The Parts make up the Whole

Author: Sara Chavarria
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 20-30 minutes
Write or print out overheads with ponder questions
Materials: A backpack with zippers, buckles, snaps, straps


This lesson introduces standardization and mass production in industry. It is an engage lesson meant to set the stage not just for this Learning Cycle, but for the whole unit.

Students will be able to:
1. Describe standardization and mass production by creating Verbal Visual Vocabulary tables.

National Council for History in the Schools
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 1F: Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.

United States History Standards

  • Era 6 Standard 1: How the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed the American people.

Teacher Background
This is quick lesson which helps students understand concepts of standardization and mass production so to understand the Industrial Revolution’s importance.   

Manufacture of goods on a large scale, a technique that aims for low unit cost and high output. In factories, mass production is achieved by a variety of means, such as division and specialization of labor and mechanization. These speed up production and allow the manufacture of near-identical, interchangeable parts. Such parts can then be assembled quickly into a finished product on an assembly line. The technique was first implemented by US automobile pioneer Henry Ford in 1908, for the manufacture of the Model T Ford automobile.
Division of labor means that a job is divided into a number of steps, and then groups of workers are employed to carry each step out, specializing and therefore doing the job in a routine way, producing more than if each individually had to carry out all the stages of manufacture. However, the system has been criticized for neglecting the skills of workers and removing their involvement with the end product.
Many of the machines now used in factories are robots (for example, on car-assembly lines): they work automatically under computer control. Such automation further streamlines production and raises output.

Note: The U.S. Standard will be addressed with more depth in following lessons.

Resource Websites
Mass Prodcution
Definition of Mass Production: http://www.willamette.edu/~fthompso/MgmtCon/Mass_Production.html
Mass Production on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_production
Answers.com on Mass Production: http://www.answers.com/topic/mass-production
Assembly Line: The History of the Automobile: http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarsassemblya.htm
The end of the line on mass production: http://www.build-to-order-consulting.com/Mass%20Production.htm
Science Daily on Mass Production: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070117134025.htm
What is Mass Production: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mass-production.htm

Eli Whitney
The Eli Whitney Museum & Workshop: http://www.eliwhitney.org/test/index.html
Eli Whitney on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eli_Whitney
The Cotton Gin & Eli Whitney: http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventions/a/cotton_gin.htm
Eli Whitney on Kids Newsroom.com: http://www.kidsnewsroom.org/elmer/infoCentral/frameset/inventors/whitney/index.html

Standardization on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardization



1. Write or print the following statement on an overhead with the accompanying Question 1. Have students write it in their notes as well as other questions and answers discussed.

When the American Civil War ended, one thing became clear: Free labor was abolished! So how could all businesses be profitable now that every worker had to be paid?

2. List ideas students give. Chances are there will be few to none since economics is a difficult subject to grasp and rarely taught.

3. Share answer: The Path had already begun at least _ a century earlier with the invention of new industrial technologies. Technologies increased production output in less time than it took a human to create.

4. Pose Question 2: How could industrial inventions help a business turn a profit?

5. Take out backpack and ask a supportive question (Question 3): What makes this technological item so extraordinary? If students have problems with this question ask them to look at the lesson’s title.

6. Answer to Question 3: The parts are all replaceable. A person can go to several stores and purchase them. Bust a zipper – sew on a new one. Break a buckle or snap – loop on a new one. Tear a strap – sew on a new one.

7. Question 2 lecture and notes: The reason this is so extraordinary is before the Industrial Revolution parts were not standardized. This is why the Industrial Revolution was so revolutionary. Not only was it about a machine’s speed, it was about inventions that made inter-changeable (or standardized) parts. This meant buying only the part you needed since it was made to fit into the product.
Before this, if a machine part broke it needed to be ‘made from scratch’ and individually fitted to the machine it came from. Depending on how big the machine was, you had to take the whole machine to a craftsman to fix or have the craftsman come to you. This was time-consuming and required specialized skills. For example: A gun is made of many parts. If the trigger wears down so that it falls off, you had to see a gunsmith so he could make a new one. In order to do this the gunsmith needed the gun so he could measure the area of the item needed to fit properly. But in 1798, American Eli Whitney refined and applied the “Uniformity’ System” of production using inter-changeable parts for army musket production. This means standardizing the machine parts (the musket), they could be easily replaced when necessary. The gunsmith did not need the musket to replace a part. This is what mass production was about. The system was so successful Eli Whitney secured a US government contract (for $134,000) to produce 10,000 army muskets.

8. Question 2 answer using notes: Take the following words and create a 3-tiered Definition Concept Trail using Verbal Visual Vocabulary tables that link to form the trail. Use the following template:

Eli Whitney
Definition from textbook or dictionary/encyclopedia
Associations (words, phrases, situations, examples etc.) Visual or illustration so students remember word.
Definition from textbook or dictionary/encyclopedia
Associations (words, phrases, situations, examples etc.) Visual or illustration so students remember word.
This leads to:  
Mass Production Definition from textbook or dictionary/encyclopedia
Associations (words, phrases, situations, examples etc.) Visual or so students remember word.

Define in the following order:

  • Eli Whitney
  • Standardization
  • Mass Production

9. Commentary: As noted, the path of invention began and industry would never be the same again. While many inventions improved the quality of human life, the technology that allowed for mass production was to also raise questions of what the American work ethic should reflect. After the introduction of technology in the job arena, how a worker was viewed and treated would change drastically.


Students can finish their Definition concept trail.

Embedded Assessment
Product: Notes - Verbal Visual Vocabulary tables.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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