The Politics of Mass Production: Government Promotion of Standardization During the First World War

94 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2018

Date Written: December 1, 1993


To what extent did government policies during World War I encourage American manufacturers to adopt mass production techniques? Historical studies have illuminated the military origins of many of the technologies underlying mass production and the social and economic circumstances that have framed shifts in production strategies. However, the role of political forces in shaping manufacturing practices in the early twentieth century has attracted scant attention.

This study examines the contributions of the U.S, government's WWI industrial mobilization agency, the War Industries Board (WIB), to the post-war boom in mass production. Standardization of product design was a technical prerequisite for mass production. The WIB's Conservation Division hastened the rise of mass production by requiring manufacturers to standardize their products during the war. As part of its program to increase the nation's productive capacity and to conserve scarce resources, the Conservation Division induced manufacturers to adopt mass production techniques and hastened the demise of those who failed to standardize their product designs. The impetus for standardization, however, came largely from private businessmen working in government for the duration of the war and from industry leaders, who, as in the case of the agricultural implement industry, dominated their industry's discourse with the government. The Conservation Division and these businessmen used the division's standardization program to move the nation's industries closer to the ideal of mass production for the postwar period.

Keywords: Mass Production, Standardization, Government Regulation, World War I, Industrial Associations

JEL Classification: G18, L23, L52, L64, N42, N62, 014, 032

Suggested Citation

Asner, Glen, The Politics of Mass Production: Government Promotion of Standardization During the First World War (December 1, 1993). Available at SSRN: or

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