History of the Ford Model T
– By Pioneer Auto Museum
Named the most influential car of the 20th century, the Ford Model T made its rightful place in history by becoming the first automobile accessible to the growing middle class in the early 1900’s. Envisioning a car “so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one,” Henry Ford enlisted the help of Childe Harold Wills and Hungarian immigrants Joseph A. Galamb and Eugene Farkas to help design the car in 1908. The result allowed working class families to enjoy the convenience of automobiles, something that was only available to the wealthy up to that point.
Also known as Tin Lizzie, Leaping Lena and flivver, the Model T was first produced in August of 1908 and introduced to the public in September of that year. As the first car by Ford that was marketed to the middle class, the Model T’s affordability caused 15,000 orders to be put in for it within days of its release. In fact, the popularity of the model during its production between 1908 and 1927 caused the sales of the car to comprise 40% of total car sales in the United States.
What made the low price tag possible was Ford’s production method, as they began using assembly lines instead of crafting each car individually. The time it took to produce the car with an assembly line was a mere 93 minutes, compared to the 12 ½ hours that hand crafting resulted in. This enabled the price to be lowered throughout its production, with it reaching a low of $300 in 1925.
The cost of the Model T wasn’t the only thing that was modest – its components and design were also humble. The automobile offered what would have been known at the time as three speeds, although by current standards it would be two speeds since one of the speeds was reverse. Comprised of a 20 horsepower engine that was started by a hand crank, the car reached top speeds of 40-45 mph. The hand crank was eventually replaced with battery-powered starters by 1920. And although consumers originally had their choice of a few colors in the model, for most of the years spanning the car’s production, only one color was available – black.
Not only did the Model T allow the middle class a convenient mode of transportation, but it also served other needs for blue collar workers throughout communities. Conversion kits were available to turn the cars into tractors in the days before John Deere and other top tractor-producing companies. Those that delivered mail in rural communities at the time often added kits to the rear wheels of the car and replaced the front wheels with skis so it could better travel in thick snow.
Model Ts were not only popular in the United States; the automobile also became the first car that officially went global. The model was the first to be produced in multiple countries simultaneously, with factories cranking them out in far away destinations such as Japan, Spain and Denmark.
Although assembly of the cars stopped in 1927, the Model T still remains on top ten lists of best-selling cars of all time. Cementing its place in history as the first car affordable to the masses, the Ford Model T signifies how technological advancement has made the American Dream a more achievable reality for the millions in America’s middle class.
Make a stop into the world famous Pioneer Auto Show to see this historical car in person!