Ford Model T and the Age of Modernization

On this day in 1926, Henry and Edsel Ford roll the last production Model T off the line at the Highland Park assembly plant, the 15 millionth such automobile manufactured. Known as the Tin Lizzie, Leaping Lena, or flivver, Ford’s Model T was successful not only because it provided inexpensive transportation on a massive scale, but also because the car signified innovation for the rising middle class and became a powerful symbol of America’s age of modernization.

Henry Ford’s innovation of the full-chassis assembly line began churning Model T’s off at the Highland Park plant in 1913. As a result of these developments in method, Ford’s cars rolled in three-minute intervals, or six feet per minute, increasing production by eight times, and reducing the required 12.5 man-hours per-vehicle before, to 1 hour 33 minutes after.

Said Ford of his innovative conveyance, “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

Though ringing of the primitive today, materials used for production included cotton and wood for the transmission, kerosene for burning in the headlamps, and wooden-spoked artillery wheels at the four corners. All tolled, the flivver weighed some 1,200 pounds, with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, got 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and could travel up to 45 mph. Initially selling for around $850 (around $20,000 in today’s dollars), the Model T would later sell for as little as $260 (around $6,000 today) for the basic no-frills model.

The Ford Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century in the 1999 Car of the Century competition, ahead of the BMC Mini, Citroën DS, and Volkswagen Type 1. Additonally, it was the first automobile built by various countries simultaneously since they were being produced in Walkerville, Canada, and in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester, England, starting in 1911 and were later assembled in Germany, Argentina, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan, as well as several locations throughout the US.

With 16.5 million sold it stands eighth on the top ten list of most sold cars of all time as of 2012. Bringing such success, efficiency and value to market, we should do well this particular weekend to thankfully observe that Ford never did get to dine with that strange little Austrian man who became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933.

And here endeth the lesson.