Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9550
New United Motor Manufacturing Videohistory Collection, 1990
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.
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.
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.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Liebhold, Peter, interviewer
- Convis, Gary L.
- Danner, Michael
- Nano, George
- Toyota Jidōsha Kabushiki Kaisha
- New United Motor Manufacturing
- General Motors Corporation
- International Union, United Automobile Workers of America (CIO)
- Science -- History
- Industrial management -- United States
- Industrial management -- Employee participation
- Manufacturing processes
- Industrial productivity
- Industrial efficiency
- Automobile factories
- Technology -- History
- Oral history
- Industrial management -- Japan
- Fremont (Calif.)
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9550, New United Motor Manufacturing Videohistory Collection