DEARBORN - If the development of the moving assembly line was Henry Ford’s claim to fame in eyes of industrialists, manufacturers and business men, then establishing the $5 per day wage was his way of guaranteeing its success. On Jan. 5, 1914, Ford made the announcement that changed manufacturing and society forever.
Without a doubt the moving assembly line, as it applied to the automotive industry, represented a monumental advancement in production capabilities and potential earnings. Mass production of automobiles also drove down the cost of each vehicle, making vehicle ownership a reality for more people.
However, in order to optimize the assembly line, a stable workforce was needed that could be trained and then relied upon to fulfill their assigned tasks on a daily basis. In the early days of automotive production , a high rate of turnover (as much as 378 percent, or 53,000 employees per year, according to Henry Ford in his book, My Life and Times)kept manufacturing facilities from meeting production goals. As a result, Ford and his team placed significant effort into studying other manufacturing facilities in search of ways to secure staffing.
Ultimately, to put an end to production losses, months after establishing the moving assembly line Henry Ford made a decision that shocked many of his auto-industry peers while simultaneously spreading hope to thousands of average citizens. Henry Ford raised the base pay of plant workers from $2.34 for a nine hour day to $5 for an eight hour day.
Just as the moving assembly line changed the business model for building cars, this change in pay made a drastic and lasting impression on society. The $5 work day drew workers from around the world, helped build the middle class, and fostered “The Great Migration” of workers from the south to the industrial mid-west – all activities cemented into the history books school children still study today.