1816 First double-decked steamboat, the Washington, arrives in New Orleans On this day in 1816, a steamboat with a design that will soon prove ideal for western rivers arrives at the docks in New Orleans. The Washington was the work of a shipbuilder named Henry M. Shreve, who had launched the steamboat earlier that year on the Monongahela River just above Pittsburgh. Shreve’s cleverly designed Washington had all the features that would soon come to characterize the classic Mississippi riverboat: a two-story deck, a stern-mounted paddle wheel powered by a high-pressure steam engine, a shallow, flat-bottomed hull, and a pilothouse framed by two tall chimneys. Perfectly designed for the often-shallow western rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri, the Washington proved itself on its inaugural voyage the following spring. Steaming upriver against the current with full cargo, the Washingtonreached Louisville in only 25 days, demonstrating that the powerful new generation of steamboats could master the often-treacherous currents of the mighty western rivers. Soon the Washington began to offer regular passenger and cargo service between New Orleans and Louisville, steaming upstream at the then dizzying speed of 16mph and downstream at as much as 25mph. With the brilliant success of the Washington, other similarly designed steamboats followed. At the peak of the era of the paddle wheelers in 1850, 740 steamboats regularly moved up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, carrying three million passengers annually. Had it not been for the ready availability of this rapid transportation technology, settlement of the western United States would undoubtedly have been far slower. Many emigrants setting out for the far western part of the U.S. often cut the first stage of their long journeys short by booking passage on a steamboat to the overland trailheads at Independence, Saint Joseph, and Council Bluffs. Gold seekers heading for Montana after 1867 could even take steamboats all the way up the Missouri to Fort Benton, just below the Great Falls, cutting months off the time required for an overland journey. By the late 19th century, though, the golden age of the western steamboat was over, a victim of cheap rail transport and diesel-powered towboats and barges. But in its era, the steamboat was as important as any explorer or trailblazer in opening the American West to widespread settlement. 1913 Moving Assembly Line at Ford For the first time, Henry Ford’s entire Highland Park, Michigan automobile factory is run on a continuously moving assembly line when the chassis–the automobile’s frame–is assembled using the revolutionary industrial technique. A motor and rope pulled the chassis past workers and parts on the factory floor, cutting the man-hours required to complete one “Model T” from 12-1/2 hours to six. Within a year, further assembly line improvements reduced the time required to 93 man-minutes. The staggering increase in productivity effected by Ford’s use of the moving assembly line allowed him to drastically reduce the cost of the Model T, thereby accomplishing his dream of making the car affordable to ordinary consumers. In introducing the Model T in October 1908, Henry Ford proclaimed, “I will build a motor car for the great multitude.” Before then, the decade-old automobile industry generally marketed its vehicles to only the richest Americans, because of the high cost of producing the machines. Ford’s Model T was the first automobile designed to serve the needs of middle-class citizens: It was durable, economical, and easy to operate and maintain. Still, with a debut price of $850, the Model T was out of the reach of most Americans. The Ford Motor Company understood that to lower unit cost it had to increase productivity. The method by which this was accomplished transformed industry forever. Prototypes of the assembly line can be traced back to ancient times, but the immediate precursor of Ford’s industrial technique was 19th-century meat-packing plants in Chicago and Cincinnati, where cows and hogs were slaughtered, dressed, and packed using overhead trolleys that took the meat from worker to worker. Inspired by the meat packers, the Ford Motor Company innovated new assembly line techniques and in early 1913 installed its first moving assembly line at Highland Park for the manufacture of flywheel magnetos. Instead of each worker assembling his own magneto, the assembly was divided into 29 operations performed by 29 men spaced along a moving belt. Average assembly time dropped from 20 minutes to 13 minutes and soon was down to five minutes. With the success of the magneto experiment, Ford engineers put the Model T motor and then the transmission on moving assembly lines. On October 7, 1913, the chassis also went on the moving assembly line, so that all the major components of the Model T were being assembled using this technique. Ford rapidly improved its assembly lines, and by 1916 the price of the Model T had fallen to $360 and sales were more than triple their 1912 level. Eventually, the company produced one Model T every 24 seconds, and the price fell below $300. More than 15 million Model T’s were built before it was discontinued in 1927, accounting for nearly half of all automobiles sold in the world to that date. The affordable Model T changed the landscape of America, hastening the move from rural to city life, and the moving assembly line spurred a new industrial revolution in factories around the world.