Henry Leland and the Quest for Precision
Henry Leland brought precision to the automobile industry, and so made mass production possible.
The exhibition explored Leland's life and work, tracing the ever-increasing accuracy in manufacturing processes in America from the mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.
In 1843, Leland was born on a farm in far northern Vermont. By the time he was 14 years old, the family had given up on farming and young Henry was training as a machinist's apprentice at a factory in Massachusetts. When the Civil War broke out, Leland was too young to join the army, and so he ended up at the Springfield armory, helping to build and operate the machines for making rifles with interchangeable parts.
After the war, the machinery and methods used at the armories spread to other industries and created an explosion of consumer goods based upon the manufacture of interchangeable parts. Leland became one of the most prominent practitioners of the new art of precision manufacture. At Brown & Sharpe in the 1870s he made sewing machines. At Leland & Faulconer in the 1890s, he made gears, machine tools, steam engines, and internal combustion engines. At Cadillac, he built reliable, high quality automobiles, and at the Lincoln Motor Company, he built aircraft engines during the first World War and established the company in the automobile business after the war.
By the end of his life, Leland was known as "the grand old man of Detroit." As it traced the parallel stories of Leland and precision automobile manufacturing, the exhibition celebrated both the creativity of the individual genius and the skill of the craftsman. Enriched by hands-on activities, videos, models, and craft and dress-up activities for children, a timeline helped visitors see how American culture changed during Leland's lifetime. Artifacts, images, and text made connections between machine technology and the everyday lives of ordinary people.