10 Ways the Model T Changed American Culture

Filed in Car Culture by on February 5, 2014 11 Comments

Model T

 Henry Ford introduced the Model T. and changed everyman and the landscape of America forever.

1. At the beginning of the twentieth century, car ownership was something only the rich could afford. Most of the cars were so complicated that they had to be accessorized with a chauffeur who was also a trained mechanic in order to keep them on the road. Henry Ford’s dream was to build a car that the American worker with an average income could afford to drive and maintain. “I will build a car for the great multitude,” Henry said. “No man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessings of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” Ford’s dream became reality, and in 1908, the first model Model T was produced.

2. The Model T featured interchangeable parts, which meant it could easily be repaired by farmer-mechanics with a few simple hand tools. If the radiator sprung a leak, you added an egg to stop fluid loss. The light- weight chassis made it possible to push the car out of muck or a tight spot that would have held a heaver car captive, an important feature for farmers who traveled muddy farm roads.

3. The Model T, or Tin Lizzy as she was soon nicknamed (for reasons unknown), could reach speeds of 40 miles per hour and averaged 20 miles to the gallon. Gasoline was 25 cents to the gallon. But before we become all misty eyed comparing gas prices in 1908 to current gas prices, consider that 93 years ago, while Americans paid just 25 cents per gallon, adjusting for inflation, they were paying the equivalent of $3.70 per gallon in 2013 dollars and their income levels were hardly on par with today’s average salaries.

4. The Model T sticker price, when it was introduced in 1908, was $850, but by 1924, the price had dropped to $260. This drastic drop was made possible by Ford’s invention of the moving assembly line, which made it possible to produce uniform automobiles quickly and at lower costs.

5. The biggest downside to the assembly line was the devaluation of the craftsman, who was no longer a prerequisite for production. Craftsmanship, creativity, and experience soon gave way to the lesser skills needed for mass production—dexterity, speed, and concentration.

6; The Model T had became what we now refer to as a pop culture icon. It was featured in countless movies and songs and fostered a sexual revolution a half century before the pill. “Most of the babies of the period were conceived in a Model T, and not a few were born in them,” wrote American author John Steinbeck. The Model T became such a staple of American life that it was routinely part of comic routines and included in joke books.

7. The Original Ford Joke Book, published in 1915, included “The Twenty-Third Ford Psalm”:
The Ford is my auto, I shall not want another.
It maketh me to lie beneath it.
It soureth my soul.
It leadeth me in the paths of ridicule for its name sake.
Yea, though I ride through the valleys, I am towed up the hills.
And I fear much evil for thy rods and thy engines discomforteth me.
I anoint thy tire with patches. Thy radiator runneth over.
I prepare for blow-outs in the presence of mine enemies.
Surely if this thing follow me all the days
Will dwell in the bug house forever.

8. The best way to describe the automobile phenomena that overtook America after the Model T is to compare it to how we’ve experienced the growth of the internet throughout the last two decades.,

9. In 1923, the Model T began a steady decline. Historians believed this may have been because Ford wasn’t comfortable with America’s new prosperity, which ironically, he had done so much to create.

10.On May 25, 1927, the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals, Charles Lindberg took to the skies on his infamous flight into history five days earlier, and the Ford Corporation retired the Model T. It was also in this year that General Motors overtook Ford to become the world’s largest car maker. As opposed to Fords philosophy of “one size fits all,” under CEO Alfred Sloan, General Motor’s philosophy was “a car for every purse and purpose.”

Next, I will introduce you to Alfred Sloan and Earl Harvey. Two men who believed Americans should have more  color choices for their automobiles than basic black.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.


Updated Bug Video with the latest autographs. Click to read more about signing the Bug.

Autographing the VW BUG: Update 2/4/2014 from Katybeth on Vimeo.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Sue says:

    Your reserch on the Model T is very interesting…enjoyed reading it.

  2. Mike says:

    Any color as long as it was black. My grandfather had a Model T and I remember it still ran when I was a little kid. He had other cars but he was proudest of his Model T and my grandmother called the car Lizzy. Ford did need to move forward with the times but on the other hand the American auto industry might have done better if they had stuck to his core values – -not flashy but enduring. Looking forward to reading more.
    Thanks for adding my name to the Bug. Perfect placement, too.

  3. Cole says:

    I’m glad you like your virtual autograph. I think you’re right about Ford especially the quality piece. Ford really believed that first and foremost a car needed to be dependable and one of the things that doomed the auto industry starting in the 1970’s was the number of American cars that were produced that were not dependable.

  4. Cole says:

    Thanks. If I’m not mistaken you are a big fan of the Ford trucks, right? Ford trucks have been so enduring and have such great character.

  5. Ben says:

    Ford the man who started it all. I’m sure you also know that Ford gave us the middle class when he raised his workers wages. Ford workers could count on the Ford corp to take care of them and their families during employment and after retirement. One of the reasons Ford hated the unions was he knew he was more invested in his workers than a union ever would be. Henry Ford understood what so many big corporations fail to see today–greed is not good business. Enjoyed your research. Looking forward to reading more and eventually (I hope) the whole paper.

  6. irene says:

    Nice automobile history lesson! I’ve always enjoyed the history of the auto industry. Having spent 11 years in MI, we visited the Henry Ford Museum & Village a couple times. I wouldn’t mind a return trip.

  7. Debbie says:

    I’m impressed at how much you’re learning, Cole! I’d never heard the 23rd Psalm expressed like that before (well, why should I? The Model T was w-a-a-a-a-y before my time!)
    Debbie recently posted…Blast from the PastMy Profile

  8. Cole says:

    Thanks. You’re going to love the story of Zora Arkus-Duntov the designer who saved the Corvette String Ray (my Mom says you like the old vettes).
    We visited the Ford museum over the summer and had a great time–tons to see.

  9. Cole says:

    It was :-D?
    Ford and the Model T was the brunt of a lot of humor way back in the old days. The Model T was revolutionary but poking fun at it was a national past time. It was suppose to be rougher to ride in than a bucking bull and had a very hard time gaining enough power to go uphill.

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