Timeline: 50 Years of Economic Change and Manufacturing Progress

October 25, 2007
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To celebrate ASSEMBLY magazine's golden anniversary, here's a year-by-year look at how things have changed, evolved and stayed the same over the last 50 years. The timeline focuses on engineering achievements, business trends and manufacturing milestones.

When the first issue of ASSEMBLY rolled off the printing press in October 1958, the world was a much different place than today. For one thing, manufacturing was the backbone of the U.S. economy. Although China and India were large countries, they played minor roles in the world economy.

A tiny device that enables today’s readers to peruse the contents of ASSEMBLY via a laptop computer while flying at 40,000 feet, the integrated circuit, had just been invented by an obscure engineer in Texas.

Speaking of flying, jet aircraft were a relatively new phenomenon. Fifty years ago, most people still traveled by train in the U.S.; they traveled by ocean liner when crossing the Atlantic or Pacific. But, history was made on Oct. 26, 1958, when Pan Am flew a new Boeing 707 jetliner from New York to Paris. The transatlantic flight only took a little more than 6 hours, which was two-thirds as long as the same trip via a traditional piston-powered plane. A new phrase, “the jet set,” was coined.

In 1958, only 8 percent of all cars sold in the United States were imports. But, that year, a small Japanese automaker sold its first vehicle in California. Toyota was virtually unknown outside the Far East. Although it had only been making cars for 20 years, the company subscribed to a unique production philosophy that emphasized continuous improvement and waste elimination.

The upstart company sold 288 Toyopet sedans to American consumers in 1958. By comparison, General Motors produced 2.1 million cars in the U.S. that year, which accounted for 51 percent of the entire market. By 1980, Japanese automakers would command 30 percent of the U.S. market. This year, Toyota is on track to pass GM and become the world’s No. 1 automaker.

Here’s a year-by-year look at how things have changed, evolved and even stayed the same over the last 50 years. It focuses on engineering achievements, business trends and manufacturing milestones. Because of space restrictions, it does not include references to sporting events, natural disasters and some other events normally associated with historical timelines.



1958

*”Assembly & Fastener Engineering” magazine debuts with 104 pages.

*The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is created.

*Jack Kilby, an engineer at Texas Instruments, demonstrates the world’s first integrated circuit.

*The Hula Hoop, made from a new-fangled material called polyethylene, is introduced and quickly becomes a nationwide craze.

*Ford and General Motors unveil rocket-styled concept cars.

*Forrest Bird begins mass-producing the world’s first respirator.

*The first optical laser is invented.

*Bank America unveils the BankAmericard (known today as Visa).

*The “Hawaiian Merchant” leaves San Francisco bound for Honolulu with 75 shipping containers on her deck, a new concept that would soon revolutionize global trade.

*The Mackinac Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge, opens in northern Michigan.

*Brussels, Belgium, hosts a world’s fair that celebrates the atom and the nuclear age.



1959

*Alaska becomes the 49th state.

*Hawaii becomes the 50th state.

*New York City considers becoming the 51st state.

*The first “Barbie” doll is mass-produced by Mattel.

*The St. Lawrence Seaway opens, allowing ocean-going ships to reach the Midwest.



1960

*The first cylindrical robot, “Versatran,” is marketed for industrial applications.

*Pentel introduces the felt-tip pen.

*A U.S. patent is issued for ultrasonic metal welding.

*The Big 3 begin selling small cars, such as the Chevrolet Corvair, the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant.

*The last mainline steam locomotive in the U.S. pulls a freight train on the Norfolk & Western Railway.

*The world’s first fully automatic production line for transistors is designed by IBM engineers in Poughkeepsie, NY. It produces and tests 1,800 individual transistors an hour.

 

 



1961

*The first industrial robot application takes place at a General Motors plant in New Jersey.

*Becton Dickinson unveils the first plastic disposable syringe.

*Through-hole technology is introduced in the electronics industry.

*East Germany erects the Berlin Wall.



1962

*The first “Assembly & Fastener Directory” buyers guide is published.

*John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth.

*The “Telstar” satellite transmits the first TV picture from Europe to the United States.

*President John F. Kennedy promises that America will land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.



