The Model T is the car that’s credited with "putting the world on wheels.” Here’s a brief look at 10 ways the iconic vehicle influenced business and social conditions.
The Model T is the car that’s credited with "putting the world on wheels.” Henry Ford's iconic vehicle also is responsible for hundreds of innovations that jump-started the U.S. automotive industry. Here’s a brief look at 10 ways the iconic vehicle influenced business and social conditions:
1. King of the assembly line. The Model T brought mobility and prosperity on an undreamed of scale through manufacturing efficiencies at a price that anyone could afford. The moving assembly line created the mass-production process, which influenced the “machine age.” It also enabled Ford to steadily decrease the price of the Model T. In 1908, the first Model Ts sold for $825. By 1925, the vehicles sold for only $260.
2. Friend of the factory worker. The Model T was responsible for establishing a minimum wage and the eight-hour workday. The $5 a day minimum wage (created in early 1914 at Ford’s Highland Park, MI, factory) is often cited as having helped establish the middle-class. The factory work also gave jobs to people who usually could not find work, such as immigrants, women and minorities.
3. Personalized transport. Thousands of different Model T accessories and add-on products were created and marketed by numerous suppliers, such as Aermore Manufacturing Co. (Chicago), Peoria Accessory Co. (PACO, Peoria, IL) and Stewart-Warner Speedometer Corp. (Chicago). Because of this, the car spurred the aftermarket supplier industry, which is now a $38 billion industry.
4. A universal car. The Model T was the auto industry's first global car. By 1921, it accounted for almost 57 percent of the world's automobile production. The Model T was manufactured in several countries and was sold by dealers on six continents.
5. Standardized steering. Before the Model T, early American cars often had their steering wheel on the right-hand side of the dashboard. The Model T standardized the left-hand steering wheel.
6. Any color - as long as it's black. The myth that the Model T only came in black probably comes from the reality that almost 12 million of the 15 million vehicles built were black. But, in the early and late years of Model T production, the car was produced in many different colors, including blue, red, green and grey. Many of these hues were so dark, however, that they were hardly discernable from black, which is another reason why the myth lives on.
7. Flexibility. The Model T chassis was simple, strong and lightweight, with a unique three-point suspension that isolated the frame and powertrain from road shock that often caused many contemporary chassis designs to flex under heavy loads. By 1925, Ford was building its first factory-produced domestic pickup truck, the Ford Model T Runabout, with a pickup body. Ford also offered a heavier-duty, 1-ton-rated Model TT pickup.
8. Engine design. The Tin Lizzie's original engine offered flexibility and boasted 20 hp, with a top speed of 40 to 45 mph. The front-mounted, 2.9-liter, four-cylinder, flex-fuel engine was the first single-block motor with a removable cylinder head. It was the basis for most modern engines. The engine could be matched to one of nine T body styles, all built on the same chassis. The Touring, Roadster, Fordor, Coupe and Sedan were just some of the options available to consumers. The Model T established the concept of building multiple vehicle designs off the same platform.
9. Pop culture icon. Soon after the Model T was unveiled, it started appearing in movies and songs, and became part of modern language and culture. The vehicle was featured in 1920s-era black-and-white comedies and became the subject of hundreds of jokes and cartoons that captured the experience about life with the Model T, the personality of the car and its creator, Henry Ford. Hundreds of songs were created as the Model T became part of pop culture, later generating dozens of nicknames for the car. The most common, "Tin Lizzie," was the moniker that had several possible origins, ranging from the popularity of the female name “Lizzie" during that time period to a famous Model T race car named "Old Liz."
10. Car of the century. The Model T was the best-selling vehicle ever until 1972 when the Volkswagen bug surpassed it. During 19 years of production, more than 15 million Model T’s were sold. On May 26, 1927, a ceremony marked the formal end of Model T production. More than 70 years later, a panel of 126 automotive experts from 32 countries chose the Model T as the most influential car of the 20th century.
To learn more about the Model T, click here.
To learn more about the Model T's Chicago connection, click here.
To learn more about the history of the moving assembly line, click here.