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Lincoln, Pontiac, Cadillac, and Packard Assembly Line Images

Today’s lead image contains women hard at work at the Lincoln Motor Company assembly plant in 1917 pressure testing intake manifolds used on the Liberty V-12 aircraft engine. The two manifold sections visible on the left-hand side of the photo are upside down, and in use, a pair are assembled together and are positioned inside of the two banks of cylinders and fed by updraft carburetors.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these photographs courtesy, of the National Automotive History Collection.

View many other earlier assembly line images here.

  • Workers at the body drop station of the Pontiac assembly line in 1958 lowering the coachwork onto a chassis.

  • A sea of leather drive belts power small turret lathes at the Cadillac plant in 1902. Note the hanging gas lamps above the right-hand walkway.

  • Workers on the front end assembly line for the 1948 to ’49 Packard Eight 22nd Series cars. 

37 responses to “Lincoln, Pontiac, Cadillac, and Packard Assembly Line Images

  1. With the only exception possibly being the photo of the `58 Pontiac assembly line, I always find these images interesting because they show people assembling cars they could never afford to buy. Imagine working day after day on cars you could only dream of owning brand-new….

  2. We never heard of women in factories in WW1. I suppose it was like WW2, there just weren’t any men around. You’d think with any kind of pressure testing, there would be some eye protection. 2nd pic, didn’t hear of many women in auto assembly either. It appears they still catered to minor jobs, putting trim on and such. The men still did the grunt work. 3rd pic, amazes me, this is how machine shops were powered, all those belts. And again, no safety equipment. And last, the 1950 23rd series used this same clip, but had a slightly different turn signal chrome. These could have been for my grandfathers ’48 Packard, however, that he bought new.

    • Howard, I wouldn’t want to be one of those workers in the third pic when one of those belts snapped at who-knows-what RPM level! That could be a career-ender!

      • Hi Will, well before my time, but I think these were slow turning belts, and geared up or down at the machine. I’m sure there was plenty down time, though.

    • One of the reasons 4o million buffalo were killed in 40 years in the late 19th century was to supply all those leather belts for the industrial revolution. Most of the buffalo carcasses were left to rot after they were skinned. Time marches on.

  3. In the 3rd picture [2nd expandable photograph], in the 1902 CADILLAC plant, the machines appear to be shut down and operatives at rest, possibly to replace the two loose over head belts in the background on the left.

    The hanging gas or oil lamps seem to be on their way out as there are hanging electric lamps just above the lathes.

    Also of interest is the hanging of coats & hats so high above the operatives.

    • Those overcoats and lunch buckets each had a locking provision to protect against theft.
      Each worker had their own cable and pulley.

    • Through my observation alone, it appears that the jig set up on those lathes look like they are testing the trueness of armature shafts and a distributer. The jig in my mind may have different gear ratios assigned to their component. Just my thoughts, what do I know.

  4. There is a cool video on YouTube about building spruce bi-planes during WW1 that shows where the Liberty engines went. That engine would make for a great replica race car or speedster. Someone has probably already done that.

    • The video on YouTube also shows some machining and assembly of the Liberty engine. The crankshaft does not have any counterweights but they are weighing pistons and rods I guess to match them.

    • Two land speed record cars used Liberty engines. Babs used a Liberty L-12 to set a land speed record of 171.02 mph in 1926. The White Triplex used three of them to increase the land speed record to 207.55 mph in 1928.

      Both of the US Army Air Corps’ WW1 bombers, the DH-4 and the Breguet 14, were fitted with Liberty L-12s in US service. The L-4, L-6, and L-8 only had tiny numbers produced (2, 52, and 15 respectively), while the L-12 had over 20,000 produced by Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln, Marmon, and Packard, all using Ford cylinders.

    • Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac established the Lincoln Motor factory to build engines for WWI Aircraft when he left Cadillac and GM upon GM’s initial refusal to allow Cadillac to build military engines.

      When Leland sold Cadillac to GM in 1909 his deal was to stay in charge of Cadillac.

      After the war the first Lincoln cars was produced in 1920 as a direct competitor to Cadillac.

  5. I think those hanging lights are electric. They are carbon arc and are wicked bright but pose some danger to the fellow adjusting them or replacing the carbon rods.

    • Notice the piping going to the lamps. I’m not familiar with those types of lights, but for many reasons, I’m glad for today’s lighting! And the obvious safety hazards of belt drives. Wow.

  6. The overhead shaft drives bring back a 50-year old memory. In 1969, I flew to England to pick up a new Velocette motorcycle at the factory in Birmingham. Their ancient machine shop still used these overhead shafts and belts. I rode the new bike into Germany and visited the Museum of Science & Industry in Munich. Sure enough, the Germans had a museum display showing the same system the Brits were still using!

  7. A great set, Mr. G. 1st picture, I notice the first woman on our side is wearing one of the then new-fangled wrist watches. 2nd picture, never knew there were any women on the line in 1958–wonder which plant this was. 3rd picture reminded me of a cartoon used to run in the ’50s where we were living. Often featured life in an old time machine shop. No links allowed, but if you copy and paste this and take out the XXX, should get you there. XXX

  8. My local machine shop had the overhead belts when I was in high school in El Cajon, California. That was 1959 to 1963. Next door was an old automotive repair shop. There were three old cars in the rafters, a 1903 curved dash Oldsmobile, a 1908 Sears highwheeler, and some other car that I cannot remember (might have been an early Stanley). They sold as a lot for $3,000, which is about $30,000 today. The old mechanic who owned the repair shop had a green 1930 Model A pickup which he used to push disabled cars to his garage. It had a 6-foot long 2 x 12 as a front bumper.

