American Manufacturing: A Trip Down Memory Lane (… with a Detour in Detroit)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about bringing the American manufacturing sector back to its prime. This is due to President Biden’s most recent State of the Union speech where he specifically called out this as a primary goal for his administration in 2023.

When thinking of the American manufacturing boom, however, what point in time are we specifically referring to?

I think, when asked this question, most people would think back to the 40’s and 50’s as the time when American manufacturing was at its PEAK! A time when the stamp “MADE IN AMERICA” was a mark of absolute quality.

… But as America made its way deeper into the second half of the 20th century, this statement became less and less true.

In fact, by the mid 1980’s the idea of buying something listed as being MADE IN AMERICA was often looked at as an embarrassment!

You can see great examples of the decline in quality and recognition in brands like RCA, which by the mid 1980’s was far from the giant electronic behemoth it was 50 years prior.

This regression in quality, however, is most obviously seen when looking back at the history of the American automotive industry.

Those Were the Days… (or Were They?)

In the 1950’s, there was no better car in the world than a Cadillac.

The brand Cadillac was the pride of Detroit and something truly special.

Anyone who was lucky enough to drive a Cadillac sat in the front seat of that car and knew that everyone outside understood that they had made it in life.

Cadillac was a symbol of success, luxury, and quality.

Similar can be said about many major American car manufacturers of this time. At the end of the day, you were proud to own an American car and, as a direct result, Detroit was booming!

As the years went on, however, and oil prices began to spike in the early 1970’s, American cars had to start making concessions to better compete with the more affordable (and less gas-guzzling) foreign car market.

As American auto sales began to dwindle through the years, corners had to be cut in quality of build, dependability, and longevity of ownership on many of these once powerful machines.

This was when the reputation of Cadillac and it’s American counterparts began to decline and Detroit started churning out things like the Chevrolet Vega and the AMC Pacer! (Need I say more?)

As Detroit continued to struggle to find its footing in this new economic environment, Americans found themselves continuously unhappy with the outcome of the struggles and began to utter phrases like “They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

As Detroit continued to struggle to find its footing in this new economic environment, Americans found themselves continuously unhappy with the outcome of the struggles and began to utter phrases like “They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

That being said, those very 1950’s highs Americans remember so fondly – though great domestically — came at quite the expense to the rest of the world…

You see, the reason America had all this post war prosperity was because of the war itself!

Before the war, America was just getting itself out of an economic depression!

By the late 1940’s and 1950’s there was absolutely NO competition in the manufacturing sector for the United States. All the factories of Europe had been decimated over the course of World War II and American manufacturing was basically the only option.

As such, the American economy took off like a rocket and American manufacturers were flush and able to spend their new fortunes on more factories, better equipment, and a larger workforce to churn out more products – which naturally led to better quality all around.

As Europe took the inevitable steps towards rebuilding itself — and its economy — into the 1960’s, the post war economic faucet America had been guzzling from started drying up.

American manufacturing finally had competition and it was having a hard time keeping up.

This is what led Americans to the struggles we find ourselves having today.

Working Smart in the Digital Age

True, things have certainly gotten better since the down times of the 1970’s for the American automotive industry and the American manufacturing sector in general, but they still aren’t back to those 1950’s highs everyone keeps dreaming about (and they may never be.)

… But though we may not be able to reach those post war highs again, we can’t forget that there is one thing this country’s citizens have always had… ingenuity.

It was American ingenuity that set the pace for the rest of the world to rise to and that same ingenuity still surges through the spirit of this country.

It’s time to shed the memories and methods of the 20th century and redefine what it means to “work smart” in our new digital world.

… And what better place to implement this new philosophy than at the very heart of American ingenuity, manufacturing.

After all, the manufacturing industry is just itching to be redesigned to take on the new challenges of the 21st century, the very reason many in the industry have finally decided to start their digital transformation journey… acting today to prepare for tomorrow.

… And once this is accomplished, there’s no end in sight to the prosperity our nation and its businesses could reach!

The only question now is whether or not you’re going to be left behind.

P.S. – Have you nodded your head along with this article in agreement, now finding yourself reinvigorated and ready to put that American ingenuity back to work, but struggling to know where to even get started?

Never fear… Rain Engineering is here!

Check out these self-guided lessons on “Business Transformation” that are sure to help you and your business take that first step towards success in 2023!