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 Henry Ford and the Introduction of the Model T

Henry Ford, portraitHenry Ford, portrait"...I will build a motor car for the great multitude...constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can low that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one." (Henry Ford)

Contrary to popular belief, Henry J. Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line. Ford simply combined the two to create the "motorcar for the great multitude" that he had longed to create.

Unlike most industrialist of the era, Ford was not independently wealthy. In fact, prior to turning 40, Ford had not had much success during in his early years. Fresh from the ashes of the failing Detroit Automobile Company, Ford was known more as racer than entrepreneur. It would be through racing that Henry Ford would be able to prove to his critics the reliability and superiority of his vehicles. With Toledo native Barney Oldfield at the wheel of Ford's "999," Ford created at commercial version of his race vehicle and, with the capital from 10 investors, started the Ford Motor Company in June of 1903.

After a bitter legal fight with George Selden, the owner of a patent on the "road engine," Ford entered 1908 as one of the four largest automakers in the United States in both profit and sales. This would drastically change on March 18, 1908, with the introduction of the innovative Model T.

Ford and his designers had begun work on the Model T more than two years before it was introduced. The group used the lessons that they had taken from previous models, such as the Model N, as well as lessons learned from other automakers. Ford was very interested in the French automakers' use of vanadium alloy steel, a composite material that allowed the Model T to have twice the strength of normal steel with half the weight.

1908 Model T Ford1908 Model T FordIn addition to the innovative design features, the Model T was also known for the assembly line that it was built on. Although the first vehicles were built according to traditional building principles, the high volume required an innovative solution to auto building. Ford and his engineers introduced the first assembly line in which the product, in this case the automobile, was taken from station to station for workers to complete. This allowed Ford to increase productivity.

Ford also backed up the Model T with a record propaganda campaign. Major magazines and newspapers were filled with ads for the new wonder car, automobile dealers trumpeted the qualities and price of the car to the public, and advertisements were mailed out during weekend mail runs. By the fall of 1908, demand for the Model T exceeded the supply as Model T's sold at record paces. Ford also looked to markets outside of the US to sell his new car. Model T's were used in the creation of the Amur River Railroad in Siberia, driven during the Delhi coronation of King George V, raced in Africa and Asia, and was even used by French troops in World War I in Africa (Lewis,42). For as much as Ford wanted his Model T to also be the automobile of choice for the wealthy (President Wilson owned one), it would be the car of the masses and the automobile that would help build the Ford empire.




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