“I will build a car for the great multitude,” Henry Ford once said. “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.” The car he was referring to was the Ford Model T, of which the assembly of the first one was completed in pre-production at Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan, on this day in 1908. The automobile revolution for the working class began.
Designed by the likes of Childe Harold Wills, Joseph A. Galamb, Eugene Farkas, Henry Love, C. J. Smith, Gus Degner and Peter E. Martin, the Ford Model T was indeed simple and practical. When full scale production began on September 27, the cars were built with a 4 cylinder, 177 cubic inch engine that produced 20 hp, giving the car a top speed of about 40 to 45 mph with fuel efficiency ranging from 13 to 21 MPG. When sales commenced on October 1, 1908, it was not forecast that more than 10,000 would sell by the end of 1909. The car was a smashing success and sales nearly doubled the next year.
Henry Ford was serious about building a low cost automobile, something modern automakers seem to not give a damn about. In 1909 the price of a Model T Runabout was $825, equivalent to $21,700 today. After Ford moved production to a moving assembly line in 1913, prices began to drop as manufacturing efficiency rapidly increased. The vast improvements to the building process are visible in the numbers. In 1912, 68,773 Model Ts were made, the next year saw 170,211 Tin Lizzys built. By 1916, when production topped 500,000, a brand new Model T could be had for just $345. In 1925, the car reached a low of $260, which equals a hair under $3,800 in 2020.
The Model T was manufactured in plants around the world, including England, Japan, Germany, Argentina and Canada. If Henry could have had it his way, Ford would never have made another vehicle. But by the mid 1920s, his son Edsel had persuaded him otherwise, noting advancing automobile design and functionality coming from competitors. The last Ford Model T left the assembly line on May 26, 1927, after more than 15 million were built. Ford factories were shut down and retooled to manufacture the first all new Ford in nearly 20 years, the Model A. The 1928 Ford Model A went into production the following October.
The Model T held the production record for a single vehicle model until February 17, 1972, when the 15,007,034th Volkswagen Beetle was built. Despite being more than 100 years old, T has left an irreversible impression on the global society. In conquering his dream to build a car for the worker, Henry Ford effectively put the world on wheels. The car’s legacy entitled it to being crowned the Car of the Century in 1999, as selected by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation.