History of the Ford Model T Automobile Part 1

About the history of the Model T automobile and the biography of its inventor Henry Ford.

BIOGRAPHIES OF WONDERFUL AND TERRIBLE AUTOMOBILES

THE FORD MODEL T (1908-1928)

An ungainly, fragile-looking automobile that detractors nicknamed the Tin Lizzie, it was an unlikely candidate for the most popular American car ever made. But Henry Ford sold 15.8 million Model T's between 1908 and 1928, a record that was not broken until an equally plain and dependable little car, the Volkswagen Beetle, came along.

The Model T was introduced in 1908 at a cost of $850. It offered a 20-hp motor, a revolutionary planetary transmission, the first fully enclosed motor and transmission, an improved ignition system, and a high-riding body with four sturdy wheels. It was an immediate best-seller, not only because of its low price (there were other inexpensive cars on the market) but because it offered the power, dependability, and simplicity of design to make it practical for the average American. It offered transportation, not just amusement.

The Tin Lizzie opened the vast rural and small-town market, previously hostile to the automobile. In 1908, half the people in the country lived on farms or in towns of less than 2,500 people. To farmers enjoying a period of prosperity, Henry Ford, a farm boy from Dearborn, Mich., offered an automobile that could outper-form a team of horses and that was so simple in design that anyone with elementary mechanical know-how could repair it. You could drive it almost anywhere--across streambeds, up steps, or down the rutted cow paths that served as roads in rural America in the early 1900s. You could count on a Model T. As a popular joke expressed it, there was a Model T owner who asked to be buried with his Tin Lizzie. When friends asked why, he replied, "Oh, because the darned thing pulled me out of every hole I ever got into, and it ought to pull me out of this one."

Henry Ford was not the inventor of the Model T; it was developed by a team of engineers at his Ford Motor Company plant. But his genius was responsible for bringing together brilliant men and encouraging them to develop innovations like the moving assembly line and branch assembly plants, superior one-piece casting of parts, and the use of new lightweight materials like vanadium steel. His economic philosophy was to cut costs by building only one model and by developing creative new production techniques. Ford passed on the savings to the consumer in lower prices, which boosted sales. Then he improved production efficiency still further, produced more cars for less money, and lowered the price again. In 1923 Americans bought as many Tin Lizzies as all other makes of cars combined, and the next year the Model T hit its all-time low price:$290.

Americans worshiped Henry Ford as the businessman who passed on his profits to the buyer (through lower prices) and to the worker (by doubling his employees' wages to $5 a day in 1914) and who upheld the old rural values of honesty, thrift, and hard work. Ford gained even more admirers when he told Americans: "I am going to democratize the automobile, and when I'm through, everybody will be able to afford one and about everybody will have one." By the time he died in 1947, he had fulfilled his promise.

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