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Hello, our dear readers! Today we’re going to tell you about another legendary car. This vehicle is considered to be “The Car of the Century” and comes among “ten cars that changed the world” rating by the Forbes magazine as first stock car available to middle class. So, let us introduce you the automobile that put the world on wheels – Ford Model T.
And this is the creator of this automobile, Henry Ford.
It is this man we owe many kilometers of traffic jams during rush hours. His surname almost became synonymous with “the car” because he made automobile accessible for everybody, turning it from a toy for wealthy people into an ordinary vehicle.
Ford built his first car in 1896 and brought it to the streets of Detroit through the breach in the barn’s wall: fascinated inventor didn’t take into account the dimensions of the front door :)
Seven years later, Ford launched industrial production. In the first six years, from 1903 to 1909, Ford Motor Company produced a dozen different models, which were designated by the letters of the alphabet (from A to S). There were both cheap models and quite expensive and powerful, designed for wealthy buyers. Soon Ford realized that it would be hard to make good money in such a way, and decided to focus on one single model, efficient and available for the masses. The new automobile, with respect to the custom, received the letter T.
The first samples of Ford T were created in 1908. Ford set out to produce the cheapest car ever, and not at the expense of reliability. Carriage was made of high tensile steel. Ford T had a powerful 4-cylinder and 20-hp engine with 2.9 liters of working volume. Maximum speed was 72 km/h. Ford took care also that the automobile should be easy to manage. Simple design was providing a low cost, even without conveyor assembly.
However, Ford T had its drawbacks, mainly related with tendency to reduce the cost of construction. For example, gasoline was supplied to the engine by gravity. And if the tank had little fuel the engine would stall on steep ascents. Soon drivers found the solution: they climbed the hill… in reverse.
In addition to the simplified design, another Ford’s trump was a magnificent organization of production. To reduce expenses and don’t depend on suppliers, Ford started a proper metallurgical production. Subcontractors were instructed on what should be the size of the boards for boxes in which details came. Then these boards were cut for the wooden parts of the automobile. The remaining wood was to burn into charcoal, which was also available for sale. This struggle for every penny led to the fact that Ford T cost only some $825, while, in the time, rare car was sold for less than $2,000.
No doubt, the automobile instantly became the most popular model. During 1909 more than 12,000 Ford T were sold, the company became the largest automaker in America. Three years later its annual production was over 70 thousand vehicles. Buyers appreciated the reliable and unpretentious automobile that was easy to drive on the nastiest roads – there were no asphalt highways in America in that time. And if the car got broken, it could be fixed by any village blacksmith. Ford T was popularly nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie”, since Lizzie is a common horse’s name in America, that now were replaced by metal trotter.
To meet the demand and to make the expenses even lower, Ford came to the idea of assembly-line. As a pattern he used already existing conveyors that he saw… at Chicago slaughterhouses. It represented a kind of “disassembly-line”: beef carcasses moved past butchers, who “stripped” them down to the bare bone. Ford decided to do the opposite: the line would rig vehicle’s skeleton, turning it into a ready-made car. Today only some separate companies that produce exclusive automobiles can do without conveyor, but in the time of Henry Ford it was a real breakthrough.
Conveyors were introduced at Ford factories in early 1914. Building time decreased dramatically: earlier a chassis for Ford T was made during 12 hours, but now the whole car was assembled within 93 minutes. However, this solution, technologically efficient, proved to be ill-conceived speaking about working comfort. Only unskilled immigrants accepted the monotonous work at the conveyor. Ford overcame terrible staff turnover and social criticism: the manufacturer was accused of turning his workers into living machines. Ford responded by raising the minimum wage to unprecedented levels: five dollars per eight-hour working day. At the time it was average weekly earnings. This shocked America. Ford was criticized again, this time for being a socialist. However, not only Ford had done with turnover but also raised productivity: by improving salary he gave the opportunity to his workers to buy his own cars and thus increased the number of the customers. Indeed, despite all the criticism, thanks to this innovation, the company’s profit in 1916 doubled while the price of the Model T dropped drastically down to $345.
The same year “Tin Lizzie” had the first serious restyling. Instead of the brass angular radiator it received new round and painted in black. Actually, Henry Ford often chose black color for his automobiles. Sometimes he is even credited with the famous saying: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Anyway, from 1914 to 1926 other colors were not available for buyers. Allegedly, Ford chose black paint because it was drying faster than others, thus reducing the time of production. In fact, this paint was simply the cheapest and the most durable.
In the times of Henry Ford closed car bodies were a rare sight, especially on low-cost automobiles. If now convertible is considered to be a luxury item, at the beginning of the twentieth century such cars were the overwhelming majority. The first closed body – a sedan – was installed on Ford T since 1914. It had quite an unusual design: there was no driver door, just a dead wall with a window. To get out of the car, driver had to climb over the seat and leave through the passenger door.
Perhaps this is why Ford T sedans were not in great demand. The most popular variant of Ford T remained open body, or touring at it was called in America. Ford oversaw the requirements and design of the Model T based on the realities of that world. There were plenty of variants for the body and different modifications, including Ford T trucks and Ford T tractors. One unique application of the Model T was shown in the October 1922 issue of Fordson Farmer magazine. It showed a minister who had transformed his Model T into a mobile church, complete with small organ.
Toy Ford T for little drivers
As production continued growing, topping 700 thousand in 1917, the US entered the First World War; the performance of Ford’s factories in 1918 and 1919 slightly declined. But in 1921 already, in the wake of the post-war boom a new milestone was reached: 1.4 million automobiles! And two years later Ford T was produced in an amount of 2 million units.
A lot of “Tin Lizzies” took part in the First World War
No company could give such production volumes in those years. Ford’s nearest rivals built six times fewer automobiles. No doubt, the Model T had more than a half of the US car fleet and 90 percent worldwide. There was such a big demand on “Tin Lizzies” that from 1917 to 1923 these automobile wasn’t advertised at all. Among other things, Ford T was the first international model: in 1911 its assembly plant opened in England, and in 1926 – in Germany. Thus began the époque of “Eurofords” that eventually became radically different from the American line of this brand.
In addition, Ford T was the first car that hit the ground of Mongolia. The automobile was presented to the ruler of the country, the “Living Buddha” Bogd Khan VIII by Swedish missionary Francis Larson.
Ford T conquering the world
Meanwhile, the era when the Model T didn’t know the competition came to an end. In 1916, the famous automaker Billy Durant put on a conveyor Chevrolet 490, which was called this way because it cost just $490. Customers were ready for more expensive and comfortable cars, and Henry Ford could offer them only cheap, but outdated “Tin Lizzie”. The manufacturer believed in that time that consumers would never need other automobile than Ford T.
Eventually, the sales of the model began to fall, and this forced Henry Ford to take some action. In May 1927 Ford plants were shut down for six months, with the ostensible purpose of retrofitting for the release of the new model. In fact at that point it didn’t exist in nature. Ford sent workers home, and sat his engineers down to develop a new model. It went into production only at the end of the year. The new model wasn’t named Ford U, as it should have been according to the logic, but Ford A – as the sign that everything starts from the beginning. The new model, despite all the haste with its creation, was very successful and became a worthy successor to the Model T.
All in all, during twenty year of Ford T production, more than 15 million of “Tin Lizzies” were built. This record was beaten only fifty years later by another “people’s car”, the famous Volkswagen Beetle.
Henry Ford’s dream came true: he managed to sit Americans behind the wheel. And the whole world later followed their suit. For better or for worse, but thanks to the efforts of Henry Ford, automobiles have radically changed the way of our life.
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