We have met Frederick W. Taylor as the Father of Scientific Management, but he has another distinction that's at least as elemental. He (along with co-developer Maunsel White) is the inventor of HSS, high-speed steel, a chrome-tungsten tool steel alloy that effectively revolutionized manufacturing by tripling the speed at which metal cutting (lathes, planers, milling machines, etc.) could be done. HSS and other materials (Stellite, Tungsten carbide) revolutionized mechanical engineering; Norton's parallel work with abrasives and grinding machines added another precision technology, and these developments combined with new machine tool designs and higher levels of available power (due particularly to electricity) to produce greater accuracy and multipurpose machine tools (viz: turret lathe). And all that set the stage for increasing substitution of mechanical for human in production processes, culminating in the mass production seen in Ford's Model T assembly line: machine tools and special-purpose machines arranged in sequence of operations, connected by conveyors into flow lines, workers' tasks reduced to simple and repetitive motions...
Henry Noll, a.k.a. Schmidt
"Probably the most famous laborer in the world,
generations of business students having heard how Taylor
got him to carry 47 tons of pig iron a day"
(from Kanigel The One Best Way, 1997)
the first system, in the fullest sense of the expression, of mass production: single-purpose manufacture combined with the smooth flow of materials; the assembly line; large-volume production; high wages initiated by the five-dollar day; and low prices. Ford effected not simply a technological turning point but, as Peter Drucker pointed out long ago, an economic revolution. Ford showed dramatically that maximum profits could be achieved by maximizing production while minimizing costs... Yet this revolution was short-lived. As the decade of the 1920s proceeded, Ford saw its 55% market share of 1921 dwindle to 30% in 1926...People wanted variety, responded to annual changes in appearance by plunking down their money for "new", and "marketing triumphed over pure production. Charles Kettering of General Motors had said that it was important 'to keep the consumer dissatisfied'." (Hounshell 1984:267)
(from Hounshell 1984:263-264
A nice little vignette from Smith:The story continues, on a Union Carbide webpage:
On the second day of May 1892, a Canadian by the name of Thomas Willson, who will forever be known as Thomas "Carbide" Willson, discovered quite by accident an inexpensive method for manufacturing Acetylene Gas. Wilson along with an American associate James Turner Moorhead had formed the "Willson Aluminum Company" in Spray North Carolina.
After several unsuccessful attempts to make aluminum in an electric furnace designed by Willson for that purpose, it was suggested that company attempt to produce metallic calcium which in turn would be used in the production of Aluminum. What Willson did not know was that it was even more difficult to produce metallic calcium than it was to produce Aluminum, so in ignorance Willson poured coal tar and lime into the furnace expecting to produce metallic calcium.
The end result of this experiment was a dark brittle mass that gave off gas when immersed in water. Willson and his employees were convinced they had successfully produced metallic calcium, they were wrong, they had in fact produced calcium carbide which when immersed in water produces acetylene gas. The Frenchman H.Lechatelier discovered the combustion of Oxygen and acetylene in 1895.
Union Carbide Company grew from work begun in 1891 by Major James Morehead and Canadian inventor Thomas Willson. Their determined but unsuccessful attempts to produce aluminum in an electric furnace led instead to two discoveries -- a way to make calcium carbide and a method to produce acetylene gas from that carbide. Calcium carbide -- known by the chemical formula CaC2 -- is a compound composed of the elements calcium and carbon. The brittle gray calcium carbide, formed from mixing coal tar and lime, released acetylene gas when placed in water. Confident that acetylene would achieve wide use in city lighting and heating, eight companies purchased the rights to manufacture calcium carbide from Morehead and Willson between 1892 and 1897. Seven of them failed, largely due to inadequate machinery and the inability to economically generate the huge amounts of electric power needed for production.
The plant built in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, by a group of businessmen from the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company of Chicago succeeded due to its invention of a furnace that could produce calcium carbide round the clock at reasonable cost. Satisfied with the promise they saw in their enterprise, the group formed the Union Carbide Company in 1898.
A second Union Carbide Company plant was established a short time later at Niagara Falls, New York. In 1914, the group purchased the Canadian patents for calcium carbide and formed the Union Carbide Company of Canada Limited to operate a third plant in Ontario.
Essential to precision finishing of metals is the technology of grinding, which uses various abrasives to remove small quantities of material. The natural materials emery, corundum [a form of sapphire], and sandstone were the main abrasives until the 1890s, when silicon carbide (Carborundum is the trade name) was developed from "silica sand, coke, a little sawdust and salt, and tremendous amounts of electric power" (Woodbury 1959:91), such that the production facilities for Carborundum were set up at Niagara Falls (1895). Aluminum oxide grinding wheels came soon after.
I found several nice items along these lines: in Journal of the Franklin Institute in the 1890s: June 1894 "Carborundum: a new artificial abrasive material", October 1896 "Niagara on tap", and February 1897 "The manufacture and development of carborundum at Niagara Falls".