Summary from the back cover of the book: (oh for shame!)
Previous writers on the American system have argued that the technical problems of mass production had been solved by arms-makers before the Civil War. Drawing upon the extensive business and manufacturing records of leading American firms, Hounshell demonstrates that the diffusion of arms production technology was neither as fast nor as smooth as had been assumed. Exploring the manufacturing of sewing machines and furniture, bicycles and reapers, he shows that both the expression "mass production" and the technology that lay behind it were developments of the twentieth century, attributable in large part to the Ford Motor Company.
"Mass" has two meanings and was lodged in the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1925 by Henry Ford/William Cameron. Eli Whitney was a promoter of interchangeability, but not himself able to achieve it. Neither Singer nor McCormick was initially successful because of interchangeability. Singer was constantly plagued by the need to produce enough machines, and McCormick by the need to add new models and features. Neither was able to make manufacturing cheaper. Western Wheel works (a bicycle company) alone used the necessary stamping techniques, but did not mechanize the finishing and assembly of parts. Nevertheless, all three industries - bikes, sewing machines and agricultural equipment - were dominated by these top sellers. Ford's moving assembly line would come to determine many or most future versions of mass production, and the models for his line of thinking came from the meat and milling industries. Ford, however, took specialization and production to its logical conclusion: gross overproduction. So Hounshell argues that mass assembly and production, as Ford had defined it, was "dead by 1926" (12). (186) Novelty and change, and the necessary re-tooling, were the drivers of continued mass production, keeping consumers from ever quite being sated.