Friday, July 25, 2008

The History of the Model T in Detroit

If there is any one thing that people around the world identify with Detroit it is the motorcar.

Many people have the incorrect idea that the modern car was invented by Henry Ford. In actuality, there were many different inventions and inventors of what would eventually become the gasoline-powered motorized automobile, including plan drawings by Leonardo da Vince and Isaac Newton. It is almost universally acknowledged that French inventor, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot perfected the very first self-propelled vehicle for the road in 1769: a steam-powered, three-wheeled vehicle used by the French army to move artillery. It had a top speed of 2 1/2 miles per hour, and had to stop every 10 to 15 minutes to build up more steam.

For the next hundred years or so, there were many attempts to improve upon those initial attempts with steam powered and electric powered vehicles. Although for many more decades, streetcars and trams continued to be electric-powered, the internal combustion engine eventually became standard for self-propelled automatic motor cars. All of the early cars were hand-made one at a time, which made them very expensive and available only for the wealthy. Ransom E. Olds was the first mass producer of automobile on an assembly line with the original Oldsmobile.

What Henry Ford did do for the automobile industry, after he worked for several years trying to perfect a personal self-propelled automobile and building race cars, was two things: 1) he perfected the moving assembly line, allowing cars to be built much more efficiently and cheaply so that the average person could afford one; and 2) he perfected the modern factory complex and pay structure with his revolutionaryand controversial $5.00/day salary, because he believed that the people who built the cars should be able to afford the cars.

The Model T, first built in Detroit in factories on Mack Avenue and Piquette Street, as well as in Highland Park on Woodward, was the first reliable and reasonably priced personal transporation vehicle. By 1918, fully one-half of all cars built in America were Model Ts. By the early 1920s, Ford completed the construction of the world's largest industrial complex: the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn. All components necessary were brought to the plant by rail and streamboat. Foundries made the steel, and eventually everything needed to build the car was actually assembled from the raw materials right at the Rouge Plant...the ultimate in mass production. It has been widely rumored that Henry Ford said that people could get the Model T in any color they desired, "as long as it's black"...

The Model T started its nineteen-year production run on October 1, 1908, on Piquette Avenue in Detroit, building a total of 15,000,000 automobiles. Only the Volkswagen Beetle had a longer run of a single model.

With the mass production of the Model T, and the changes in modern manufacturing and worklife rules, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company helped to bring about sweeping social changes in America and the world. As the Model T celebrates its 100th anniversary, Ford Motor Company (now headed by Henry Ford's great-grandson Bill) and other American car companies based in Detroit struggle to maintain their positions in the today's global economy and with $4+/gallon gas becoming commonplace.

Shameless Plug for my husband's blog: Read The "D" Spot...

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