The Ford Model T: The Universal Car
The first car made for the mass market was manufactured by Henry Ford—the Model T. The very first Ford Model T rolled off the production line on October 1, 1908 in Detroit, Michigan. The Model T was a low-cost, dependable car that was easy to drive and to maintain. It had a 20-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine and a three-point suspension that made for a smoother ride while negotiating the rough, unpaved roads of early automobile travel. Henry Ford said the Model T was “indispensable in recreation and commerce” and for this reason, he dubbed it “the universal car”. The Model T was available in nine body styles that were all placed on the same chassis. One of the many nicknames for the Model T was the “Tin Lizzie,” although it was actually constructed of a steel alloy, making it strong yet lightweight.
Henry Ford paved the way for the production of mass-produced cars by improving assembly line production methods. He added a conveyor system, whereby a car chassis was pulled along by a tow rope. Each worker had an assigned task along the line. Cars moved one after the other to each work station and each part of the assembly was done while the cars progressed through the line. Using this system, a Model T could be assembled in 90 minutes. The assembly line allowed Ford to make cars more quickly and more cheaply. When the Model T was first released, it carried a price tag of $850. The assembly line resulted in reduced production costs so Ford chose to pass the savings along to his customers. He later lowered his price to as low as $260 for the basic no-frills model.
Ford was responsible for additional innovations—like the $5 work day. He more than doubled the pay per day of his workers from $2.34 for nine hours to $5 for eight. The pay increase was a necessity due to the rapid turnover of his employees. Assembly lines were more efficient, but the workers were very unhappy with the repetitive work and were quitting soon after completing their training. Other manufacturers declared this would put Ford out of business due to the added operational expense. Rather, 10,000 people showed up the next day to apply for jobs and the rapid turnover declined considerably. Ford led all other car manufacturers in overall production, with fewer employees. With the increase in wages, the Ford plant workers could afford to purchase the cars they helped build.
I find it interesting that the first Ford Model T dealerships were set up in pre-existing buildings—not housed in glass and metal showrooms as I remember seeing them in the ’60s in ’70s. Early showrooms were small and usually had a gas pump out front, allowing customers to gaze upon the latest Ford models while they pumped their gas.
The Ford Model T was manufactured from 1908 until May of 1927 when the last one rolled out of the factory. Imagine 19 years with no modifications, compared to the model life of only a year for cars today! Henry Ford believed he had designed a car that would be the only automobile people would ever need—”the universal car”. The original slogan for the Model T was used on steel dealership signs throughout the years the car was produced. If you’d like your own, the original “The Universal Car” sign is available today as a reproduction in 20 gauge steel at Retroplanet.com in both 18-inch wide and 34-inch wide sizes. It’s a very cool way to celebrate a historic automobile and will look great displayed in your garage, man cave or workshop.