Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line. He did, however, change the world by using an assembly line technique to produce cars which could be afforded by everyone. From 1909 to 1927, the Ford Motor Company built more than 15 million Model T cars. Without a doubt, Henry Ford transformed the economic and social fabric of the 20th century.
Ford is often quoted as saying "I will build a motorcar for the great multitude". At the time it was a revolutionary business model to lower a product's cost and the company's profit margin in exchange for increased sales volume. Up until this point in time the automobile had been a status symbol and cars were painstakingly built by hand for the wealthy. By the end of 1913 Ford's application of the moving assembly line had improved the speed of chassis assembly from 12 hours and eight minutes to one hour and 33 minutes. In 1914 Ford produced 308,162 cars, which was more than all 299 other auto manufacturers combined. By the time the last Model T was built in 1927, the company was producing an automobile every 24 seconds.
The first production Model T Ford (1909 model year) was assembled at the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on October 1, 1908. Over the next 19 years relatively few fundamental changes were made to the basic design. By 1926 the design was so antiquated that the Model T could not compete with more modern offerings from competitors like Chevrolet. 1927 was the last year for Henry's lady, the "Universal Car".
In 1906, Ford secretly set up a place to build his cars in a building on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. Ford spent nearly two years designing the Model T, building on knowledge gained from the production of earlier cars, like his Ford Model N.
While Henry Ford and his team were planning for his new car, he attended a race in Florida where he examined the wreckage of a French race car. He observed that it was made of a different kind of steel and the car parts were lighter than those he had been previously seen. He learned that this new steel was a vanadium alloy and that it had almost three times the tensile strength of the alloys used by his contemporary American auto makers. No one in America knew how to make vanadium steel so Ford financed and set up a steel mill. As a result, the only cars in the world to utilize vanadium steel over the next five years would be French luxury cars and the Ford Model T. Ford's use of vanadium steel explains why so many Model T Fords have survived today.
Henry's Model T changed the world forever. In 1909, for $825, a Ford customer could buy a reliable automobile that was fairly easy to drive. Ford sold over ten thousand Model T cars in the first year of production, a new record for any automobile model.
Ford applied the moving assembly line concept to his production facility late in 1913. His staff constantly monitored productive and relentlessly analyzed the statistical measures to optimize worker productivity. Over the years, Model T Fords came in many different models, all built with the essentially same engine and chassis: the Model T roadster, coupe, coupelet, runabout, roadster torpedo, town car, touring, and the fordor and tudor sedans.
No one really knows if Henry Ford ever said that the buying public could have Model T Fords "in any color, so long as it's black", but it is commonly attributed to him. While this saying is true for the model years after 1913, earlier cars were available in green, red, blue and grey. In fact, in the first year, Model T Fords were not available in black at all. The switch to all black cars was due to Ford's ongoing obsession with cost reduction, and not, as is commonly believed, to reduce drying time and hence increase production.
Over 30 different types of black paint were used to paint various parts of the Model T. The different types of paint were formulated to satisfy the different means of applying the paint to the different parts, and had different drying times, depending on the paint and the drying method used for a particular part. Ford engineering documents suggest that the color black was chosen because it was cheap and it was durable. In 1926 colors other than black were once again offered, in an attempt to boost dwindling sales.