History of the Ford Model T Automobile Part 2

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


THE FORD MODEL T (1908-1928)

In the early 1920s he was a national hero, and despite losing a Michigan Senate race, he considered running for president. A poll of 258,000 Americans by Collier's Weekly in 1923 showed that Ford would defeat Pres. Warren G. Harding by 37,800 votes. Then Harding died on Aug. 2, 1923, and Calvin Coolidge ascended to the presidency, erasing much of the scandal which had dogged the Harding regime. Ford dropped out of the race.

Privately, the auto maker was a contradictory man. He was an avowed pacifist who sponsored a peace ship to Europe in 1915 to talk world leaders into ending the war, yet he made millions in war profits during both world wars. He was a rabid anti-Semite, a philanthropist, a prohibitionist, and a food faddist. He professed to scorn history, yet left behind Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Mich., so future generations of children could see how people lived in preindustrial America.

Ford's refusal to improve the Model T eventually doomed the Tin Lizzie. In 1909 he proclaimed that there would be "no new models, no new motors, no new bodies, and no new colors." He stuck to his guns for 18 years, despite some obvious shortcomings of the car--like the door on the driver's side of the touring car, which did not open but had to be vaulted, and the headlights that faded at low speeds, which forced drivers to stop and rev their motors to see what lay ahead on a dark night. Worst of all, in order to see how much gas he had left, a driver had to empty the front seat, lift the cushion up, and stick a ruler into the gas tank.

Ford's stubbornness became a national joke. During Ford's flirtation with the presidency, Will Rogers quipped that the auto manufacturer's campaign slogan would be "Voters, if I'm elected, I'll change the front."

By the late 1920s, Americans preferred style and comfort to durability, and the Model T faded from the scene. But the flivver was remembered affectionately by millions of Americans; for many of them, it was their very first car. Mrs. Sinclair Lewis insisted that the thrill her husband received from winning the Nobel Prize was no greater than that he received the day he drove his new Model T up in front of her house and called out, "How about a little ride?"

Other celebrities like Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and even Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, also drove the Model T, but the Tin Lizzie is somehow associated, not with rich or celebrated people, but with the millions of plain folk who drove it, tinkered over its engine for hours, and loved it.

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