Damon Yarnell

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania

2008 to 2009
Dissertation Fellow

Motor City: Ford, Mass Production and the Industrial Ecology of Detroit, 1908-1927

Between 1908 and 1923, annual production at the Ford Motor Company exploded from 6,000 to 1,800,000 automobiles. The company’s meteoric rise propelled Henry Ford to national fame and made icons of the sprawling plants at Highland Park and River Rouge. In my dissertation, I argue that historians—understandably focused on the assembly line—have overlooked a key development behind the advent of mass production: innovative systems of industrial logistics organized around “the purchasing function.” My project focuses on manufacturing networks, technical expertise, and early systems of inter-firm control. Although researching Detroit’s manufacturing districts will take me to Michigan next year, Philadelphia is the ideal place to study the early history of industrial procurement. Five PACHS member institutions—the Hagley Museum and Library, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, the Franklin Institute, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania—hold invaluable resources related to railroad and automotive purchasing, laboratory-based materials testing, and the development of industrial standards.