The “Ford” Model “T” History

As production and sales of the T grew, the price fell roughly 50% in six years, while sales increased sevenfold. In 1909, the conventional four-seat open tourer cost $800; the price reduced to $500 in 1913 and to $450 in 1915. 69,762 units were sold in 1911, 170,211 units in 1912, 202,667 units in 1913, 308,162 units in 1914, and 501,462 units in 1915.

William C. Klann presented the assembly line manufacturing process to Ford upon his return from a visit to a slaughterhouse in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards, where he observed what was referred to as the “disassembly line,” in which animals have hacked apart as they passed along a conveyor. His attention was drawn to the efficiency of one person repeatedly removing the same item. He conveyed the concept to Peter E. Martin, who expressed reservations but pushed him to proceed. Others at Ford have claimed credit for bringing the idea to Henry Ford, but William “Pa” Klann’s slaughterhouse discovery is widely documented in the Henry Ford Museum’s records and elsewhere, making him the father of the modern automated assembly line concept. The procedure evolved through trial and error on the part of a team led by manufacturing superintendent Peter E. Martin; Charles E. Sorensen, Martin’s assistant; Harold Wills, a draftsman, and toolmaker; Clarence W. Avery; and Charles Lewis. When the assembly line’s first automobile was completed in front of the press, onlookers, and even Henry Ford, it was Pa Klann who triumphantly drove it off the line.


As a result, Ford’s automobiles rolled out the assembly line at three-minute intervals, eight times faster than previous methods, while requiring fewer people. Ford’s Piquette plant was unable to meet the demand for the Model T, with only 11 vehicles produced during the first full month of production. Henry Ford relocated the firm to the new Highland Park campus in 1910, after producing approximately 12,000 Model Ts. The Model T was the first automobile to be mass built on assembly lines and targeted the middle class. According to legend, Henry Ford stated, “Any client can have an automobile painted any color he likes as long as it is black.” Indeed, Model Ts in a variety of colors were manufactured between 1908 and 1914, and then again between 1926 and 1927. Ford is sometimes quoted as saying that he picked black because it dried faster than other colored paints available at the time, and a faster drying paint would allow him to manufacture vehicles faster because he would not have to wait for the paint to dry. This notion, however, is unsupported by truth, as the earliest Model Ts were not offered in black. Various sections of the Model T were painted with almost 30 different varieties of black paint. The many types of paint were created to accommodate the various methods of applying the paint to the various parts, and they dried at varying rates, depending on the type of paint and drying process used on a particular part. According to Ford engineering records, the color black was chosen because it was inexpensive and sturdy. By 1914, the Model T assembly process had been reduced to the point where it took only 93 minutes to manufacture an automobile. Ford produced more automobiles that year than all other automakers combined. The Model T was a huge commercial success, and by the time Henry built his ten-millionth car, Ford accounted for nine out of ten automobiles sold worldwide. Indeed, it was so successful that Ford did not advertise between 1917 and 1923; over 15 million Type Ts were produced, more than any other automotive model for nearly a century.


The automobile was first available for $800, compared to competitors’ prices of $2000-$3000. By the 1920s, the price had decreased to $300 (about $3,400 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars) due to growing assembly line efficiency and volume. Henry vertically integrated the industries required to manufacture his automobiles. He detailed how to construct the wooden crates used by outside suppliers to bring him parts. The containers were then deconstructed, and the prepared wood parts were incorporated into the bodies of his cars. He also made charcoal from wood scraps and sold it under the brand name “Kingsford,” which is still a major brand of charcoal today.

Henry Ford’s unorthodox attitude to research and development meant that few improvements were made to the vehicle during its lifetime; he believed the Model T was the only car a person would ever need or want. As other manufacturers offered superior comfort and aesthetics at more affordable costs, the Model T lost market share. On May 26, 1927, Ford Motor Company suspended production and began the necessary changeovers to build the Model A.

Model T automobiles were manufactured until August 4, 1941. After automobile production ceased, about 170,000 motors were built. Replacement motors were necessary to maintain service on previously manufactured automobiles. Racers and fans, forerunners of current hot rodders, exploited the Model T’s block to develop popular and inexpensive racing engines, such as the Cragar, Navarro, and, most famously, the Chevrolet brothers’ Frontenac.


The Model T was equipped with a front-mounted, 177 in3 four-cylinder engine block, producing 20.2 hp and capable of reaching speeds of up to 40-45 mph. The compact four-cylinder engine was well-known for its L-head configuration. According to Ford Motor Company, the Model T had a fuel economy of between 13 and 21 miles per gallon. The engine could run on gasoline or ethanol, yet the declining cost of gasoline and the subsequent implementation of Prohibition in the United States rendered ethanol an unworkable fuel. The car’s 10 gallons fuel tank was affixed to the chassis beneath the front seat; one model featured a Holley Model G carburetor modified to run on Ethanol, which the self-sufficient farmer could make at home. Because fuel flowed forward from the fuel tank to the carburetor via gravity, a Model T could not climb a steep incline with a low fuel level. The immediate response was frequently to reverse up steep hills. In 1926, the fuel tank was repositioned forward and beneath the hood on the majority of vehicles.

Initially, the engine blocks were to be manufactured at Detroit’s Lakeside Foundry on St. Jean. Ford backed out of the arrangement before large quantities of engine blocks were built. While the first few hundred Model Ts were equipped with a water pump, their use was discontinued early in the production run. Ford chose a thermo-siphon circulation system because it was less expensive and more reliable. Due to the lower density of hot water, it would rise to the top of the engine and into the top of the radiator, then descend to the bottom and back into the engine as it cooled. Until the introduction of crossflow radiator designs, this was the direction of water flow in the majority of makes of automobiles, including those with water pumps. Additionally, water pumps were offered as an aftermarket component for the Model T.