Then and Now: Auto Manufacturing in the ’50s vs. Today

Then and Now Auto Manufacturing in the '50s vs. TodayThis past weekend, in a small town called Pierce, Nebraska, something amazing happened: thousands of people flocked to a car auction where hundreds and hundreds of cars were sold.

That may not sound unusual, until you realize that many over the cars were several dozen years old, many of them with less than 25 miles on their odometers.

In fact, one vehicle–a Chevy Cameo pickup–went for $142,000 dollars, hardly a small price. And this once-in-a lifetime event got us thinking: we see all of these cars from the fifties and sixties, but how far has auto manufacturing come since trucks like the Chevy Cameo were built?

Let’s take a look at a few main differences between then and now so that we can all appreciate how far auto manufacturing (and really, manufacturing in general) has come since the ’50s:


Although in the ’50s (a great era for car culture), production lines were very important, you wouldn’t find many robots in factories like you do today. There was some automation, but most work was done by hand, by the many thousands of assembly line workers that you’d find in yesterday’s factories.

So for the most part, even though machines assisted in more complicated or heavy-duty tasks, those machines required lots of human input, and auto manufacturing still relied heavily on humans to do most of the work.

Have a look at this great video below to see the kinds of assembly lines we’re talking about:

And Now:

Today, it seems most appropriate to say that the opposite of the 50s is true. Humans in auto manufacturing today work in a much more specialized way–programming CNC machines, carefully looking out over robots, and at times assembling small parts of cars.

Though in certain cases (like the assembly of the Dodge Viper, which is still done largely by hand), humans play a larger part, automation has largely taken over. Factories are much, much cleaner and safer, and workers in factories often observe from a distance instead of getting hands-on with the tough stuff.

As auto manufacturing has continued to evolve, automation and robotics have become more important, and workers in manufacturing have needed to become more skilled–a large part of the reason that there’s such a shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing these days.

Have a look at the tour of the Tesla factory (which we’ve shown before) to see what the auto manufacturing facility of the future looks like:

Needless to say, we really appreciate the advances that manufacturing has made since way back in the ’50s. Factories today aren’t gloomy and dangerous–they’re fun, automated, well-lit, and technologically advanced. There are a lot of great opportunities in manufacturing today, and you’re really missing out if you haven’t thought about giving it a shot.

Though we probably won’t see any Tesla Model S cars going for $140,000 in 50 years, we can all sit down and appreciate how far auto manufacturing has come in the last few decades. Because even though we may like old cars, if we had to choose between the factories of the ’50s, and the factories of today, we’d take today’s factories any day of the week.

Photo credit: Nati Hamik/AP via NPR