A Lean Walk Through History [link broken, so it was removed] by Jim Womack
author of Lean Thinking Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, 2003 and The Machine That Changed the World The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos, 1991.
By 1765, French general Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval had grasped the significance of standardized designs and interchangeable parts to facilitate battlefield repairs. (Actually doing this cost-effectively in practice was another matter and required another 125 years.)
By 1807 Marc Brunel in England had devised equipment for making simple wooden items like rope blocks for the Royal Navy using 22 kinds of machines that produced identical items in process sequence one at a time.
By 1822 Thomas Blanchard at the Springfield Armory in the U.S. had devised a set of 14 machines and laid them out in a cellular arrangement that made it possible to make more complex shapes like gunstocks for rifles. A block of wood was placed in the first machine, the lever was thrown, and the water-powered machine automatically removed some of the wood using a profile tracer on a reference piece.