Also affectionately called the “Tin Lizzie” or even just the “T”, the Ford Model T was produced by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company from 1908 until 1927. Although it wasn’t actually the first car ever manufactured, it was the first car that was affordable for average, middle-class Americans. Prior to the Ford Model T, automobiles were luxurious, extravagant items owned or used only by the elite. It’s partly for this reason that the Model T has been named the most influential car of the 20th Century.
The first Model T rolled out of the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan on September 27, 1908. Of the car, Ford said: “It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
One of the things that set the Model T apart from other cars of the time was that it was made on an assembly line, greatly reducing production costs. The car was also designed with completely interchangeable parts, resulting in cheaper repairs and modifications.
It’s easy to forget that the world hasn’t always been the way it is now. At the time when the Ford Model T was introduced, the concept of pavement was novel. Most people worked in agriculture, or wherever they could get to easily. Power tools were hardly found outside of factories and electricity wasn’t widely used in rural areas. The Model T Ford was designed with the realities of the time in mind. The car could traverse rocky terrain and muddy patches, cross shallow streams and even climb steep hills.
As well as being able to handle many types of terrain “off the shelf”, the Model T was easy to modify, becoming another type of vehicle altogether. Many agricultural workers modified their Tin Lizzies to serve as tractors. Some attached ice saws and one man even transformed his “T” into a mobile church, complete with a small organ.
The popularity of the Ford Model T spread outward from America. It was the first automobile produced in more than one country, with factories in Walkerville, Canada and Manchester, England in 1911. Later on, Ford parts, spares and entire vehicles were produced in Germany, Argentina, France, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Brazil, Belgium, Japan and Mexico, as well as throughout the United States.
There’s a phrase nowadays that describes the decline of a popular product: “to go the way of the Tin Lizzie”. Although a Ford Model T certainly isn’t a common sight on roads today, its influence on the automotive industry – and on the way we live our lives – was extraordinary.