Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wurlitzer Factory Tour - 1950

Charles Shopsin is a New York City-raised and Brooklyn-based software developer. In his spare time, he runs the Modern Mechanix blog, waits tables, and finds new ways to torture his cat. His dream girl is Jordan from the movie Real Genius.

When I was a little kid I saw an episode of Mr. Rogers where he visited a factory that made canned vegetable soup. The soup was made in giant vats and the ingredients — peas, carrots and whatnot — were poured in from giant overhead buckets. Then they went on to the canning, labeling and packing lines. It was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. I've been hooked on factory tours ever since.

I'm also a huge fan of ephemera and when you put the two together you get old factory tours. The best place I know of to find these is the online outpost of the Prelinger Library, hosted by Archive.org. I think I have watched almost every movie listed there and this week I'll be sharing a few of my favorites.

The video I'm linking to today is called "A Visit to Wurlitzer:" made in 1950, this film visits the factory that made Wurlitzer jukeboxes. Maybe not the most exciting video to watch but it is fascinating. Think about all of the buzzwords relating modern production: just-in-time logistics, outsourcing, off-the-shelf components, sub-contractors, and even automation. Now think of the opposite and you'll have some idea of what this factory was like.

Wood, plastic and metal go in one end, and jukeboxes come out the other. They make pretty much everything on site. There are chemists who develop and produce the varnishes, machinists who make the tools, and a sharpening room. They even make their own plywood. Because they produce pretty much everything from the cabinet to the smallest circuit on their assembly line, the schematics for a single jukebox cover 300,000 square feet of blueprint.

It's a stunning example of the change the manufacturing industry has gone through in the last 60 years. Apple is one of the biggest electronics companies in America and I don't think they actually own a single factory.

Skip to about 6 minutes in if you just want to see the tour and not a history of Wurlitzer.

Link (Part I, Part II)

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