“I’m going to democratize the automobile,” Henry Ford said in 1909. “When I’m through, everybody will be able to afford one, and about everybody will have one.”
Let me tell you that seldom was a prophecy so accurately fulfilled.
In fact, Henry Ford achieved more than he was aiming for because he was undoubtedly after profit, but his car – practical, affordable, durable, versatile and easy to maintain, if admittedly not very charming in terms of design – was going to change the way people lived in America forever.
Produced from 1908 to 1927, this car was offered in several body styles, including five-seat touring car, two-set runabout and seven-seat town car. There were also Model T pick-ups and Model T ambulances. All bodies were mounted on the same 100-inch-wheelbase chassis. Besides, rationalize components and assembling procedures was at the base of Ford’s business philosophy.
The engine was simple and efficient, generating 20 horsepower, which propelled the car to a modest speed of 40-45 miles per hour (65-70 Km/h). In most models, the engine was started by a hand crank, which activated a magneto connected to a flywheel, but after 1920 some models were equipped with a battery-power starter.
A choice of colours was originally available, but from 1913 to 1925, the car was mass-produced in only one colour: black, the cheapest of all paints.
Over thirty different types of black paint were used to paint the various parts of the Model T, formulated to satisfy the different means of applying the paint to the different parts and the different drying times.
Ignoring conventional wisdom, Ford continually sacrificed profit to increase sales. This meant he earned less on the single-car, but by slashing the price from $220 in 1909 to $ 99 in 1914, the sales skyrocketed. By the mid-Twenties, really a majority of Americans owned a car, and a majority of those cars were Model Ts.
It was a genuine revolution. Car owners could move faster and farther, they could afford to work away from where they lived, which means they could move out of the city centres and into new, more modern residential suburbs. They could also afford quick trips with all their family, especially on weekends. Young people not only owned a car, they also owned a private place, away from the family, where they could indulge in new activities, like petting and necking.
This mass ownership and use of the car generated more jobs, petrol stations and motels sprung up alongside newly paved streets. Moving around became faster and more comfortable, and life rhythms and expectations changed with it.
But by 1927, the Model T was so obsolete and out of fashion, it could no longer compete with the newer, more modern cars. The production was finally terminated that same year.
History – The Model T
Model T – A short history of Ford’s innovation
Wiley – Henry Ford and the Model T
ListVerse – 10 Interesting Facts You Never Knew About The Ford Model T
YouTube – How Henry Ford’s Engineering Genius Drove an Industrial Revolution
YouTube – Mitch Taylor. My 1925 Ford Model T
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002