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
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 Henry Ford museum provides photographs of the Model T, as well as advertising and sales literature explaining the features of the car.
The Assembly Line and the Success of the Model T
Sources in this Story
- The Henry Ford: The Life of Henry Ford
- The Henry Ford: Model T Centennial
- EyeWitness to History: Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908
- PBS: Ford installs first moving assembly line
- Ford Company: Henry Ford’s First Working Automobile: the Quadricycle
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
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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.