By Kevin Carson
The Origins of Sloanist Mass Production
A Fork in the Road
The centralization of production in the Industrial Revolution, and the concentration of machine production in large factories, resulted mainly from the need to economize on steam power. According to Lewis Mumford,
[Gigantism] was… abetted by the difficulties of economic power production with small steam engines: so the engineers tended to crowd as many productive units as possible on the same shaft, or within the range of steam pressure through pipes limited enough to avoid excessive condensation losses. The driving of the individual machines in the plant from a single shaft made it necessary to spot the machines along the shafting, without close adjustment to the topographical needs of the work itself….
Steam power meant that machinery had to be concentrated in one place, in order to get the maximum use out of a single prime mover. According to William Waddell and Norman Bodek the typical factory, through the early 20th century, had machines lined up in long rows, “a forest of leather belts one arising from each machine, looping around a long metal shaft running the length of the shop,” all dependent on the factory’s central power plant. …