Henry Ford and the Model T

United States
December 3, 2006 7:19pm CST
Henry Ford & The Model T In ASME’s retrospective anniversary article on the Model T, the reader has the benefit of past experience, and historical perspective. In this particular article, the Model T is addressed, but also commented on are the vast repercussions of its installment into the mainstream, which haven’t merely affected our world, but instead shaped it. The Model T itself was “the foundation of the 20th century”. Those who look back may discredit the inventors and brilliant minds responsible for the Model T’s conception and introduction, in favor of a belief that the American consumer was hungry for innovation and therefore immediately swallowed up the Model T, but such prejudice is a pitfall of historical perspective. The model T is far from unknown; even the present-day middle-school student has very likely heard of Henry Ford and the Model T. Most often referred to together, rather than separately, and always vaguely described as the man and machine which changed the course of history and human innovation as we know it. Beneath the vague explanations and entitlements of Mr. Ford and his automobile, however, lies the reality of an innovative man who introduced market concepts, and manufacturing methods which to this day are still the backbone of our market economy and international production capabilities. When it was unveiled to the public the Model T was regarded as an engineering marvel, and the horseless carriage presented itself as stylish, offering attractive interchangeable parts, and affordable. When unveiled the Model T cost just $850, which was a remarkably diminished sum for such a purchase, the asking price being only a modest $30 higher than the average households annual income. In subsequent years Henry Ford would spread the concepts of factories and development work which we could call “nearly modern”. In 1913 Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, and with it had fractionalized the production time of the typical automobile, and built further upon the ease-of-use of the mass assembled Model Ts- cutting their price down to only $550. Over time, as the result of economic demand, public pressure, and popularization of revolutionary new industrial methods, the Model T of 1927 cost only $380. In 1914, the assembly process sped up production so fast that it took a mere 93 minutes to assemble one Model T compared to the only 19 Model T’s were assembled in all of 1908. The article underscores the impact of such a change, in a way that makes it possible for the retrospective individual to appreciate how unheard of such a drastic change really was. Technology, which today updates and upgrades society every two years or so, had made its first appearance, and thrust Henry Ford boldly into the 20th century. Despite that, the Model T never went through any large technological changes during the whole nineteen years of its manufacture. The Ford Company revolutionized America. It influenced the development of the interstates, highways and roads allowing Americans to stay in contact and travel place to place easier than before. For the first time they could visit people and travel as they pleased, on their own accord without having to take a train or a long, excruciating carriage ride. Many people barely knew what to expect outside of their own hometown, the commonality of the automobile into the 1930s necessitated the development of a brand new infrastructure stronger than the dirt paths which had previously connected the country, and different from the railroads with ran like veins of lifeblood across the country’s body. Along with pavement came other developments and industries such as pavers, highway contractors, fast food joints, diners, gas stations, recreational radio, pitt stops, tourist traps, and untold hundreds of more jobs and commercial opportunities. Before long a large facet of the American economy would depend not only on the automobile itself, like the production and repair industries, but on the travel of people who owned the automobiles. One, at least of my generation, is reminded of the advertisements for highway driving and the do-it-yourself vacations from the 50’s, as well as the highway driving Goofy cartoons from Disney. The automobile has become so well installed in our society, that earning the ability to drive one has become a symbol of coming of age in American culture. If we look at society today we will see that we would not be able to exist without vehicles. School busses drive children to school, dumpsters pick up our trash, food is brought to restaurants and grocery stores in semis and we are constantly using our cars to drive anywhere and everywhere. Even if it’s only five minutes down the road, we drive there. For the vast majority of people, life without our postmodern conveniences such as immediately available automobiles and transport, air conditioning, and AM/FM/XM radio is inconceivable. The idea of living without those industrial innovations popularized by Henry Ford is likewise beyond the grasp of most people. We live in a market economy of consumers, who demand cheaply and mass produced goods- bread by the ton, shirts by the bushel, a gross of skirts, and a dozen shoes all on our credit cards, we are reaping the fruits of Henry Ford’s concept. Model T’s were produced and released until 1927. There was a decrease in sales when other companies started coming out with more appeasing vehicles and minimum wage had risen causing people to be able to spend money on other vehicles. Instead of buying the Model T only because they could afford it, they had their choices with other companies and brands of cars. The market was now completely open and free to most consumers of America. The impact of the Model T should be obvious. Our automobiles today may not be affordable to the middle class if it wasn’t for the Model T. When it first came out the T was $850.00 while competing cars cost around $2000-3000. That’s a huge jump in socioeconomic classes and it’s hard to believe that something we take for granted today was such a luxury a hundred years ago.
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