In the early part of the 20th century, only the affluent in America afforded toys for the rich such as automobiles. Henry Ford changed all that with his introduction of a simple and affordable car for the ordinary Americans. (EyeWitness to History.com, “Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908”).
Henry Ford gave America two innovations that would change American society from then on. He introduced the Model T and the concept of the assembly line for mass production.
Ford established the Ford Motor Company in 1903. He vowed to build a car for the great multitude (Bellis, “Henry Ford (1863-1947)”). He introduced the Model T in October 1908 at an affordable price of $950. After the car line’s 19th year of production, this unit price got even cheaper at $280.
Ford is known as the father of 20th century American industry. He began industrial mass production. Among the things that Henry Ford introduced to American society and economy are the dealer-franchise system to sell and service cars, and an entire system where cars are made and sold on a massive scale (Iacocca, “Henry Ford”). He ended the so-called horse-carriage age by campaigning for better and more navigable roads.
This started what would be big roads and interstate highways all across America. He also campaigned for the installation of countless gas stations across the country. He invented the marketing system for automobiles by way of car dealership. This gave birth to the phenomenon of the car salesman. By 1912, 7,000 Ford dealers were on their way to success and fortune all over America.
Henry Ford democratized the automobile by putting the combustion engine within the reach of the ordinary American wage earner. He started by building a humble four-story car factory. Body panels were hammered out on the fourth floor. Assembly line workers fit tires on wheels and painted auto bodies on the third floor. Assembly of the car unit was done on the second floor. New cars descended to the parking grounds through a final ramp from the second floor and past the first floor where Ford held his office.
The factory produced 19,000 car units in 1910. It brought out 34,500 in 1911. By 1912, production volume was a staggering 78,440 units. It was still only a start. On the first three years of the factory, production increased by an average of 100 percent.
Ford had mastered the art and science of the factory assembly line. The Model T was coming out of the assembly line at three minute intervals. This meant that production grew in efficiency, increasing production by 12.5 man-hours before to 1 man-hour 33 man-minutes afterwards on less manpower.
By 1914, Ford developed an “endless chain-driven” conveyor to move the chassis from one workstation to another while workers remained stationary. This brought the car’s assembly time at only 93 minutes per unit. In this same year, 13,000 workers at Ford’s factory made 260,720 cars. It was truly the essence of mass production. This ushered in the Age of Automation.
There were several cars produced or prototyped by Henry Ford from the founding of the company in 1903 until the Model T came along. He started with the Model A. There were 19 production models, from A to T, but some were only prototypes. Ford’s dream was simple. He wanted to build a car for the great multitude. The car would be large enough for the family, but small enough for any car owner to manage. Ford envisioned it to be made of the best materials, assembled by the best men, and patterned after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. With all these premium quality, Ford wanted the car to be low in price.