Car Production during World War 1

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Updated: Apr 16, 2022
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This paper is based on two Primary Sources from Chapter 19, “Of Masses and Visions of the Modern, 1910 – 1939”. The first is “Bruce Barton’s Gospel of Mass Production” and the second is “Cult of the Dynamic Leader”. Both of these sources provide information that relates to the period of time covered in this chapter where major changes in both society and politics developed, especially after World War I. One of the major characteristics of the period was the development and refinement of mass production which was largely driven by the huge demands for weapons and materials during the war.

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A great example of the development of both mass production and mass consumption was Henry Ford’s production of Model T automobiles where the goal was to mass produce affordable cars for the masses. Another major characteristic of the time was the rise of authoritarianism. World War I resulted in “a loss of confidence in traditional authorities who had failed to prevent the cataclysm and allowed it to go on so long” (Tignor, et al., 719). As a result, Europeans in particular were open to authoritarian regimes which included Germany where the Nazis under Adolph Hitler came to power. Henry Ford’s mass production of the Model T automobile as shown in “Bruce Barton’s Gospel of Mass Production” is a good example of the mass production and mass consumption changes that occurred in society and “Cult of the Dynamic Leader” tells us about the office of Fuhrer which provides important insight into what dictatorship is really all about.

The Primary Source “Bruce Barton’s Gospel of Mass Production” which is an excerpt from the journalist Bruce Barton’s book “The Man Nobody Knows: A Discovery of the Real Jesus” tells us something about the thinking of Henry Ford as he developed his mass production methods for the Model T automobile. Ford’s thinking explains how mass production and mass consumption are tied together because he realized that to mass produce automobiles would not do much if there were not enough people who could afford them. He did that by having the goal of making a car so cheap that every family could afford to buy one. In other words, he would mass produce cars so cheaply that people could mass consume them. One of the significant things that Ford understood was that by paying his factory workers well, more of them could afford to buy his cars. As Tignor, et al. put it, “He understood that without mass consumption, increased purchasing power of the middle classes, and appetite for goods there could be no mass production” (716). This excerpt about Henry Ford and his approach to mass production and mass consumption provides a concrete example of how the world changed during this period. According to Tignor et al., when talking about being modern, “most agreed, however, that in economic terms modernity involved mass production and mass consumption” (706).

This excerpt about Henry Ford and the Model T is also given as an example of how the United States became an economic powerhouse after World War I. By 1929, the U.S. had more industrial production than Britain, Germany and Russia combined and “people around the globe regarded the United States as a ‘working version of modernity’ in which not only production but consumption boomed” (Tignor, et al., 716). It was Henry Ford’s automobile assembly lines that were able to produce a finished car every ten seconds and which employed 68,000 workers in a single plant that became symbolic of what mass production and mass consumption was all about.

In the “Cult of the Dynamic Leader” we are given an example of what German Nazism was all about. Ernst Rudolph Huber in his writing “Fuhrergewalt” shows us how, under Adolph Hitler, the title and position of Fuhrer became so powerful that it controlled everything. As stated in the Primary Source, “Fuhrer power is comprehensive and total” (Tignor et al., 727). In the lead to this excerpt, it is stated that “Nazi theorists… …bragged about it as the best way of mobilizing the masses and directing the state” (Tignor, et al., 727).

This excerpt highlights one of the competing visions of how politics could be used to build modern states. As Tignor, et al. state, “World War I heightened the prewar unsettling of class, gender and colonial relations, further challenging the liberal vision of technological progress, free markets and societies guided by the educated few” (718). In other words, people’s view of politics and how countries should be ruled changed significantly. Because so many people had lost confidence in the government authorities many authoritarian regimes came to power and replaced the liberal democracies that had existed and which they now opposed. These authoritarian regimes believed they could better mobilize the masses to “create dynamic, yet orderly societies” (Tignor, et al., 722). These regimes also had charismatic leaders who, according to Tignor et al., “personified the power and the unity of the societies over which they ruled” (722). Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolph Hitler in Germany are prime examples of these kinds of rulers and, even though their regimes were different in many ways, they were all able to come about because of the opposition to the liberal democracies that people no longer had confidence in.

Huber’s excerpt shows how authoritarian regimes such as the Nazis in Germany operated by taking complete control of everything. Josef Stalin eliminated all of his rivals and took complete control of both the communist party and the country which led to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Stalin soon became the all-powerful dictator and used mass terror as a weapon against the people. In Italy, Benito Mussolini organized a mass political movement called fascism. Over time, he transformed the country from a constitutional monarchy into a dictatorship where the only political party that was allowed was the Fascists. In Germany, it was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, the Nazis, who gained power under Adolph Hitler. Although he, like Mussolini, originally came to power peacefully and legally, Hitler used the fear of a communist conspiracy to take power and also used it as a way to get free of the control of parliament. In just a few months, the Nazis became the only legal party in Germany and Hitler was the dictator. Even though there was some opposition, the Nazis “won popular support for restoring order and reviving the economy.” Eventually, under Hitler, “Germany reemerged as a great power” (Tignor et al., 727).

We can see that these authoritarian regimes were able to brag about “their success in mobilizing the masses to create dynamic yet orderly societies” (Tignor et al., 722). Although they were brutal, “their successes in mastering the masses drew envious glances even from those trying to stay on the liberal democratic road” (Tignor et al., 730). Their leaders were all dynamic and gained the support of many of the people because the people believed they would make things better for them. However, as highlighted by Huber, the cost was to turn over complete power and control as well as lose all individual rights to the leader whether it was Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler or anyone else. This is well summarized and highlighted in one statement where he says that “Fuhrer power is comprehensive and total…” (Tignor et al., 727). This same statement would apply just as well to Stalin, Mussolini and all of the others.

Both of the Primary Sources that I used in this essay symbolize two of the many significant global changes that came about during this period from 1910 to 1939. The major impetus for many of these changes was World War I which was truly a global war. One of the modern phenomena of the war was, according to Tignor et al., “the making of mass societies” (715). The quest for being modern involved having the masses of people involved in one way or another. With technologies such as radio and movies creating new forms of mass communication and entertainment, mass cultures developed which led to increased mass production and mass consumption of which Henry Ford’s development of the affordable Model T automobile was a prime example. These mass societies in turn led to the development of authoritarian regimes headed by charismatic leaders who claimed they would “build new societies and guarantee well-being” (Tignor et al., 722).

Even though they would put demands on the people, those demands would “yield robust economies, restore order, and renew pride” (Tignor et al., 722). These dictators also embraced public welfare programs. In other words everything would be great and the masses would be taken care of. And, as Tignor et al. state, “for a time, many of the globe’s inhabitants believed them” (722). These two Primary Sources can be seen as representing some of the major changes and the significant challenges that faced much of the globe following World War I. The growth of mass production and mass consumption such as Henry Ford’s Model T provided great benefits for the mass society that had developed and that was seen as a good thing. However, mass politics brought about the development of authoritarian regimes who would claim they could deliver all of these benefits to the masses but demanded total control of the people’s lives in return and people were initially willing to do that because the liberal democracies were seen as incapable of improving their lives.

Work Cited

Tignor, Adelman, Aron, Kotkin, Marchand, Prakash, & Tsin, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. Norton, 2014.

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Car Production During World War 1. (2022, Apr 16). Retrieved from