Henry Ford and the Model T
The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 ($21,340 today) (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s, a majority of American drivers had learned to drive on the Model T.
Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford’s network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to encourage exploring the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Although Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin, Charles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills.
Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000. (Using the consumer price index, this price was equivalent to $7,020 in 2008 dollars.)
By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T’s. However, it was a monolithic black; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T’s were available in other colors, including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. This record was achieved in just 19 years from the introduction of the first Model T (1908).
President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.
Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford in December 1918. Henry, however, retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed his son. Henry started another company, Henry Ford and Son, and made a show of taking himself and his best employees to the new company; the goal was to scare the remaining holdout stockholders of the Ford Motor Company to sell their stakes to him before they lost most of their value. (He was determined to have full control over strategic decisions.) The ruse worked, and Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from the other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.
By the mid-1920s, sales of the Model T began to decline due to rising competition. Other auto makers offered payment plans through which consumers could buy their cars, which usually included more modern mechanical features and styling not available with the Model T. Despite urgings from Edsel, Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to form a customer credit plan.
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