The Impact of Interchangeable Parts on the Working Class During the Industrial Revolution

Gerald Jacobs

During the industrial revolution, Eli Whitney introduced interchangeable parts into the world of gun making. This was an innovation because it allowed mass production of products that would have had to have been handmade previously. Also, the parts were identical, and thus interchangeable with each other. This made repair as simple as ordering or obtaining a new part as opposed to the expertly individualized repairs that would have had to be done by an expert before this revolutionary technique.

These innovations led to a change in the way that manufacturing products worked. As opposed to an expert performing all of the steps involved in the production of a product, multiple, relatively unskilled laborers could work in sequence, each performing a specific task, in order to produce a complete product. This new and innovative process that was directly caused by the invention and introduction of interchangeable parts created a new social structure that could support the sorts of labor that were needed in order to staff a bustling assembly line. Many workers would all flock to work at a standardized time to do a standardized task. Often, there would be more than one assembly line running concurrently.

This assembly line process has many similarities to the innovation that caused it: interchangeable parts. For instance, interchangeable parts are very easily replaceable. Workers on assembly lines could often be replaced by any other person willing to put in the time and effort to work at a set time of day doing a certain task. This created a new class of workers. These workers were (and still are) easy to come by and easy to train. This makes them easily replaceable. When worker availability is high and demand is low, this creates an economic imbalance that lead (and still leads to) workers being underpaid and undervalued. This led to civil unrest which led to the creation of unions in an attempt to limit all of the negative implications of the new socioeconomic structure. The struggle to find a balance between employee and employer is still a major issue that is still being discussed and debated to this day.