by Steve Shugg
In the mid 1940s, post World War II America was booming. America and the Allies had defeated fascism and Imperial Japan, and while we had lost a huge number of men in the war, times were good. The American manufacturing “arsenal of democracy” was transitioning from supplying the military to meeting the growing demand for consumer goods.
Women who had been working in the factories went home to start families and were replaced by the returning vets. Jobs were plentiful, a real housing boom was under way, and suburbs were springing up all over the country. New cars, which had not been available since 1942, were once again becoming available. New styles and new technologies were emerging every year and it was becoming real challenge for the car companies to keep up with the training needs.
Chrysler had almost 9,500 dealers around the country, and they employed almost 60,000 technicians. At the time Chrysler had only six training centers in the U.S., and there was no way they could keep up with the demand. Facing this huge challenge, W.B. Rice, the Director of Plymouth Service, developed the Master Technician Service Conference. The concept was simple: he and his team developed a process whereby every month they would send out a 20 minute filmstrip and a vinyl record. Both the audio (record) and video (filmstrip) trained technicians on basic automotive engineering principles and specific technical issues.
Rice knew he had a strong group of technicians, and his goal was to “make excellent mechanics out of good ones.” By training on automotive engineering principles, he was able to provide a sufficient background to enable technicians to diagnose and repair vehicles even if they had not seen a particular component before. Rice established a board of directors for the program, including both corporate folks and parts and service managers from dealers around the country to provide real life expertise and immediate feedback from those directly involved in using the program.
Each dealer used a Dukane filmstrip projector with a built in 33 RPM LP record player. The audio/visual components were augmented by printed reference materials — a booklet for each participant, poster sized diagrams, and instructor guides.
Each month all participants were required to view the filmstrip, read the reference material, and take an exam. Many ideas were taken from military practices that had proven effective during the war. The “tell, show and do” method presented an automotive service problem, followed by working through the service procedure on an actual vehicle.
When launched in September of 1946 it was the largest training initiative ever undertaken by any American business and was lauded by industry, education, and government alike. Master Tech was likened to a post-graduate curriculum for automotive service students on a scale that rivaled many universities. K.T. Keller’s “function over form” mandate and Chrysler’s focus on engineering meant many new features continued to stream out of Highland Park, requiring mechanics to stay up to date.
Rice felt that this training provide Chrysler with a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and Chrysler sales growth did outpace the competition. In 1950, sales hit 1.3 million. By 1956, MTSC was distributed in 70 countries, through high schools, trade schools, and unior colleges; over 225,000 mechanics were trained and 5.8 million reference books had been distributed. Now, mechanics learned about pushbutton Torqueflites, Hemi engines, fuel injection, torsion-bar suspension, power door locks, and the industry’s first cruise control (AutoPilot).
In the 1960s, color filmstrips supplanted black and white, and larger-format reference books were used. The Gold Tool Award (with gold-anodized tools not really meant to be used) was launched in 1962. Chrysler field personnel took an active role in meeetings as change continued unabated: unit-body construction, PCV systems, the Slant Six and Valiant, and more.
Starting in 1973, 8mm motion film cartridges replaced the filmstrips. Starting in 1970, emissions controls and demand for higher gas mileage brought a range of complex new topics for mechanics.
In 1978, the company switched to Betamax tapes, replacing both records and films; the cheaper and more common VHS system came in 1980. There were now just 36,000 technicians in 4,250 dealerships. MTSC was once again seen in schools, colleges, and government agencies, with fleets and independent shops becoming subscribers as well.
DVDs started in 2004, and was quickly replaced by Web-based training (started in 2007), which continues to this day.
In 1988, the Gold Tool award was a soldering gun kit, with two extra tips for a variety of soldering capabilities, and a cleaning tool/probe (it was a Sears Craftsmen 150/230 watt dual heating model made in Taiwan, model 113.540381).
Numerous MasterTech filmstrips and brochures have been digitized at the Imperial Owner’s Club, which points out that the service manuals sometimes assumed the mechanic had already seen the MasterTech guides. Their history of MasterTech covers some interesting facets of the program which are not covered here, including the fact that “Mr. Tech” (shown above and in many frames of the filmstrips) was a wooden puppet.
Thanks to Marc Rozman. Steve Shugg was the Director of Mopar Sales and Field Operations; this article is based on a talk he gave at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.
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