Grade 6-8, 9-12

Case Study on Productivity (Part 2) – Henry Ford and the Model T

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: August 29 2019,


Students will be able to:

  • Explain how entrepreneurs can improve productivity with a variety of strategies.
  • Explain the importance of vertical integration and human capital in Henry Ford’s auto factories.

In economics lesson, students will research Henry Ford’s innovations to find strategies that improve productivity.



Open the PowerPoint Slides and show slide 1 on a projector screen. Ask students to work with a partner or in groups of three. Each group should draw the four-square box shown on Slide 1 on a whiteboard or piece of paper. In each box, they should write any words, ideas, concepts or people they associate with each term, and include illustrations as well.

Ask each group to share out 1-2 of the words they recorded on their box, and record them on the board. Alternatively, provide students with Post-it notes and ask each group to put a Post-it with one of their terms or concepts in each box on the board, then ask student volunteers to read aloud from the Post-its in each box.

This activity will help students with retrieval of the previous day’s lesson and prepare them for the next step. Possible answers include: interchangeable parts: fits into different products, can be replaced, doesn’t need to be specific, image of a bolt; specialization: each individual does one task, people become more skilled at a specific task, image of assembly line; productivity: getting more output per unit of input, getting more done in an hour, workers doing more; efficiency: doing things in less time; using fewer resources.


Ask students: What do you think was Henry Ford’s most significant achievement? Answers will vary: creating the moving assembly line, reducing the time it took to build an automobile, reducing the cost of building an automobile, producing cars for the masses. Remind students that on the first day Case Study on Productivity (Part 1) they learned that Ford reduced the time required to produce one Model T from 12.5 man-hours to 93 minutes. They also learned that the price of a Model T fell from $850 in 1908 to less than $300 by 1925, making cars available to many workers, including the autoworkers themselves. Show Slide 2, which shows how much productivity at Ford’s Highland Park Plant grew between 1910 and 1912. Show Slide 3, which shows how the time to produce a car was reduced even further, from 93 minutes to 1 minute. Use the speaking notes in the slide deck for guiding questions.

Group Activity

Show Slide 4, and explain that students will have time to work in groups to investigate the question on the PowerPoint. Before breaking the students into groups, give directions. Ask students to use their devices, or provide students with internet devices, to research the two sites provided on Slide 4. If no internet is available, print the articles on these sites for students. The first site is an Investopedia page that describes many of the Ford’s innovations. The second site is part of the Henry Ford Heritage Association. Advise students that both sites will have a lot of information they already know. They should skim past this information, looking for additional steps Ford took to make his auto factories more productive. Ask students to record their findings in a notebook or document, so they can share them with the class. Explain that they may come across some innovations that aren’t directly related to productivity. They should record these separately.

Give students 10-15 minutes for the Group Activity. As students are working, circulate the classroom to answer questions and help students with new vocabulary words, like “vertical integration,” which means controlling the supply chain in an industry.

After 10-15 minutes, or when most student groups have a list of 8-10 innovations, ask students to stop the activity. Ask each group to share an additional Ford innovation, and keep a list on the board. Discuss each innovation to be sure students understand the terminology. Answers will include: vertical integration, manufacturing glass, steel and rubber onsite, building assembly plants throughout the country and in other countries to save on shipping, franchising dealerships, reducing the work day, doubling pay, attracting the most talented employees, using unskilled workers who cost less, using the factory three shifts a day, starting a school to teach English, hygiene, personal finance, requiring employees to live in an acceptable way, buying a railroad, a sawmill, a coal mine, experimenting with production methods Ask students to share any innovations that didn’t seem like they would increase productivity. Answers will vary; explain how most of these innovations – even raising pay and cutting the work day – did improve productivity. One innovation that is not directly linked to productivity is advertising, which boosted consumer demand instead.

Ask students if there are any innovations that were surprising to them. Many students will be surprised that Ford ran schools for his employees and required them to live in an “acceptable” manner. Ask students if employers today have these kinds of lifestyle requirements of their employees. Answers will vary. There are legal limitations about what employers can require, but companies can require drug testing and health surveys, and private companies can have more imposing lifestyle requirements. Often, companies try to incentive employees toward positive behavior, like getting exercise, getting flu shots, or quitting smoking.

Show Slide 5, and ask students if they are familiar with the term “human capital.” Use the speaking notes in the slide for guiding questions. Relate human capital back to Ford’s time where higher-skilled workers generally receive higher pay.​

Individual Activity

Use the Cartoon Annotation Tool to analyze the Productivity and Pay Cartoon. Red pushpins in the cartoon should ask the following questions:

  • What political point is this cartoon making?
  • What drawback of assembly line production is shown?
  • In what ways is this assembly line not an accurate assembly line?
  • Was low pay one of the criticisms of Henry Ford’s factories?

Terms that can be added to this cartoon should include:

  • Assembly line
  • Specialization
  • Wages
  • Productivity
  • Working conditions
  • Industrial workers

Students should be encouraged to write a new caption for the cartoon.


Play the  Kahoot! game with your class. Divide the students into teams or play using 1-1 devices.


Explain to students that another sector of the American economy that saw major improvements in productivity during the 20th century was agriculture. In 1900, 41% of the American labor force worked in farming, compared to less than 2% today. Productivity of farmland has more than doubled, and agriculture has become a huge export industry.

Ask students to work with a partner and research online to identify 8-10 innovations that have improved productivity in agriculture since 1900. Students should include a brief explanation with each innovation listed. Answers may include: mechanized plows, mechanized tractors, mechanized harvesting machinery, specialization (fewer types of crops planted on each farm), improved irrigation techniques, improved fertilizers, better understanding of soil types, better understanding of crop rotation, new weedkillers, GMOs, etc.