1963

*Ultrasonic plastic welding is invented.

*NASA engineers develop battery-powered screwdrivers and impact wrenches for use during space walks.

*The global positioning satellite (GPS) concept is first discussed.

*Caterpillar and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries form a joint-venture.

*The balloon catheter revolutionizes surgical embolectomy procedures.

*The first machine vision patent is issued.

*Ideal Toy Co. becomes the first manufacturer to use ultrasonic plastic welding.

*Touch-tone telephones and cassette tape recorders debut.

*John Deere surpasses International Harvester to become the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural and industrial equipment.

*Civil rights protests rock the South.

*The U.S. mourns the assassination of John F. Kennedy.



1964

*”Assembly & Fastener Engineering” changes its name to “Assembly Engineering.”

*Ford unveils the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair.

*The Beatles “invade” America.

*Japan begins operating high-speed bullet trains.

*Studebaker-Packard Corp., the last independent automaker in the U.S., goes out of business.

*The first James Bond movie, “Goldfinger,” is released.



1965

*Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed” book attacks the U.S. auto industry.

*8-track cartridges start to appear on car dashboards.

*The Gateway Arch opens in St. Louis.

*Skateboarding becomes popular.

*Chrysler opens a state-of-the-art plant in Belvidere, IL.



1966

*Congress passes the Highway Safety Act, which makes the installation of seat belts in vehicles mandatory.

*Xerox unveils the first fax machine.

*”Star Trek” debuts on TV.



1967

*Amana introduces the first compact microwave oven.

*The world’s first ATM is installed in London.



1968

*McDonald’s unveils the Big Mac.

*The first computer mouse is demonstrated.

*Police clash with anti-war protestors in Chicago.

*A major oilfield is discovered in northern Alaska.

*The United Auto Workers (UAW) union pulls out of the AFL-CIO union, citing strategic differences on domestic and foreign policy.

*A futuristic movie called “2001 A Space Odyssey” is released.

*The first PLC is introduced.

*The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stuns the nation.

*Charles Sorensen passes away. The former Ford Motor Co. production chief created the world’s first moving assembly line in 1913.

1969

*Neil Armstrong steps on the moon.

*Boeing unveils the 747 jumbo jet.

*The Anglo-French supersonic “Concorde” airliner takes its maiden flight.

*Congress passes the Child Protection and Toy Safety Act, which calls for more strenuous testing of toys for flammability, toxicity, and electrical and mechanical defects.

*Airbus is established.

*A 4-day music festival is held on a dairy farm in Woodstock, NY.



1970

*General Motors opens a controversial, automated assembly plant in Lordstown, OH.

*The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created.

*The first Earth Day observation is held.



1971

*DisneyWorld opens in Florida.

*The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) begins conducting random checks on manufacturers.



1972

*Congress passes the Consumer Product Safety Act, which establishes the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

*Texas Instruments unveils the world’s first pocket calculator.

*Phillips unveils the first VCR for home use.



1973

*Chicago’s Sears Tower becomes the world’s tallest building.

*Skylab, the first U.S space station, is launched.

*An oil crisis cripples the U.S. transportation industry.

*The ABACUS II, designed and built by Texas Instruments, becomes the first practical automated production machine for the assembly of integrated circuits.



1974

*”Assembly Engineering” and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers cosponsor the first Assemblex trade show in Arlington Heights, IL.

*The CAT-scan machine is invented.

*The Robotic Industries Association is formed.

*Post-it notes are accidentally invented by a 3M engineer.

*Engineers at AB Volvo implement the world’s first application of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) at the Kalmar, Sweden, plant. The AGVs tilt car bodies 90 degrees to allow operators to ergonomically assemble vehicles. 


1975

*Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft link up in space.

*The laser printer is unveiled by IBM for use with mainframe computers.



1976

*Bicentennial fever sweeps across the United States.

*The first laser welding application occurs at a General Motors plant in Dayton, OH.

*”Viking 1” lands on Mars.



1977

*Solectron pioneers contract manufacturing.

*American manufacturers begin converting to metric-based mechanical fasteners.

*”Star Wars” is a big hit in movie theatres.



1978

*Unimation creates the PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly) robot.

