On This Day

model t, ford model t, 1908 model t, tin lizzie, ford flivver
Ford Motor Co./AP
The 1914 Ford Model T touring car is shown in this Ford Motor Co. handout. The 1914 model was the first version built on Henry Ford's moving assembly line.

On This Day: Ford Model T Unveiled

October 01, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 1, 1908, the Ford Model T was introduced to the public. The Model T, called the “car for the great multitude” by Henry Ford, made cars available to the average person, revolutionizing the automobile industry.

Building the Model T

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After two unsuccessful attempts to establish an automobile manufacturing company, Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The company, like other car manufacturers of the era, built each car individually, an inefficient process that produced complicated and expensive cars.

Ford, according to The Henry Ford museum, “had a vision to create a car that was simple, affordable, and versatile—a ‘car for the great multitude.’”

In 1906, he made a breakthrough when he learned about the characteristics of vanadium steel, which had more tensile strength and could be molded more easily than regular steel. “This demonstration of vanadium steel was the deciding point for him to begin the experimental work that resulted in Model T,” recalled Ford employee Charles Sorensen.

Plans for the Model T were announced in March 1908, and the first car was released to the public on Oct. 1 at the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit. The car had a four-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine, 10-gallon gas tank and room for five people. It weighed 1,200 pounds and cost just $850.

The Assembly Line and the Success of the Model T

The Model T, nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie” and the “Flivver,” was sturdy, lightweight and easy to use, but its price was still out of reach for the average American. Seeking to make production more efficient, Ford and his team “found four principles that would further their goal: interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and reducing wasted effort,” according to PBS.

Over the next five years, they would perfect the assembly line, unveiling the first moving assembly line in 1913. The moving assembly line allowed the Ford Company to build cars more quickly and cheaply, revolutionizing automobile production. Ford could sell Model T cars that were within the means of the average person, including Ford workers, who had their wages nearly doubled to $5 in 1914.

The Ford Company developed into the world’s largest automobile manufacturer as it produced more than 15 million Model T cars between 1908 and 1927.

Background: Ford’s First Automobile

The first gas-powered car in America was built either in 1893 by Charles and Frank Duryea, or in 1894 by Elwood Haynes. Haynes’ “Pioneer” car inspired many others to attempt to build their own models, including Henry Ford.

Ford, an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, had an interest in internal combustion engines. He built a one-cylinder gasoline engine and placed it in a vehicle, which was “essentially a frame fitted with four bicycle wheels,” explains the Ford Company.

Calling it the “Quadricycle,” Ford took it for a test drive on June 4, 1896, driving it for several blocks before it shut down. Ford continued developing the Quadricycle and founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, beginning his career as an automobile entrepreneur.
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