Prime Mover

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It didn’t hurt that the Model T’s additional virtues held sway with wealthier clients too. “I own four automobiles,” wrote the president of a Brooklyn, New York, iron company in 1909, “costing from fifteen hundred dollars to seven thousand dollars each, and have had more service out of this little Ford Car, which only cost me a thousand dollars, and had less trouble with it, than with any of the other makes.” Even some of Ford’s harshest critics eventually succumbed to the allure of the company’s sensible, hardworking massmarket car and its visionary inventor. In 1918 the erstwhile auto opponent turned U.S. President Woodrow Wilson not only bought himself a Model T but also became one of the first politicians to encourage Henry Ford to run for elective office.

Yet the sweep of Ford’s influence on the nation in the decade after his Model T’s introduction hardly required validation from any electorate. His car had opened the American landscape, altered the outlook of consumers everywhere, and forever changed the way automobiles would be manufactured and sold. Even more important, Ford had silenced the fearmongers who cried that the interests of the many would be ground beneath the advancing wheels of fullbore capitalism at the hands of a few. He had made capitalism the servant of the masses.