The 'Patriarch' Who Put Americans In the Driver's Seat
AP Photo/File
The 'Patriarch' Who Put Americans In the Driver's Seat
AP Photo/File
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An irony of history is that the first Volkswagen was designed by Henry Ford. He named his the Model T - but it was the first car for the people

Before the introduction of the Model T on October 1, 1908, cars were for affluent people only - because only the affluent could afford to buy what were then largely hand-built, one-at-a-time and made-to-order cars. Ford’s ideas was to simplify - and standardize. Fewer parts - and each one made to fit every car that was made just like it. Instead of craftsmen hand-building cars one-at-time, a moving assembly line creating a brand-new Model T every 93 minutes by  1914. 

These manufacturing efficiencies saved time - and that saved money. 

A first-year Model T listed for $850. But by 1924, the same car - and it was largely the same car - cost only $250. The Model T was the only car that got cheaper with each new model year, because Ford was the only car company that lowered production costs - and passed the savings on to buyers. Henry Ford knew there would be more of them - and so, more money for him, ultimately - if more people could afford to buy his cars.

Including the people who made them.

Including the unprecedented number of black Americans who migrated from the poverty of the rural South and found good-paying jobs at Ford plants. Some became skilled machinists and foremen, earning their way into the new American middle class. By the end of World War I, Ford was the largest employer of black workers in Detroit - and many of those black workers were driving a car, something only the privileged (and mostly white) could previously afford. 

The Model T ended that privilege by making it general.  

“I will build a car for the great multitude," Henry Ford said. "It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces.” 

Ford put the American people on wheels. Their own wheels. It was peak individualism. 

He made it possible for average Americans to go places most of them would never have otherwise seen because average Americans could now go practically anywhere they wanted to go, anytime they wanted to go there - in a Model T Ford. Previously, Americans were tethered by their proximity to a bus or a train line. Or limited by how far a horse could go before it needed a rest. Millions of Americans had never traveled farther than 50 miles away from the town they were born in, prior to the introduction of the T.

Now it was possible for them to drive their Model T 50 miles in a couple of hours. 

And they didn't need a paved road to get there, either. The Model T was designed for dirt roads. For bad roads. And bad weather, too. It rode high off the ground on deliberately skinny wheels designed to cut through mud and snow. Practically anything that went wrong on the road could be fixed by the side of the road, too. The T's engine did not even have a fuel pump - because gravity rarely fails. It had a very low-compression engine, so it could burn almost any kind of fuel without risking damage to the engine. And if you could crank it, you could start it.

The T didn't even need a battery.

It wasn't just personal transportation that Ford revolutionized, either. Farmers used modified Model T's to plow their fields. And when the crops were ready, they could be brought from farm to market much faster via a Model T flatbed truck than a horse pulling a cart.

Ford built essentially the same Model T, tweaked here and there, all the way through to 1927 - by which time more than 15 million of them had been sold. The only other car that matched this number was, in fact, the Volkswagen. But it only managed that feat after a production run that lasted decades longer, from the late 1930s (with an interruption during the war years) all the way through to 2002, when the last one was made in Mexico.

And it was the Model T that inspired the Volkswagen - as well as every mass-produced car that has come afterward, including modern inheritors such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. They all owe a debt to Ford, who showed everyone how to make a car for everyone.

Not just for the privileged few.

And that's not all. Ford - the man - used his own money to finance relief programs for down-on-their-luck Detroiters during the Great Depression, built community centers, fixed-up schools and ran low-cost commissaries in what Leftists today call "underserved" communities. This self-taught farm-boy engineer considered it his privilege to help others - with his own rather than other people's money.

And by putting Americans - all kinds and colors - on wheels.

Even if the Model T itself was only available in one color.

A.J. Rice, is President & CEO of Publius PR, Editor-in-Chief of The Publius National Post, and author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, The Woking Dead: How Society's Vogue Virus Destroys Our Culture.

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