May 31 – Lord, Mr. Ford!

Today’s Factismal: When the last Model T rolled off the assembly line on May 31, 1927, it marked the end of the most successful automobile production line ever.

The “Tin Lizzie”. The “Old Rattletrap”. The “flivver”, “jalopy”, or “universal car”. Call it what you want, Henry Ford’s Model T was one of the greatest success stories in manufacturing, ever. Over a period of nineteen years, at a rate of one new car every three minutes, some 15,007,003 cars were produced (all in black). The first Model T was sold in 1908 for $850 ($21,400 in 2013 dollars). By 1927, that price had dropped to $260 ($3,400 in 2013 dollars). Though Ford could have kept the price high, he lowered it deliberately (and raised the wages of his workers) in order to make the car more affordable. In his words:

“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. 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.”

But in order to build that car, Ford had to spend a more than a dozen years building prototype cars, starting with the Quadricycle in 1896. He sold enough of his prototypes to interest backers and then began the Ford Motor Company. Starting with a modified horse carriage called the Model A in 1903, his company produced a series of increasingly more sophisticated machines culminating in the 1908 Model T. Though there would be many improvements to the car over the next two decades, the basic style and mechanism were set.

My family's Model T (Image courtesy my Mom)

My family’s Model T
(Image courtesy my Mom)

If you’d like to try your hand at becoming the next Henry Ford, then why not attend a Science Hack day? You’ll discover neat new ways of doing science and engineering and will have a chance to show off your neat new inventions. Who knows? You may have created the next Model T!

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