A number of years after the arrival of the first tractor, the first diesel-powered combine harvester was manufactured. Today, the largest combine harvester harvests a staggering 80 tonnes of wheat an hour. How many thousands of agricultural workers have each harvester made redundant?
The first tractor was used to plough in 1906 and there are presently 25 million tractors in the world. Clearly, tractors and combine harvesters alone have replaced literally hundreds of millions of agricultural workers – but even the first ploughmen to be made redundant did not necessarily remain unemployed because more productive, hence more highly-paid, employment was becoming available in the new industries including the motor industry.
In 1908, the first Model T Ford went into production. It was no coincidence that it was also powered by the newly invented, oil-fuelled internal combustion engine.
An insight into exactly how the transition from the old pre-oil economy to the new oil-dependent, mass-consuming economy took place can be obtained by considering the achievements of Henry Ford, the man who led the way to mass-consumerism, and the case of a redundant ploughman who obtained employment at the new Ford Motor Company.
Before the arrival of the Model T only wealthy people – not factory workers – could afford to buy a car. It was Henry Ford who took the direct route to mass-consumerism in 1908 when he announced, “I will build a car for the great multitude” and he put the Model T on the market. It was simple, robust and affordable at $825 since it was designed with economy of scale in mind.
Before the Model T, there were fewer than 200,000 cars on the road in the US. By 1914, Henry Ford was manufacturing 260,000 Model T Fords a year, which was half of all the cars being manufactured in the US. This was when Ford increased wages to $5 a day and announced that every worker at Ford Motors could now afford to buy a Model T, which then sold at only $550.