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Ford Model T

The year 1908 was full of many firsts for the United States. A few on the long list include:

  • Times Square in New York City dropping a giant decorated ball to represent the start of the New Year.
  • The establishment of The Converse Rubber Shoe Company
  • Harvard University taking a vote to establish the Harvard Business School
  • Mother’s Day being recognized at a Methodist charge in Grafton, West Virginia
  • Henry Ford producing his first Model T

The Immense Impact of the Model T

Many historians concur that Ford’s Model T was the most noteworthy automobile achievement in the history of the car industry. Initially built strictly as a touring car, other body types and styles were introduced a few months after its launch. Focused on function, the car was considered by many not to be very aesthetically pleasing. It was certainly was not designed to win any races.

However, the four-cylinder engine with its 22 horsepower could push the car to a top speed of 40 miles per hour, which was quite sufficient for the mostly unpaved roads of the period. The gas tank rested under the front seat and fuel was pushed to the engine by nothing more than gravity. No fuel pumps were used.

The car used a planetary transmission with only two gears that the driver shifted with foot pedals. Nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie”, the Model T was, by far, responsible for putting America behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. The world soon followed. With sales of the Model T as the foundation, Ford’s annual production of automobiles increased from 10,000 cars in 1908 to almost two million by 1923. One of the most impressive feats was Ford producing more cars by 1913 than all of the nation’s automakers combined.

Other Features of the Model T

What was the reason for the success of the Ford Model T? The concept was simple. The car was tough and inexpensive, but it was not built as a cheap automobile. Also, the car was revolutionary for the period. For example, most manufacturers of the era cast their automotive engines singularly or in pairs. The engine of the Model T was cast en bloc. It used an internal-combustion piston system where some of the primary parts, such as the cylinder block and crankcase, were molded as a single unit instead of being assembled later. Additionally, the cylinder head could be removed, which was a technological innovation of the time.

Though considered primitive by today’s standards, the initial versions of the Model T were ground-breaking. Early on, someone had to crank the car to start the engine. But if a person forgot about spark retardation (slowing down the time required for the chemical reactions in the engine), then the crank could rotate when the engine started and break a person’s arm. This happened quite often. In 1919, an electric starter was offered as an optional piece of equipment that added approximately $75 to the price tag. Initially selling for $825, the price dropped as output increased.

In 1913, Ford production topped 200,000 cars sold. The decision was made to stop using conveyor belts to bring parts to the assembly location. Henry Ford chose to utilize a moving assembly line that used a winch. By the end of the same year, his team of manufacturers could assemble a car in a little over 90 minutes. Most of Ford’s competition took days.

The Demise of the Model T

The Model T was expected to be produced indefinitely, but its success was also its downfall. By 1924, 10 million had been built. The market was saturated and a new car needed to be developed for Ford to remain competitive. The time had come for something new.

By the mid-1920s, Chevrolet had entered the game and could be purchased for $150 more. Though a lot of money at the time, a new Chevy was equipped with a three-speed transmission. Additionally, it was more comfortable, attractive and faster while providing a quieter ride.

Ford’s market share was falling and with it came decreasing sales. Chevy was picking up the slack and something had to be done. Taking all of this into consideration, production of the Model T ended in 1927. At the same time, Ford prepared to launch a new model, the first in almost 20 years – the Model A.