How might industries be ruined in the 2020s? Ahoy business strategy and technology commercialisation nerds. This is more than a superb, illustrated case study on machine tools. It’s an example of ways in which an industry can be ruined. The topic is on the United States machine tools industry from about 1900 to date.

I’m referring to the following Substack post on Brian Potter’s Construction Physics blog – What happened to the US machine tool industry? The blog’s byline is “Essays about buildings, infrastructure, and industrial technology.”

Read my 7 takeaways below, its an attempted summary. Then go read Potter’s article in full.

Henry Ford in 1921 with his Model T produced by Ford Motor Company from 1908 to 1927. It’s generally regarded as the first affordable car.

1. The history of machine tools production, export and sales is a microcosm of trends in capitalist economies from the late 1960s to date.

2. “Machine tools – machines that cut or form metal – are the heart of industrial civilization.”

3. “For most of the 20th century, the US was unrivalled in its machine tool technology, and as late as the early 1980s it was the largest machine tool producer in the world. … As early as 1910, the car industry made up 30% of machine tool sales…“.

4. Standardisation matters, Japan excelled in it from at least the mid-1950s. By 1982 “tools from Japan and other countries were as good as or better than US tools, not to mention cheaper and more reliable.”

5. Long-term war manufacturing economies can lose other markets. The Vietnam War may have begun part of the rot in US industry.

6. Chasing rapidly increasing sales areas (here to aerospace) or buy-outs or acquisitions (here to conglomerates) can ruin an industry. “Conglomerates were often quick to divest their machine tool holdings when the companies began to struggle, resulting in frequent management changes and organizational whiplash as the firms tried to find their footing under new ownership.

7. “The US industry collapsed almost overnight. From 1981 to 1983 employment in machine tools declined by a third, and continued to fall (by 1991 it was half its 1981 level). Between 1982 and 1987, half of US machine tool firms closed their doors. The US fell from the largest machine tool builder in the world to third behind Japan and Germany, and continued to decline: by 2002, it had dropped to 5th behind Italy and China, where it remains today.”

Poor Man’s Friend (T Model)

I’ll end with Poor Man’s Friend (T Model), a 1935 recording by Sleepy John Estes (1899/1900-1977) supported by a second guitarist. His music influenced the 1960s transition in the US and UK from blues to rock. It celebrates both the economy and the technology of the T Model.

Below are the lyrics prepared by a person using Johnm as a handle.

Well, well, when you see it in the winter, please throw your winde’ ove’ in the bin
Well, well, when you see it in the winter, I want you t’ throw your winde’ ove’ in the bin
Well, well, prob’ly next spring, eee-eee, I wanta rig up my T-Model again

Well, well, the T-Model Ford, I say is a poor man’s friend
Well, well, the T-Model Ford, I say is a poor man’s friend
Well, well, it will help you out, eee even when your money’s thin

Well, well, one thing ’bout a T-Model, you don’t have to shift no gear
Well, well, one thing ’bout a T-Model, you don’t have to shift no gear
Well, well, just let down on your brake and feed the gas, eee-eee and the stuff is here

SPOKEN: Sing it a long time for me, Buddy!

Well, well, a V-8 Ford, and it done took to style
Well, well, a V-8 Ford, and it done took to style
Well, well, it reach all the way from ninety, eee-eee down to a hundred miles

Well, well, somebody, they done stole my winde’ out on the road
Well, well, somebody, done stole my winde’ out on the road,
Well, well, let’s find somebody, eeeee, got a T-Model Ford.

Noric Dilanchian
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