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First Model T Rolls Out in 1908

New Model T StickerThe Ford Model T was the most sworn at and sworn by automobile ever made. Les Henry described this car as uncompromisingly erect, unquestionably ugly, funeral drab with the web footedness of a duck and the agility of a mountain goat that can go anywhere except in society.

As the world was turning from horse power to the 20 horse power engine of Henry Fords cars in 1908, he turned out 10,607 Model T 's. This began a 19 year production run, making 15,000,000 little cars that changed the world. One of its first advertisements read,

Old Dobbin, the family coach horse, weighs more than a Ford car. BUT He has only one-twentieth the strength of a Ford car - cannot go as fast or as far - costs more to maintain and almost as much to acquire.

Go Ahead Make a Joke

This car had more nicknames than you could shake a stick at. It was variably called a Flivver, Tin Lizzie, Jalopy, and Jitney. Henry Ford himself gave it the insignificant nomenclature of The Common Mans Car. It was a universally hated and loved automobile that became known as The Universal Car. It was used to saw wood, pump water, run stock shears, store grain, pull stumps and generate electricity. It could even be converted to plow a field. It became so reliable that one joke was told that a man wanted to be buried with his Model T. After his lawyer implored the mans wife (who was unsuccessful) to talk him out of it, the husband offered this explanation: I never got in a hole yet but what my Ford couldnt pull me out!

The Little Engine That Could

Here was a car that had a top speed of 55 mph but that the factory only recommended you cruise at 35 to make it last longer. It had a gravity flow carburetor, which meant that you had to drive in reverse to climb some steeper hills. It had no speedometer, gas gauge, bumpers, power steering, or even a gas pedal (it employed hand levers for fuel) and its body, for the first few years, was totally wood construction. Everyone freely admitted that you had to be a mechanic to survive on the road with it. In fact, Henry Ford supplied a set of tools with every car but he wouldnt let you make special option orders (unless of course you just wanted to buy the chassis and supply your own). This was because of Ford's execution of mass production techniques that while turning out product relentlessly, left little room for creative choice.

America's Love Affair With Cars Began with the Model T

All this may not have flown today, 100 years later, but America was in love with that little machine. Perhaps nothing illustrates it better than the unique marketing scheme Henry Ford came up with in 1914. He told every Ford Buyer in America that he would rebate them each $50 if Ford Motor Co. sold more than 300,000 cars that year. At the end of the year, Mr. Ford sent checks totaling more than $15,000,000 back to those happy customers. Henry not only kept customers happy, he created, for that day, a best loved company to work for by offering everyone who worked a minimum of $5 per day. Finally, Fords wisdom and foresight was recognized by none other than General Motors, who when the little mass produced Model T was fresh off the assembly lines in 1909 offered him $8,000,000 to sell out. Every Model T buyer in the next twenty years was very glad that Ford believed in his little flivver!


The Model T Ford Car, Its Construction, Operation and Repair by Victor Wilfred Page, 1916, Norman Henley

Tin Lizzie: The Story of the Fabulous Model T Ford by Philip Van Doren Stern, 1955, Simon and Schuster

Henrys Wonderful Model T by Floyd Clymer, 1955, Bonanza Books