  9. My grandfather was an executive at GM in New York for forty years. After retirement he spent time telling my brother about the evils unions brought to the automotive industry. All these years later I don’t know if he was correct in his thinking ? That photo shows little regard for employees safety

    • Jack, over the years I took three anti-union courses. In all three, it was emphasized that “The only reason for unions was bad management.” How many of these companies cared one iota about worker safety until OSHA?

        • Sorry, but unions helped stop exploitation of workers in so many ways. Good management could negate the need for a union, but once management changed, bye-bye good working environment. Yes, I fully understand exploitation by the organizers, but the workers gained immensely in so many ways taking a lot of money out of the pockets of owners. 40 hour work week, overtime pay, holidays, worker safety and not something to laugh at. They make workers more productive as well!

  10. Then, as today, corporations seek one thing…profit at at almost any expense, whether with abuse of employees or the environment. They do not like rules nor regulations.
    Unions used to fight for fair wages and safer working conditions. They are slowly being killed off much like those belt driven lathes.
    Progress? I don’t see it. Do you?

  11. Just down the road apiece from The Old Motor, on Flat Street in Brattleboro, we still have an operating belt drive machine shop.

  12. At this point in my life I can see the good intentions of unions following the same course as corporations, greed and dishonesty ! Example, UAW leaders being arrested for misuse of funds and the travesty of Jack Welch at GE.

  13. Looks like break time down at the ‘ols shop.
    If I ran a turret lathe 10hrs a day I would be needing one too.
    Last photo looks like theyre playing Bumper Cars

  14. The Packard front fender assembly line is at the stage where they set the radiators in. The fellow in the foreground was making ready to lift it up to swing it around to the line moving in the opposite direction, probably a staged photo. For some reason, there is a spare upper grille setting on the next carriage.

  15. Mad Dog it is true that the unions were needed to help the workers in the early part of the 20th century but they have become a burden the productivity in the last 50 years. Your remark that the unions make the workers more productive is a myth. I worked for GM for 15 years from 1955 through 1969 and saw the union bosses encourage loafing an the job as a way to hire more workers. The assembly plant in Oakland, CA was a hot bed of drug and alcohol abuse in the late 60s and waqs always overlooked by the union bosses. It was like trying to fire one of the bureaucrats in Washington to get rid of them.
    The unions have their place but not a the cost of productivity and crooked union bosses.

  16. We wonder if the posters decrying unions have ever worked in a factory, labored for a big company. So there’s been some misfeasance by unions, this means we should allow corporations free rein to ride rough shod over workers?
    News flash: Humans are imperfect. Companies have their trade organizations and manufacturers’ associations. It is fair that workers also have the right to collectively bargain.

    There’s an adage shared by union organizers and union-busting attorneys: “Companies that deserve unions, get unions.”
    Smart US companies making a superior product like Worthington Steel and Whirlpool treat their employees well, including ESOPs, ensuring the entire workforce becomes an eagle-eyed inspection team.

    Perhaps if some of those deploring unions worked in one of the pictured plants, they’d sing a different tune.
    Frederick Winslow Taylor’s time and motion studies first appeared at Packard in 1913, sought to save time, as opposed to “Fordism,” which sped up time. The two are often confused but both treated workers like interchangeable robots and were well-spoofed in Charlie Chaplin’s last full-length silent movie, Modern Times, in 1936.
    These were not hobby shops nor producing grist for car buffs 50 years or a century hence.

    Today, we still hear fellows blaming “thuh unions” for Detroit’s decline. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, VW among others all have higher unit and labor costs than Detroit. As a friend who’s owned Italian, German, English and US collector cars, and as a young man was a draughtsman for Vincent Motorcycles in Stevenage, well sums it,
    “Build a better mousetrap.”
    Just as we once had politically naive kids calling police “pigs” because it was more convenient than confronting congressmen and senators, so do we still have much older if not wiser fellows blaming unions for out of touch Detroit executives, so out of touch they rode their private jets to Washington to pick up their welfa— oops, “federal bail out checks.”

    Mad Dog above well sums the reasons for unions.

    As to the last photo, if only Packard had retained the svelte 1941-47 Clipper design, not that it would’ve prevented the Company from going the way of all independents in the brave new postwar world of annual frivolous model changes, expensive TV advertising, unable to match Big Three leveraged component purchasing power, unit and tool amortization costs.

    • I’m very sorry I’m in late this discussion about unions, WOW. all I can say is what I know. My whole family on my mothers side worked for GM. My cousin was the first female union rep. In Flint. On a visit once I saw a sign that said Delphi….I asked my uncle, What the hell is that? He replied,” The end of Delco and the beginning of the end of GM In the U.S. Was he right or what! For all you Union Nay Sayers shame on you. You will all soon be driving cars made in China. Now you can heed my warning…do your research and learn for yourself that we need to resist the electric car push. BEV’s are being shoved down your throats. By the way…….of course I’m in a union!

  17. The Cadillac picture must have been taken very late in the year as Cadillac didn’t make its debut until the auto shows in January of 1903. A total of 2497 Cadillacs were made in 1903.

  18. Interesting series of photos…more interesting comments on unions! If unions are an important part of manufacturing to protect workers, they should be present, but that should be a choice of the majority of the employees..make every state a ‘Right to Work’ environment and let the workers decide…People are not stupid, they will make choices that benefit them…

  19. On the pic of the lathes, look at the the person on the far left, partially obscured. I would guess he is only about 15 or so.

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