*Volkswagen opens the first foreign auto plant on U.S. soil in New Stanton, PA.



1979

*The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) unveils a six-point Revitalization Agenda designed to combat inflation and reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing.

*Electrolux enters the U.S. appliance market when it acquires Tappan.

*Militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, and hold 52 people hostage for 444 days.

*Pope John Paul II visits the U.S.

*Renault buys American Motors.



1980

*”Assembly Engineering” inaugurates the annual Assembly Technology Expo in Rosemont, IL.

*The Pac-Man video game is introduced.

*Sony demonstrates the first consumer video camera.



1981

*IBM unveils the first personal computer.

*Lockheed Corp. begins assembling the world’s first mass-produced stealth aircraft, the F117-A Nighthawk. However, the U.S. Air Force does not confirm its existence until 1988.

*The world’s first “portable computer,” the Osborne 1, weighs only 24 pounds.

*The Sony Walkman is designed for ease of assembly using a flexible system.

*NASA launches the first space shuttle mission.



1982

*Honda opens the first Japanese auto plant on U.S. soil in Marysville, OH.

*The first successful artificial heart transplant is performed.

*General Electric invests more than $2 billion in a massive factory automation program aimed at reducing costs and improving quality.



1983

*General Motors and Toyota open a join-venture plant in California called NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.).

*The first commercial cell phone service in the U.S. begins in Chicago.

*Chrysler unveils the first minivan.

*The first expandable stent made out of nitinol is invented.

*Schwinn closes its bicycle factory in Chicago.

*Chrysler opens the auto industry’s first in-line, sequenced assembly line in Windsor, ON.



1984

*AT&T is split up into 7 “Baby Bells.”

*The auto industry celebrates its centennial.

*A gas leak at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, kills more than 3,000 people.

*The Edison Welding Institute (EWI) is created.

*Canon demonstrates the first commercial digital camera.



1985

*Dell begins assembling made-to-order computers.

*The “Titanic” is found 73 years after it sank in the North Atlantic.



1986

*General Motors opens its groundbreaking Saturn plant in Spring Hill, TN.

*Singer stops manufacturing sewing machines.

*The first Toyota car, a Corolla sedan, is assembled in the U.S.

*The “Challenger” space shuttle explodes.

*A nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Russia, explodes, sending radioactive fallout throughout Europe.

*A movie called “Gung Ho” depicts what happens when a fictional Japanese automaker buys an American factory.

*Motorola develops the Six Sigma process to improve quality and reduce costs.

*General Motors begins assembling front-wheel-drive axles at its Vanguard plant in Saginaw, MI. The controversial “factory of the future” features advanced automation, such as robots and automated guided vehicles. The initial goal is to develop a lights-out factory, but the trendsetting plant closed quietly in 1992.



1987

*Chrysler purchases American Motors.

*The Black Monday stock market crash creates widespread panic on Wall Street.

*Hewlett-Packard begins recycling old computers.

*Caterpillar launches a $1.8 billion plant modernization program to streamline its production processes.

*The International Organization for Standardization enacts ISO 9000 quality standards.



1988

*The first Shingo Prize for manufacturing excellence is awarded.

*Toyota opens its first independent plant in the U.S. in Georgetown, KY, to assemble Camry sedans.



1989

*The Berlin Wall is ripped down.

*Pro-democracy Chinese students protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before military troops move in and slaughter hundreds.



1990

*”Assembly Engineering” changes its name to ASSEMBLY.

*Microsoft launches Windows 3.0 software.

*Nelson Mandela is released after spending 27 years in a South African prison.

*”The Machine That Changed the World” is published and the term “lean manufacturing” is coined.



1991

*Friction stir welding is invented.

*U.S. military forces liberate Kuwait from Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

*The interstate highway system is completed, 35 years after construction began.



1992

*The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States.

*A brutal civil war rips apart Bosnia.



1993

*ASSEMBLY is acquired by Chilton Publishing Co.

*The first voice-activated TV remote control is unveiled.



1994

*Boeing launches the 777, the first airliner to be developed and preassembled entirely on computers.

*The Netscape Navigator Web browser is launched. It helps popularize the Internet.



1995

*Lockheed Corp. merges with Martin Marietta to create Lockheed Martin.

