PRODUCT DESIGN CHOICES IN AMERICAN CAPITAL GOODS INDUSTRIES, 1850 - 1925

  • John K. Brown

Abstract

Standardization is a major theme in the literature of American industrial development with its focus on mass produced goods. By contrast, this artide considers the viability of standard product designs in three lines of batch produced capital goods — machine tools, steam locomotives, and stationary steam engines — from 1850 to 1925. Rigorous standardization could also offer notable advantages to builders of such heavy machinery. Yet it proved difficult to achieve largely because customers exerted a strong influence on design, blocking full product standardization. On the other hand, machinery makers found that true custom designs posed many production challenges. This article traces how American capital goods firms navigated between the conflicting demands of standard versus custom designs.