Cars

Throwback Thursday: Ford Model T

In the history of cars, the Ford Model T is iconic. When it rolled out onto the streets in 1908, it shared the roads with horses, carriages, bicycles, steam-powered cars, and electric cars. But the Model T was the first affordable car, a car for the masses. For that, it made history, and those streets and industrial manufacturing have not been the same.  

1925 Ford Model T pickup
1925 Ford Model T pickup | RM Sotheby’s

Affordability

Henry Ford moved the automotive industry forward by providing vehicles at a price point that was affordable enough for farmers. As he saw it, there was no need for the automobile to be reserved for the rich. He wanted the average American to understand the freedom it represented and create the perceived need to own one.

Henry Ford only had a fifth or sixth-grade education. But he quit school to go work at a machine shop until he was sixteen years old. Later, he was introduced to Thomas Edison, whom he discussed his engine ideas with. Edison encouraged him to pursue those ideas. He eventually built a motorized Quadcycle for himself. With that, Ford would be inspired to experiment further.

The breakthrough

Eventually, Ford would come up with the Model T and innovate mass manufacturing and assembly line techniques that revolutionized manufacturing. That new production process would allow him to make 2.1 million Model Ts per year. In an environment where many other manufacturers were hand-making vehicles to order, Ford’s production speed was phenomenal, producing a car in just 2.3 minutes. 

The Model T life-cycle

The Ford Model T would be introduced to the public at under $900, while Cadillacs at the time were selling for $1,700. As production ramped, over the years, the price of the Model T would drop to under $400. The Model T would go on to be produced for about twenty years. Fifteen million copies would be made over its lifetime.

It had an inline-four that made a mighty twenty horsepower. The car could reach speeds upwards (barely) of 40 mph. Although the vehicle achieved about twenty miles per gallon, there was no gas gauge, so the fuel level was guesstimated by the driver. 

The Model T became so popular at one point that a majority of Americans owned one. Americans became more connected than ever with Ford’s vehicle bringing them from rural locations to the city and back. Its success would lead to a movement to develop the American highway system.

The iconic Ford Model T changed the automotive and manufacturing industry. The affordable car for the masses brought freedom and connectivity from farmlands to city centers, to the average household in America. Since it was so influential, its place in history will forever be cemented. Indeed, the story of the automobile as a whole can not be told without the influence of the Model T.