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Henry Ford: From Slaughterhouse to Death Camp

 Excerpt from Chapter 3 of

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust

by Charles Patterson, Ph.D.

 (New York: Lantern Books, 2002)    © 2002 Charles Patterson
  All rights reserved.     Used with permission.
Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson, Ph.D. "Henry Ford, who was so impressed by the efficient way meat packers killed animals in Chicago, made his own special contribution to the slaughter of people in Europe. Not only did he develop the assembly-line method the Germans used to kill Jews, but he launched a vicious anti-Semitic campaign that helped the Holocaust happen." Charles Patterson, Ph.D.

Part One  |  Part Two  |  Part Three  |  Part Four

Since this chapter began with the contention that the road to Auschwitz begins at the slaughterhouse, it is fitting that it close with the story of the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, whose impact on the twentieth century began, metaphorically speaking, at an American slaughterhouse and ended at Auschwitz.

In his autobiography, My Life and Work (1922), Ford revealed that his inspiration for assembly-line production came from a visit he made as a young man to a Chicago slaughterhouse. "I believe that this was the first moving line ever installed," he wrote. "The idea [of the assembly line] came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef." 1 

A Swift and Company publication from that time described the division-of-labor principle that Ford adopted: "The slaughtered animals, suspended head downward from a moving chain, or conveyor, pass from workman to workman, each of whom performs some particular step in the process." Since the authors of the publication wanted to make sure the meatpackers got their due credit for the assembly-line idea, they wrote, "So efficient has this procedure proved to be that it has been adopted by many other industries, as for example in the assembling of automobiles." 2 

This process, which hoists animals onto chains and hurries them along from station to station until they came out at the end of the line as cuts of meat, introduced something new into our modern industrial civilization--the neutralization of killing and a new level of detachment. "For the first time machines were used to speed along the process of mass slaughter," writes Rifkin, "leaving men as mere accomplices, forced to conform to the pace and requirements set by the assembly line itself." 3 

As the twentieth century would demonstrate, it was but one step from the industrialized killing of American slaughterhouses to Nazi Germany's assembly-line mass murder. As noted earlier, it was the German Jew Theodor Adorno who declared that Auschwitz began at the slaughterhouse with people thinking, "They're just animals." In J. M. Coetzee's novel, The Lives of Animals, the protagonist Elizabeth Costello tells her audience: "Chicago showed us the way; it was from the Chicago stockyards that the Nazis learned how to process bodies." 4 

Most people are unaware of the central role of the slaughterhouse in the history of American industry. "While most economic historians have been drawn to the steel and automobile industry for clues to America's early industrial genius," writes Rifkin, "it was in the slaughterhouse that many of the most salient innovations in industrial design were first used....It's no wonder historians of a later period were more comfortable extolling the virtues of the assembly line and mass production in the automotive industry."5 Still, the mental deadening of assembly-line workers, though unsettling, was very far removed from the blood-letting on the "kill floor." Rifkin writes that in the newly mechanized slaughterhouses of Chicago, "the stench of death, the clanking of chains overhead, and the whirr of disemboweled creatures passing by in an endless procession overwhelmed the senses and dampened the enthusiasm of even the most ardent supporters of the new production values." 6 

In his study of Chicago's packinghouse workers in the early 1900s, James Barrett writes, "Historians have deprived the packers of their rightful title of mass-production pioneers, for it was not Henry Ford but Gustavus Swift and Philip Armour who developed the assembly-line technique that continues to symbolize the rationalized organization of work." 7 

Henry Ford, who was so impressed by the efficient way meat packers killed animals in Chicago, made his own special contribution to the slaughter of people in Europe. Not only did he develop the assembly-line method the Germans used to kill Jews, but he launched a vicious anti-Semitic campaign that helped the Holocaust happen.

Part Two


1 Henry Ford, My Life and Work, in collaboration with Samuel Crowther (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922), 81. The slaughterhouse Ford visited was most likely located in the Union Stock Yards, although he did not specify which slaughterhouse it was.
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2 Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat (New York: Continuum, 1991), 52.
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3 Rifkin, Beyond Beef, 120.
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4 J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 53.
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5 Rifkin, Beyond Beef, 119-20.
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6 Ibid, 120-1.
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7 Barrett, Work, 20.
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Excerpted from Chapter 3 of Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, by Charles Patterson, Ph.D. (New York: Lantern Books, 2002) Copyright 2002 Charles Patterson Used with permission For more information about the book visit www.powerfulbook.com.

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Dr. Charles Patterson has a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University.
He is the author of:

Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond    Excerpt - Chapter One

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust    Excerpt from Chapter Three

From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall (co-author).

Read more about Dr. Charles Patterson


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