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1908 Seventy-five Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

In October the Ford Motor Company offered for sale a light (twelve hundred pounds), cheap ($825 for the roadster; $850 for the touring car), massproduced, fuel-efficient (about twenty miles to the gallon) motorcar to the American public. It was called the Model T, a name soon and affectionately modified to Tin Lizzie or flivver . No single product has ever effected such a profound change in the social fabric of this country.

Some background: In 1902 there was one car for every 1,500,000 people; in 1905 one to 65,000 people; and in 1907 one to 800. In 1907 the Ford Manufacturing Company was absorbed into the Ford Motor Company: Henry Ford was then in a position to control every aspect of production and marketing. This was essential to his dream of supplying the masses with a good, cheap car. In 1909 the company informed its branch managers that 10,607 cars had been sold during the Model T’s first year. When the car was retired in 1927, total sales had climbed to a staggering 15.5 million.

The automobile had its faults. The front and rear wheels were of different sizes, so it was necessary to carry a double set of tires and inner tubes. It bucked, slipped gears, and rattled. But the country’s love affair with this machine was such that even these character traits were regarded fondly. The goal was a combination of lightness with power and durability, and this was achieved. “Perhaps nothing in it was beautiful,” wrote one observer, “but nothing in it was false.”

Thirty years after the car was introduced, an Ohio farmer, thinking of the old days, wrote to Edsel Ford: “Until your father provided low-cost transportation, the vast majority of [farm] families had scarcely been five miles from home. I can truthfully say that every time such a family group met my eyes, I would reverently say, ‘God bless Henry Ford …’”

NOVEMBER 3: William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan for the Presidency. Eugene Debs, running on the Socialist ticket, got no electoral votes.

NOVEMBER 16: Arturo Toscanini made his American debut, conducting Aida at the Metropolitan Opera House.

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