In 2008, America will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the car that made automotive transportation a part of everyday life – Henry Ford’s Model T.
The Model T wasn’t the first automobile….or even Henry Ford’s first creation. However, it was the first automobile that was easily affordable. Its creation helped “put America on wheels,” and created much of the American auto industry as we know it.
Ford was an early believer in the potential of automobiles, but suffered several setbacks in his efforts to form his own automobile manufacturing company. He was finally able to establish the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with himself as vice-president and chief engineer.
At first, Ford’s progress proved slow. His men were only able to turn out two or three cars a day, because they had to order certain components from other companies and work on individual cars as the parts became available.
That’s when Ford hit onto an idea that would change the world – mass production. He became determined that every aspect of every car would be produced in-house, with as little reliance on outside sources as possible.
Ford’s dream of expansion might have sounded crazy at the time – but it worked. In October 1, 1908, his company unveiled the Model T Ford – the first automobile that was easy to operate and affordably priced. The Model boasted a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that could reach up to 45 miles per hour. Its mileage was about 13 to 21 miles per gallon, and the whole thing weighed 1,200 pounds.
There weren’t many variations on the Model T – it boasted nine body types, all with the same chassis. Some individuals have claimed that Ford once said, “It can be any color, as long as it’s black,” though this has never been formally proven.
Even with the lack of variety, Ford’s mass-production model allowed for advantages he passed on to the customers. The initial Model T cost $850, though later on, their cost went as low as $260, because of the lowered production costs.
In addition, Ford’s determination to do everything in-house resulted in a $5-a-day wage for his employees, nearly double what other automobile companies offered. It also led to the creation of the world’s largest industrial complex in Dearborn, Michigan, which helped establish that state as one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers.
America couldn’t get enough of what Ford called “the universal car.” Ten years after its premiere, nearly half of all Americans owned a Model T. Over the course of its 19-year history, 15 million Model T Fords would be manufactured, the longest production of any car until the Volkswagen Beetle.
Though the Model T has been gone for decades, it’s still remembered as the car in the history of automobiles. In 1999, the Model T was declared “The Car of the Century” by a group of more than 100 automotive experts from 32 countries. Its legacy lives on in the millions of Ford automobiles still driven every day – and, of course, in the fact that cars caught on in the first place. Here’s to you at 100, Model T!