This article was published in Michigan History Magazine in 2005 and shared by the Archives of Michigan. This Tuesday, July 30th, is the 150th birthday of Michigan’s most influential figure, Henry Ford. The photo with the article seems to have vanished, but we have replaced it with an incredible shot by Lou Peeples. Be sure to click the photo to see it bigger!
“I will build a motor car for the great multitude,” Henry Ford announced. “It will be so low in price,” he added, “that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.” With these words Henry Ford introduced the world to the Model T. It was October 1908 and, when the Ford Motor Company quit making the Model T nineteen years later, it had become one of the world’s most popular cars.
The Model T (there were models A through S) carried a 4-cylinder motor, and traveled up to 45 miles per hour. It came in one color, black.
The Model T also introduced drivers to new mechanical improvements. In a Model T, the driver controlled the car with three floor pedals: a brake and a pedal for forward and one for reverse. This left the driver’s hands free to steer the car. Unlike most cars of the time, the steering wheel was on the left side of the car.
The Model T was popular because it was cheap (eventually less than $300) and easy to fix. All a driver needed were pliers and a screwdriver to keep it running. Spare parts were easily available, and the Model T never seemed to wear out.
Americans loved the Model T. A woman from Georgia wrote Henry Ford, “Your car … brought joy into our lives.” The Model T even developed international fame. As one newspaper noted, “The Ford Motor Company has beaten out both the [U.S.] flag and the Constitution in carrying civilization into the wild places of the world.”
In 1927 the Ford Motor Company stopped making Model Ts; it had produced 15,007,033 cars. In the 1970s, Germany’s Volkswagen Beetle finally surpassed the Model T in numbers made.
As the Ford Motor Company likes to say to this day, the Model T “put America on wheels.” How true.