Reference Request

* required
Please succinctly provide us with any information pertinent to your inquiry. If you are writing to us about a research request, provide as much detail as possible about the collections in which you are interested (including collection numbers, box numbers, and folder titles).
(if known)

The Smithsonian Institution Archives is using Constant Contact, a third-party contact management software vendor, to manage contacts and send eNewsletters. Please be advised that Constant Contact's Privacy Statement and Terms and Conditions apply to your use of these services. The Smithsonian Institution Archives has access to your name and email address which is subject to our privacy statement.

Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Record Unit 9550

New United Motor Manufacturing Videohistory Collection, 1990

Repository:Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at
Title:New United Motor Manufacturing Videohistory Collection
Quantity:3 videotapes (Reference copies). 6 digital .wmv files and .rm files (Reference copies).
Collection:Record Unit 9550
Language of Materials:English

Peter Liebhold, National Museum of American History, conducted a videotaped tour of the NUMMI plant during which he interviewed seventeen workers and managers on their responses to changes in organization and labor relations. They explain job requirements and manufacturing processes, compare work at NUMMI with that of American management, and discuss conflicting pressures for quality control and productivity. Among those interviewed were Michael Danner, Public Relations Officer, Gary L. Convis, Senior Vice-President for Manufacturing and Engineering, and George Nano, the NUMMI United Auto Workers Bargaining Committee Chairman.

Historical Note

In an effort to regain some of their share of the domestic market for automobiles, in the 1980s American car manufacturers embarked on a variety of reforms of manufacturing processes and management techniques. In February 1983 General Motors (GM) Corporation entered into a joint venture with Toyota to produce automobiles using Japanese management techniques at a GM plant in Fremont, California. The plant was, at the time, the least productive in the GM system. The combined corporate effort, known as New United Motors Manufacturing, or NUMMI, opened for production in December 1984. Within five years the plant operated as efficiently as Japanese manufacturing facilities.

Top of Page


The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.

Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.

Top of Page

Descriptive Entry

Peter Liebhold, museum specialist in engineering and industry at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH), toured the NUMMI factory and its production lines to document the mechanical applications of Japanese managerial philosophy. Liebhold surveyed increases in automation, the "just-in-time" inventory system, assembly line quality control through kaizen, and the emphasis on teamwork which relied on multi-skilled workers cooperating with managers. These policies differed sharply from traditional American approaches to management and production.

Liebhold interviewed several employees throughout the plant for their responses to the organizational changes. Among those interviewed were Michael Damer, NUMMI's public relation officer, Gary L. Convis, the senior vice-president for manufacturing and engineering, and George Nano, the NUMMI United Auto Workers (UAW) bargaining committee chairman. The interviews took place in a single session, which was recorded on September 25 and 26, 1990 at the NUMMI plant.

This collection consists of one interview session, totalling approximately 6:00 hours of recordings and 109 pages of transcript.

Top of Page

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9550, New United Motor Manufacturing Videohistory Collection

Top of Page

Container List


Session 1: September 25-26, 1990


At the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California, Liebhold interviewed employees about management style and the process of automobile manufacturing at the plant, c. 1983-1990, including: Line operation improvements based on kaizen and suggestion procedures; quality control methods, including andon board; responsibilities of teams in production; task definition and assignment; differences between NUMMI and other manufacturers; elimination of job classifications; "just-in-time"inventory control; role of United Auto Workers (UAW) local union; attitudes of local UAW leadership; conflict between pressures for quality and production; physical stress on line workers; training workers to NUMMI philosophy; worker opinions of NUMMI methods; comparisons of NUMMI plant to former GM plant; kanban card for inventory control; andon board and problem resolution; job descriptions; and women's experiences in factory environment. Visual documentation included: Door panel stamping; die storage; quality information boards; downtime clocks and andon board; welding robots; work force in lunchroom; door construction and installation; refurbishment of welding tips; engine dress-up line; car-assembly manifest; kanban card for inventory control; Standardized Work Combination Table; problem resolution by team during line stoppage; exterior of NUMMI plant; group attendance chart; "Christine" seat installation robot; final assembly line work; spare tire robot; and molding and trim application.


Transcript, 1-109 pages, of videotaoe recording, 6 hours.


Video Recordings of Interview: Total Recording Time: 6 hours

Original Masters: 18 Beta videotapes
Preservation Masters: 18 Motion jpeg 2000 and 18 mpeg digital files
Dubbing Masters: 6 U-matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes, 6 Windows Media Video and 6 Real Media digital files