I am always amazed at how, throughout history, many times seemingly insignificant events become major happenings as time goes on.
For instance: Take the invention of the Model T Ford automobile in 1908. The Model T ws not the first car made but it became America’s car for two reasons. One, it was cheap; and two, it was dependable.
By today’s standards the Model T was ugly and weird. Henry Ford said you could have it any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Black was it. Not the most attractive color for a car, but a very durable one. It had big high wheels that enabled it to traverse the muddy roads of that day.
The Model T didn’t have an electric starter. Instead there was a crank in the front, which you would turn to get the engine started. It was a tricky procedure and was often an arm-breaker if you didn’t pull the crank out quickly enough when the engine fired off. You see, if the crank wasn’t disengaged it would continue to spin around as the engine ran. Not only did you have to be adept at cranking it, but you also had to be careful that the doggone thing didn’t run over you as you stood in front of it.
Among the other features the car lacked were electric windshield wipers. There was only a handle that the driver could swish back and forth to make the blades move across the glass. So you had to drive with one hand and work the wipers with the other.
Don’t get me wrong though. The Model T had a lot going for it. It sure as heck beat riding in a buggy or wagon, which was the usual mode of transport in those days. And it didn’t have to be fed oats, or brushed down, nor did it leave anything on the street behind it that had to be cleaned up. Just put a little gas in it and off you would go at break-neck speed. Well, maybe not that fast.
When the Model T first came out it cost about $1,000. That was a heck of a lot of money. Especially when the average pay was around $1 a day. Of course things were cheaper then also. Gas was around fifteen cents a gallon and a Coca-Cola was a nickle. Still, Mr. Ford had to work at getting the price of his car down, as well as the wages of his employees up. Eventually he was able to do both.
Ford increased the pay of his workers to $5 per day. Now he was talking. Men flocked to his company seeking jobs, which permitted him to have the pick of the crop. With his skilled workforce mass producing the cars he was soon able to get the price down to less than $300 per car. This enticed more and more of the public to make the leap and become first-time car buyers. Ford was on a roll.
Ford was an innovator in other ways. Instead of buying parts on the market, he made his own. And rather than ship the cars complete, he found that it was cheaper to ship them knocked-down, or partially assembled, so they could be put together at regional assembly plants. I recall that Ford had one such plant in Charlotte.
Henry Ford was truly a remarkable man in many ways, and he built an empire by supplying the needs of the people of his time. The American public latched onto the Model T with a vengeance. By 1928, when it was discontinued, more than 15 million had been sold. For 20 years it led the field of all cars sold.
It didn’t require much mechanical work, and what it did need the owner could usually do himself. I guess the Model T fostered more jack-leg mechanics than any other car. There were just not many parts on the Old Tin Lizzie that would wear out. It would just rattle along. A rattle here, a rattle there.
I learned to drive in a Model T and I wish I still had one today. The old Model T put America on the road to stay.
Charles Eurey is a
Lincoln Times-News guest columnist.