Subject:  Innovation/Analogy – Bill Klann’s visit to an abattoir

Event:  Henry Ford starts his first assembly line, 1914

In 1909, Henry Ford had a vision to “democratize the automobile.”  This vision began to be realized on January 14, 1914, when Ford’s assembly line began to produce his Model T.  Certainly Ford deserves credit for making the automobile affordable and accessible to the American people; however, there is one man — one of Ford’s employees — who also deserves a large share of the credit.  

In 1907, a machinist named Bill Klann got a job working for the Ford Motor Company.  Previously he had worked for an ice company, a streetcar company, a brewery, and a shipbuilder.  After demonstrating his talents for problem-solving and for building heavy machinery, Khan was tasked with speeding up the production of engines for Ford’s Model T.

In 1913, Klann toured a slaughterhouse in Chicago.  There, he observed the butchering of hogs, cattle, and sheep in the abattoir and was especially captivated by the way that the animal carcasses were transported through the facility on overhead trolleys.  Instead of being butchered in one place, different parts of the carcass were cut off by different butchers as it moved through the facility.  As he watched, Klann had an epiphany:  maybe this process for disassembling animals could be adapted for assembling automobiles.

Klann first applied his idea to assembling just engine components, and it worked so well that soon an assembly line was built for building entire Model T engines.  By January 1914, the entire automobile was produced via the assembly line process.  Before Klann’s idea came to fruition, it took 12 hours to produce a car; now it took just 90 minutes.

The Ford Motor Company’s ability to produce more cars in less time and with less labor allowed the company to reduce the price of each vehicle.  Soon a Model T was cheap enough that an average American family could afford it.  Ford’s vision of “democratizing the automobile” had been realized, and a large chunk of the credit goes to Klann.

Klann’s invention of the assembly line should be remembered as a celebration of the human mind’s ability to generate ideas through analogies — to make connections between even the most disparate ideas.  Watching butchers dismember animals doesn’t seem like a very logical pastime for a machinist whose job is to put things together.  Nevertheless, Klann’s imagination went to work, allowing him to see similarities in dissimilar things — to envision how the process of slaughtering cattle might be transformed into a process for constructing automobiles (1).

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How did analogical thinking by Bill Klann contribute to the success of Ford Motor Company?

Challenge:  Invention By Analogy

Research other examples of inventions and ideas that have come about through analogical thinking.  Klann took ideas from one domain — the slaughterhouse — and applied them to another domain — the auto factory.  What is an example of another inventor who applied this type of thinking?  What did he/she invent?


1-Pollack, John.  Shortcut:  How Analogies Reveal Connections Spark Innovation and Sell Our Greatest Ideas.  New York:  Avery, 2014.  

January 14: Curmudgeon Day 

On this day in 1919, writer and commentator Andy Rooney was born in Albany, New York.  Rooney worked for decades as a journalist and writer-producer for television, but he is best known for his weekly commentaries on the television show “60 Minutes.”  Between 1978 and 2011, Rooney presented over 1,000 mini-essays sharing his unique and slightly cranky insights on everyday topics, such as almanacs, eyebrows, jaywalking, paint, and the English language.  For 33 years, “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” was must-see television.

The appeal of Rooney’s three-minute monologues was his homespun insights on the mundane.  But another part of his appeal was his consistent curmudgeonly tone, like that of a cantankerous uncle who is bothered by just about everything.

On Apostrophes

Because I write my scripts to read myself, I dont spell “don’t” with an apostrophe.  I spell it “dont.” We all know the word and it seems foolish to put in an extraneous apostrophe.

On Birthdays

Age is a defect which we never get over.  The only thing worse than having another birthday is not having another one.

On Progress

I keep buying things that seem like the answer to all my problems, but Im never any better off . . . . And this is universal. Edison invented the lightbulb, but people dont read any more than our grandparents did by candlelight.

On The Moon

Remember when the astronauts brought those rocks back?  They said it might be weeks before the scientists could analyze them and give us their results.  Do you ever remember hearing that rock report?  I think the scientists are embarrassed to tell us those rocks are just like the ones we have on Earth.

On Dictionaries

The argument in the dictionary business is whether to explain the proper use of English or whether to tell you how it’s being used by the most people — often inaccurately.  For instance, I never say “If I were smart.”  I always say “If I was smart.”  I dont like the subjunctive no matter what the dictionary likes. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Mini-Monologue on a Mundane Matter

What are some pet peeves you have about everyday objects, events, or ideas?  What and why do these things frustrate you? Write a Rooney-esque monologue that expresses the reasoning behind one specific pet peeve or frustration.  Go beyond the obvious, by providing your unique insights on what makes this thing so bad and how either it should be changed or what it tells us about society. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.  -Andy Rooney

1-Rooney, Andy.  Years of Minutes: The Best of Rooney from 60 Minutes.  New York:  Public Affairs, 2003.