JF Ptak Science Books Pot 1929
The history of people forming lines to perform a task is an integral part of the general History of Lines. Certainly this sort of activity has been a prevalent feature of the human experience, whether it was done for commercial gain, or for construction, or betterment of the social cauldron, or in work, or whether the workers were compensated in some way or were enslaved--the idea of collective and enforced lining-up-for-a-task is about as old as humanity.
It would be interesting to know what the percentage of those lines were "happy" or "satisfied". Say in the 10x1023 lines that have been formed over the last 10,000 years that 9% of them were constituted by people who enjoyed being there. Offhand I'd say that this would be a very liberal estimate.
I wonder how long these lines in the modern times would stretch? My guess is that the line formed for construction of food or agriculture or whatever else could be thought of would not be nearly so long as those lines formed for killing. Or defence. That said, it is easy to picture long lines of Prussian Blue set up against British Red, or the Blue stacked up against the Butternut, the long lines making their way over 3/4 mile of open field to a small stone fence at the top of Cemetery Ridge--harder to imagine those front lines being ripped apart by supersonic pieces of lead, and to have the line keep moving forward, the casualty-breaks to it plugged up by the lines of red or blue or gray moving in unison behind the first line. It seems impossible to imagine "British Grenadiers" playing in your head while marching slowly towards another line in front of you, kneeling, and firing into you, trying to break your line, magnificent and completely insane.
But getting back to line length question--this is tricky, but if you were to consider that during WWI that some 10-15,000 miles of trenches were constructed and that, say, a thousand miles of trenches were in use at any one time post-1916, and that those trenches were filled with soldiers, then perhaps those would be the longest human lines. They were humans in lines in ditches, trying to not get killed and then trying to kill the other side in a simple equation of one line fighting the other.
There were also very long lines of advancing troops, armies on the move with men and countless supplies, enormous numbers of soldiers and warriors, the fighters for Zululand or the infantry of Napoleon, almost all getting smaller and smaller as time and war wore them down. (A very famous line by the statistician Charles Joseph Minard shows the devastating effect of time/weather on Napoleon's army to and from Moscow, the thinness of the final line segment showing death and destruction.)
There is another sort of long line that appears in the 20th century that matches up with lines quite similar to it that had appeared somewhat earlier, though under different circumstances. The story of this line--the production line--is one of a limited line segment of human beings put to work on a basically-infinite line of repetitive work. The production line began to appear in rudimentary form in the making of the needles in the 18th century, and then more effectively in musket manufacturing in the late 1850's and through the Civil War, and in the McCormick reaper works in the 1860's, and then far more famously and with greater effect in the making of the Singer sewing machine (in the 1870's/early 1880's). The process was revolutionized by Henry Ford in the 1911-1916 period, when his production lines of relatively-still automaton workers and their moving work increased the production numbers of the Model T from 53,000 (and $690/car) to 585,000 ($360/car) in just six years.
The idea made Ford into a king of sorts, heroic and iconic, and to his detriment he believed these things of himself as well. It took a decade and a half for the most popular culture response to make a vt appearance in regards to Fordism and the development of mechanization and mass production to things beyond consumables like cars and rifles and bikes and sewing machines, and the picture wasn't a very pretty one. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was perhaps the most chilling of these assessments, though the more popular reactions like Rene Clair (in his movie A nous la liberte, 1931) and Charlie Chaplin (Modern Times, 1936) were less abrasive in their endings, though the visual imagery of the workhouse is what stayed with people.
Clair and Chaplin both presented the new work environment in light of an old one--the old one being the prison work system. Clair especially showed the great similarities between the two--the marching to work stations, the silence, the overseer, the matching uniforms, the very controlled motions of the worker, the non-lunch period, and so on. Chaplin did this too, making these connections through laughter that may have led to realization that the laughed-at stuff wasn't all that laughable. Its the imagery of these movies that made them important, I think; much more so than their endings, which produced happy/whistling/victorious workers.
You can't spell "numbers" without "numb".