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It’s no coincidence that the dictatorial head of Electro Steel Corp. in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times strikes an uncanny resemblance to Henry Ford. The classic silent comedy from 1936 not only tells us about the state of Depression-era labor standards and the pitfalls of unfettered capitalism. It al...

It’s no coincidence that the dictatorial head of Electro Steel Corp. in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times strikes an uncanny resemblance to Henry Ford. The classic silent comedy from 1936 not only tells us about the state of Depression-era labor standards and the pitfalls of unfettered capitalism. It also reveals the unforgiving realities of working on the moving assembly line, one of the most transformative innovations in modern history. The film was inspired by Chaplin’s real-life rendezvous with the legendary factory boss in October 1923 at the Ford Motor Company in Highland Park, Michigan. During his visit, Chaplin learned that young men were plucked from neighboring farms and hired to work on Ford’s factory floor. As depicted in the film, many of these men succumbed to nervous breakdowns, a typical symptom of the breakneck tempo of both the assembly line and the industrial age.

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