 1930 at the Hudson factory located in Detroit, are applying pinstripes using “striping machines.”

  • Workers on the assembly line at the Willys plant in Toledo, Ohio, are ready to install a crankshaft and flywheel assembly into six-cylinder engine block.

23 responses to “Men and Women at Work on the Assembly Line

  1. Nice set of pictures !!

    In the 2nd photograph [1st expandable picture] it seems to be staged. The lady in the foreground is wearing high-heal shoes !! The “real” workers appear to be in the background looking on.

    • You might be right but I would kind of doubt that they would have taken all that trouble to get a woman to pose as a worker when their were plenty of other real women workers around at the assembly plant. One thing is for sure, and that is women’s, as well as men’s, shoes have gotten a lot more comfortable for workers doing stand up work for long hours. I recognize that photo from a book called ‘Storied Independent Automakers’ (Nash, Hudson, and American Motors) by Charles Hyde. Definitely worth reading in my opinion if you have any ongoing interest in those three companies.

      • Could be these women were more photogenic than the actual workers.
        We don’t know what the ultimate plan was for the photos. Could have been for advertising.
        No way that would be wearing high heels for a minimum 8 hour shift on the factory floor.

  2. Everybody in the 1st picture that wasn’t blurred was fired for not working. One thing I noticed, the men and women didn’t work together, and each had specific jobs. No women in the crankshaft dept. and no men pinstriping. Women in these pictures took a back seat to men, until the war, proving women were just as capable, and it went forward for women from there. My grandfather had a very clear opinion of women. Once, my grandmother, who never drove, exhibited some interest in getting her license. Naturally, my grandfather was outraged and said,” you just stay in the kitchen where you belong”. Good thing those attitudes died with him.

    • Howard, you make it sound like some evil capitalist plot…

      I don’t see any lifts, so if the crankshaft had to be physically placed into position, I don’t expect many women could…or would…want to do that for an eight hour shift.
      It hurts my back just contemplating it!

  3. I have heard that pinstriping and wood graining were entry level jobs. I have not found documentation for that but could be true. Anyone that can do it now has God status.

    • Les Henry once told our group how he’d started at Ford. He said they’d put him over in a corner with some bodies and a guy gave him a one minute lesson on pin-striping. He practiced about half an hour and they moved him to the assembly line where he perfected his ‘craft.’

  4. Surprising to see Hudson hiring women in 1930, when so many men were out of work. Never mind they were likely doing the job better than a man could.

    • And you know that for sure?

      Females often did fine decorative work for several industries, regardless of pay.
      They MAY have been hired for the reason you state, then again perhaps because of their talents.

      • By all accounts, Hudson was a “progressive” company and didn’t suffer the same number of violent strikes as other car manufacturers in that period.

  5. The lady may have been wearing heels if she had known beforehand about it being picture day. I don’t think it was staged because there would be no reason and if it was staged, certainly she would be wearing more comfortable shoes.

  6. I shared this photo with my wife and she commented that shoes like that were very comfortable and that the gals seen through the Windows on those cars were probably applying the stripes to the other side. The farther back in automotive history we look the less common cameras are. Mostly camera owners were either affluent individuals or professional photographers. If you look at early photos posted here that feature cars you are likely to see more people staring at the camera than at the vehicle..

  7. In the first photo of the Maxwell engine assembly, is it possible that the line is moving left to right in the photo? You will notice the starter is not installed where the men are using the air impact to tighten head bolts and the engines to the right of the photo look to have had the starter installed.

    It’s an interesting photo. Apparently the workers had to push the engine carts/stands down the line on that track. There are also a lot of workers. I counted approximately 26 (hard to see since it’s blurry) workers in that photo.

    Also notice the American flag hanging above the assembly line. Pride in country.

  8. If you gruff old cars guys can take your eyes off the ladies, the real take away from the photo is how early in the car’s production was the body pin striped. Usually right after the body was painted and before the door handles, cowl lamps, & fenders and other obstacles where attached.

    jb, …40 years of dragging a brush .

  9. With regard to the woman’s shoes; it could be as simple as not having been tall enough to comfortably and accurately apply that beltline pin stripe. Maybe the shoes were a tradeoff: comfort vs. ability to get the job done properly.

  10. Check out the pinstriping on the cowl ,and the striping on the door, and you can plainly see that they didn’t even line up on the factory floor, but these days we comment badly on a restoration where the pin striping doesn’t line up!

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