*Domestic terrorists bomb a federal office building in Oklahoma City.

*The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) celebrates its centennial.



1996

*ASSEMBLY magazine publishes its first Capital Spending study and its first State of the Profession report.

*The “Dilbert” cartoon strip starts to focus on office politics and workplace issues.

*NASA scientists reveal that microscopic structures found on a rock from Mars may have been formed by living creatures.



1997

*ASSEMBLY launches its Web site.

*Boeing acquires McDonnell-Douglas.



1998

*ASSEMBLY is acquired by Cahners Business Information.

*Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merge to form DaimlerChrysler.



1999

*ASSEMBLY publishes a series of forward-looking articles entitled “Assembly 2000.”

*General Motors opens its first joint-venture plant in China.

*The Y2K computer threat creates widespread panic.



2000

*OSHA enacts a comprehensive ergonomics standard.

*Honda unveils the ASIMO humanoid robot.

*The first crew arrives at the International Space Station.

*Toyota unveils the Prius hybrid.

*The closest presidential election in U.S. history ends in controversy.
 
*American manufacturers begin using "lean" production techniques pioneered in the auto industry.



2001

*ASSEMBLY is acquired by Business News Publishing (known today as BNP Media).

*Lionel closes its last manufacturing plant in the U.S. and outsources toy train assembly to China and Korea.

*Terrorist attacks cripple the United States.

*China officially joins the World Trade Organization (WTO).

*Apple unveils the iPod.

*Boeing Commercial Airplanes begins using a moving assembly line in Long Beach, CA, to build the 717 jetliner.

2002

*ASSEMBLY unveils a new logo and new design in its September issue.

*General Motors unveils the first fuel cell, by-wire car.

*Euro banknotes and coins begin circulating in Europe.

*General Motors opens what is hailed as “the most significant auto industry plant in the last 25 years” in Lansing, MI.

*Human cloning becomes a widely debated topic.



2003

*The “Columbia” space shuttle explodes.

*Ford celebrates its centennial and ASSEMBLY publishes a special 32-page supplement to mark the occasion.

*The “Hubble” space telescope discovers the oldest-known planet.

*The U.S. aerospace industry celebrates the centennial of the Wright brother’s first flight.



2004

*ASSEMBLY inaugurates the Assembly Plant of the Year award and the first recipient is Kenworth Truck Co.

*John Deere engineers develop an autonomous tractor prototype.

*Ford’s reborn Rouge plant features the auto industry’s most flexible and environmentally friendly assembly line.

*ASSEMBLY sponsors a session on “Offshore Assembly Challenges and Opportunities” at the 25th annual Assembly Technology Expo in Rosemont, IL.

*Interest in nanotechnology begins to heat up in numerous industries.



2005

*ASSEMBLY stops printing reader service “bingo” cards in each issue.

*Cancer replaces heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

*The Society of Automobile Engineers celebrates its centennial.

*The largest container ship in the world, the “Colombo Express,” is launched. It can carry 8,750 containers.

*Humanoid robots take center stage at the world’s fair in Nagoya, Japan.



2006

*ASSEMBLY publishes its first Chinese edition.

*The first Assembly Technology Expo China is held in Shenzhen.

*A lead-free solder ban takes effect in the electronics industry.

*ASSEMBLY launches its first digital edition and sponsors its first webinar.

*Maytag acquires Whirlpool.



2007

*ASSEMBLY editors start blogging with the AssemblyBlog.

*Toyota passes General Motors to become the No. 1 automaker.

*Boeing unveils the 787 Dreamliner.

*DaimlerChrysler dissolves and both automakers go their separate ways less than 10 years after merging.

*The United Nations reports that telephone service has quadrupled in the past decade to 4 billion lines worldwide.

*General Motors and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union reach a landmark labor settlement. The cost-cutting contract helps narrow the huge competitive gap between domestic automakers and their foreign competitors.

*Flextronics acquires Solectron.

*Construction workers begin to widen the Panama Canal.

*Automakers in China and India begin developing super-low-cost cars aimed at emerging markets.

*"Green" manufacturing becomes popular as companies begin to address sustainability and tackle environmental issues on the plant floor.

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