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The Ford Model T

A Short History of Ford's Innovation

  Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line. He did, however, change the world by using an assembly line technique to produce cars which could be afforded by everyone. From 1909 to 1927, the Ford Motor Company built more than 15 million Model T cars. Without a doubt, Henry Ford transformed the economic and social fabric of the 20th century.

  Ford is often quoted as saying "I will build a motorcar for the great multitude". At the time it was a revolutionary business model to lower a product's cost and the company's profit margin in exchange for increased sales volume. Up until this point in time the automobile had been a status symbol and cars were painstakingly built by hand for the wealthy. By the end of 1913 Ford's application of the moving assembly line had improved the speed of chassis assembly from 12 hours and eight minutes to one hour and 33 minutes. In 1914 Ford produced 308,162 cars, which was more than all 299 other auto manufacturers combined. By the time the last Model T was built in 1927, the company was producing an automobile every 24 seconds.

  The first production1911 Canadian Model T
Model T Ford (1909 model year) was assembled at the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on October 1, 1908. Over the next 19 years relatively few changes were made to the basic design. By 1926 the design was so antiquated that the cars could not compete with more modern designs from companies like Chevrolet. 1927 was the last year for Henry's lady, the "Universal Car".

  In 1906, Ford secretly set up a place to build his cars in a building on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. Ford spent nearly two years designing the Model T, building on knowledge gained from the production of earlier cars, like his Ford Model N.

  While Henry Ford and his team were planning for his new car, he attended a race in Florida where he examined the wreckage of French race car. He observed that it was made of a different kind of steel and the car parts were lighter than those he had been previously seen. He learned that this new steel was a vanadium alloy and that it had almost three times the tensile strength of the alloys used by his contemporary American auto makers. No one in America knew how to make vanadium steel so Ford financed and set up a steel mill. As a result, the only cars in the world to utilize vanadium steel over the next five years would be French luxury cars and the Ford Model T. Ford's use of vanadium steel explains why so many Model T Fords have survived today.

  Henry's car changed the world forever. In 1909, for $825, a Model T customer could buy a reliable automobile that was fairly easy to drive. Ford sold over ten thousand Model T cars in the first year of production, a new record for any automobile model.

  Ford applied the moving assembly line concept to his production facility late in 1913. His staff constantly monitored productive and relentlessly analyzed the statistical measures to optimize worker productivity. Over the years, Model T Fords came in many different models, all built with the essentially same engine and chassis: the Model T roadster, coupe, coupelet, runabout, roadster torpedo, town car, touring, and the fordor and tudor sedans.

  No one really knows if Henry Ford ever said that the buying public could have Model T Fords "in any color, so long as it's black", but it is commonly attributed to him. While this saying is true for the model years after 1913, earlier cars were available in green, red, blue and grey. In fact, in the first year, Model T Fords were not available in black at all. The switch to all black cars was likely due to Ford's optimization of the assembly line and to reduce the time lost waiting for the various paints to dry. In 1926 colors other than black were once again offered, in an attempt to boost sales.

Learning To Drive A Model T Ford

  It is a challenge to learn to drive a Model T Ford well, especiallyModel T Ford Pedals
Model T Ford Pedals in today's traffic. Model T's don't accelerate or brake quickly. The brakes function using bands which constrict the transmission, unlike a modern car which uses brake calipers attached directly to the wheels. They don't handle very well by today's standards although they navigate dirt roads and washboard like nothing else. In fact, this is the road surface for which they were designed.

  There are three pedals on the floor, two levers on the steering column, and one floor lever to the left of the driver. The floor lever is neutral while in the upright position, second gear when in the forward position while the leftmost pedal is not depressed, and emergency brake when all the way back

.   The leftmost pedal is first gear while depressed, second gear if the floor lever is forward when released. The middle pedal is reverse gear and the rightmost pedal is the brake. The right lever on the steering column is the gas, and the other lever is the spark advance. Confused? Once you drive for a month or so, it gets easy, but the controls are far from orthogonal. If you get into trouble, you can just stomp on all three pedals and that will stop you pretty quick. Doing this causes the bands in the transmission to lock up the drive train. The best thing to remember while driving is to plan ahead.

Model T Facts

  • The Model T was introduced on Oct. 1, 1908. It had a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, reached a top speed of about 45 miles per hour, got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and weighed 1,200 pounds. It was the ninth of Henry Ford's production cars.
  • More than 15,000,000 Model T's were built and sold. A modest ceremony on May 26, 1927, marked the formal end of Model T production.
  • The first models were produced at a factory on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. Beginning in 1910, Model T's were built at a new Highland Park (Michigan) plant.
  • Henry Ford's initiation of mass production of vehicles on the moving assembly line led to lower car prices and the $5 workday.
  • The car was introduced with a price tag of $850. The Model T later sold for as little as $260, without extras, because of production savings Henry Ford passed on to customers.
  • Henry Ford called the Model T "the universal car," a low-cost, reliable vehicle that could be maintained easily and could successfully travel the poor roads of the era.
  • The Model T came in nine body styles, all on the same chassis.
  • "Lizzie" was one of the most popular of the dozens of nicknames for the Model T.
  • In 1914, Ford, with 13,000 employees, produced about 300,000 cars while 299 other companies with 66,350 employees produced about 280,000 vehicles.

Model T Distinctions

  • The Model T was the first low-priced, mass-produced automobile with standard, interchangeable parts.
  • The moving assembly line for the Model T revolutionized manufacturing in 1913.
  • The Model T popularized the left-side steering column.
  • The engine design, a single block with a removable cylinder head, became the industry standard.
  • The Model T's agile planetary transmission enabled novices to operate the gears, and was a forerunner of modern automatic transmission designs.
  • Vanadium steel, an alloy manufactured for the company at the direction of Henry Ford, gave the car great strength and durability without extra weight.
  • Breakthroughs included magneto ignition (a flywheel with magnets and stationary coils) and centralized lubrication.
  • Three-point suspension allowed the car to navigate the mostly primitive roads of the day.
  • The Model T inspired many accessories, ranging from gasoline gauges to kits for creating early versions of snowmobiles, and helped spur the growth of the supplier industry.
  • In 1912, Ford Motor Company launched its market research by surveying customers on why they bought their Model T's.

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Official Site Developed & Maintained By Gary Bostick, UAW Local #387 Network Administrator & Retiree Member.

Revised: Thursday, 26-Jan-2012 8:19 PM  EDT
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