the 19th century rolled into the 20th, a young entrepreneur named Henry Ford
boasted, I will build a car for the great multitude. He tried and tried, naming each of his models of what was then
called the horseless carriage after a succeeding letter in the Roman alphabet.
took 20 models – 20 of the 26 letters.
But in 1908, 100 years ago this year, he achieved his goal.
20-horsepower Model T, the first automobile to be mass-produced with
interchangeable parts on an assembly line, was eminently affordable. A stripped-down model with no top,
windshield, or gas lamps cost $850 – less than half what comparable cars
assembly-line idea was borrowed from a dis-assembly line – the production line
at meatpacking plants where animal carcasses were cut apart as they moved down
a conveyor belt. The process of
building Model T's was streamlined further, and soon Ford was turning out an
unheard-of 100 Model T's a day.
was able to cut the selling price in half, to about $500. Just about any working American could afford
Model T proved so dependable that people called it the Tin Lizzie. Lizzie was a
popular nickname back then for a reliable house servant. And this servant on wheels drove Americans
places many of them had never ventured.
Ford is often quoted as saying that any customer can have a car painted any
color that he wants, so long as it is black.
Most Model T's were covered in black paint, which for some reason was
cheaper and dried faster. But other
colors could be ordered.
the time the last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927, Ford had sold
more than 15 million of the reliable cars in the United States alone. And at antique automobile shows – especially
this centennial year – thousands of old, carefully polished and preserved Tin
Lizzies survive as the symbol of an entire era: the Automotive Age.