Ford Puts Millions in the Driving Seat

The mass-produced Model T that brought motoring to the masses
The mass-produced Model T that brought motoring to the masses

by Ray Setterfield

October 1, 1908 — Hailed as “the car of the century," the first Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, Michigan, on this day, bringing vehicle ownership to millions of people for the first time.

One of the leading executives behind the project, Charles E. Sorensen, was to describe later the eventful day when Henry Ford announced the idea. In his book, My Forty Years With Ford, published by W.W. Norton & Co in 1956, he wrote:

“Early one morning in the winter of 1906-07, Henry Ford dropped in at the Piquette Avenue plant to see me. ‘Come with me, Charlie,’ he said, ‘I want to show you something.’

“I followed him [to an area] which was not fully occupied for assembly work. He looked about and said, ‘Charlie, I’d like to have a room finished off right here in this space. Put up a wall with a door big enough to run a car in and out. Get a good lock for the door and when you’re ready we’ll have Joe Galamb [car designer] come up in here. We’re going to start a completely new job.’

“The room he had in mind became the maternity ward for Model T . . . On October 1, 1908, the first car was introduced to the public. In the next 18 years, [from this birthplace] and from assembly plants all over the United States came 15 million more.”

Henry Ford said of the vehicle: “I will build a car for the great multitude. 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.”

Americans took up the offer with great enthusiasm and by 1918, half of all the cars in the US were Model Ts.

Perhaps the only fly in the ointment was the lack of colour. In 1909 Ford famously told his management team that in the future “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.”

It was an edict that was not fully implemented, however, until 1914, the original Model Ts appearing in grey, green, blue and red, depending on the model. But from 1914 to 1926 all Model Ts were black.

The switch, it was said, happened because Ford discovered that the black paint used was cheaper and more durable.

History has it that all Model Ts were black, but as Henry Ford himself once observed:“History is bunk!”

Published: July 21, 2017

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