Ford Model T Mass Production and the Assembly Line
The knowledge and skills needed by a factory worker were reduced to 84 areas. When introduced, the T used the building methods typical at the time, assembly by hand, and production was small. Ford’s Piquette plant could not keep up with demand for the Model T, and only 11 cars were built there during the first full month of production. More and more machines were used to reduce the complexity within the 84 defined areas. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model Ts, Henry Ford moved the company to the new Highland Park complex.
As a result, Ford’s cars came off the line in three-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, reducing production time by a factor of eight (requiring 12.5 hours before, 93 minutes afterwards), while using less manpower. By 1914, the assembly process for the Model T had been so streamlined it took only 93 minutes to assemble a car. That year Ford produced more cars than all other automakers combined. The Model T was a great commercial success, and by the time Henry made his 10 millionth car, 50 percent of all cars in the world were Fords. It was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, reaching a rate of 9,000 to 10,000 cars a day in 1925, or 2 million annually, more than any other model of its day, at a price of just $240. Model T production was finally surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle on February 17, 1972.
Henry Ford’s ideological approach to Model T design was one of getting it right and then keeping it the same; he believed the Model T was all the car a person would, or could, ever need. As other companies offered comfort and styling advantages, at competitive prices, the Model T lost market share. Design changes were not as few as the public perceived, but the idea of an unchanging model was kept intact. Eventually, on May 26, 1927, Ford Motor Company ceased production and began the changeovers required to produce the Model A.
Model T engines continued to be produced until August 4, 1941. Almost 170,000 were built after car production stopped, as replacement engines were required to service already produced vehicles. Racers and enthusiasts, forerunners of modern hot rodders, used the Model T’s block to build popular and cheap racing engines, including Cragar, Navarro, and famously the Frontenacs (“Fronty Fords”) of the Chevrolet brothers, among many others.
The Model T employed some advanced technology, for example, its use of vanadium steel alloy. Its durability was phenomenal, and many Model Ts and their parts remain in running order nearly a century later. Although Henry Ford resisted some kinds of change, he always championed the advancement of materials engineering, and often mechanical engineering and industrial engineering.
In 2002, Ford built a final batch of six Model Ts as part of their 2003 centenary celebrations. These cars were assembled from remaining new components and other parts produced from the original drawings. The last of the six was used for publicity purposes in the UK.
Although Ford no longer manufacture parts for the Model T, many parts are still manufactured through private companies as replicas to service the thousands of Model T’s still in operation today.
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