I'm interested to see what some of you think.
Was it just the price or something more?
Henry Ford had built up a pretty good reputation as a tough, average guy who built tough little cars at a decent price by the time the "T" came out. They probably had one of the better capacities for actual production and a well established dealer network to service their products as well.
The low price probably didn't hurt either.....
Here's what I think. In most cases, at what you call "first release", the Model T usually took the place of a horse, or a team of horses. It costs $$$ to feed horses, and you had to feed them continually, 24/7/365, whether they were working or not. But you only had to "feed" the Model T when it's working. That saves money, and, who could argue with saving money, right? Not to mention that handling the "feed" for horses involved a lot of work!
Harold, that line of reasoning supports adopting any automobile. Why a Ford ? Dale's response points to the perceptions of Ford the man - were his models A,B,C,F,K,N,R and S as successful in the marketplace ? Or, did it take a few years for the T to generate its own demand ?
So far as the cost of maintaining horses, does anyone have factual figures to support whether a Model T was economically attractive by comparison in 1909 ? $ 850.00 was pretty serious money at the time.
Ford was already the largest autobuilder in the world. The Model N, R, S and K (yes K) were outselling everything else. HF was reported saying in July 1906 he intended to build the everyman car for less than $1,000. It was written.......
Henry also did a lot of advertising to his dealers and the general public prior to the release of the model T.
I am no Ford scholar, but I am a lifelong historian with a deep interest
in the 1860-1920 period of the American experience. This includes that
whole horse-to-motorized vehicle transformation. My point is, I come to
the discussion from an outside viewpoint, rather than a Ford fan ....
Henry had a deep genius for building business and his timing with the
emerging automobile revolution was the perfect storm for him to work
his voodoo. He built cars with a fine balance of lower price/not too much
car (accessible to more people) and durability/ease of repair, while investing
deeply in supply networks to ultimately allow him to build the production
line T's that really shot his company beyond anything else ever. And the
more people bought, the greater his support network grew, prices dropped,
and so the snowball grew !
It is really hard to understand from a modern viewpoint just how large a
presence Henry Ford and FOMOCO were in the day-to-day development
of America during the 1905-1925 years.
The Ford Model T did better because it was better.In Australia it quickly proved to be a far superior performer than the prefered British or European models which were low powered and heavy.
It was not only cheaper than others and easier to drive, but could climb hills better , was great over rough poor roads and far less likely to get stuck in wet weather on the boggy roads Add to that its inbuilt strength and cheap spare parts and the fact the design stayed the same or if it changed the updated parts still were a fit.
As early as 1910 reports were pointing out these facts, Ford just had the right product for the times.
I think it really boils down to two things:
Ford built an outstanding dealer network from 1903 through 1908. This made the cars and service support readily available to buyers.
The Model T was just plain better than any other car in a price range affordable to the masses. In 1909, REO, Maxwell, Buick and others offering cars in this price range were selling designs and features that had changed little since 1906. They were behind. Ford produced a car that was a clear evolution of the NRS design, which also included many of the best features of other makes.
I think one needs to define "Better" in this instance. There were more refined engine designs, far more comfortable cars. What made the T "better" was that Ford created a car that was built of good materials, had a great combination of power to weight, was agile as needed then for the pathways it had to go down (or up!) and was relatively simple. True, today we have to learn how to handle it's design features, but back then there wasn't anything to "unlearn"!
The T made almost every owner his or her own mechanic. I have read where that one habit learned from the T allowed us to have a reliable wheeled armed force. If a German vehicle broke down, the soldiers waited for a Mechanic to come from the rear. When an American vehicle broke down, the soldiers just got together and fixed it on the spot. Sometimes with just enough bailing wire to do the day's job and then the mechanics could work on it. Also, Ford's design thinking of simplicity was carried over to many of the other American manufacturers AND a part of the Jeep's design.
The T is truly the car that changed the world.
By better, I mean an overall improvement over the competition. For the last several years, I've spent a lot of time running around with other owners of pre-T automobiles. As a general rule, the ones that can out perform the Model T, or NRS for that matter, were significantly more expensive to buy when they were new. Cars in the same price range as the Model T in 1909 were typically 2-seaters of obsolete design.
For example, Maxwell offered the Model LD priced competitively with the Model T in 1909. The Model LDwas a two-seater, with a simple two-cylinder motor that featured battery and magneto ignition, an enclosed planetary transmission and constant loss oil system. This motor was interchangeable and nearly identical to the ones that powered all Maxwell L series cars from 1905-1912. The car weighed around 1,100 lbs and had a max speed of just over 30 mph. The car featured an all-steel body with very little wood structure required.
Compared to the 45 mph, five passenger, Model T with enclosed transmission and splash lube oil system, the Maxwell looks pretty outdated. Only the steel body and simplicity of design shine above the Model T.
Both cars came fully equipped with lights and tops. Each used thermosyphon cooling. The Maxwell has rear wheel brakes that are only slightly more effective than the internal brakes of the Model T, but only when they are free of grease buildup from the constantly leaking seal-free rear axle.
I can't help but wonder if the Model T transmission had a lot to do with its success. The planetary transmission was not new but having a pedal to operate both high and low was, I believe, pretty unique (at least in the best selling brands of the day). Buick had a planetary transmission but you had a lever for high. Initially, the Model T came out with a lever...for reverse! What a selling point! How many times do you have to use a reverse lever as opposed to a high speed lever?
If you put the Model T in light of the popular standard transmission cars of the day, it wins again! The standard transmission cars were hard to shift due to being unsynchronized. The use of planetary transmissions died out fairly quick after the introduction of the Model T in all cars but the Model T. While the standard transmissions began to take over it was quite some time before it became easier to shift.
Another good selling point was the relatively trouble free Model T planetary as opposed to a cone clutch. Cone clutches were notoriously grabby and required some maintenance such as neatsfoot oil or, if you got to much neatsfoot oil, some fullers earth. My grandfather had a 1925 Buick with a cone clutch. My dad remembered that his dad would mess with it to keep it from grabbing when they started off. He said he really never got it cured. The story goes that they, at one time, had nine Model T's on the farm...and one Buick. The Model T was NOT a real neck jerker but I guess it got the jobs done!
It has to be the self reliant magneto.With the world 110 years ago when your dry cell went dead you stopped!You did not coast 34' to the dollar store!Bud.
I think that Eric Hylan is correct - Henry just built a better product that was available to the masses. In this case, the target market was farmers who could now drive to town in a reasonable time period. Henry F. didn't equate low price with "cheap." Neither did VW with the beetle. Between them, the T and the Beetle sold about 40 million cars. I think there's a lesson in that! My mother used to love the quote: "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Henry built a better mousetrap. Of course Walt Disney built a better mouse, but that's another story...
Burger, I'm not so sure that Henry had a "deep genius for building a business". I think most of the early credit needs to go to James Couzens, who ran the business end of things. Henry was more the "dreamer" and mechanical genius.
I would agree with you but would add to one part of your comment. Once the Ford Motor Company became solidly successful, (with help from Couzens and many others) Henry would go from dreamer to visionary. I believe that vision was his alone.
I think a fair price and it beat a horse or Wagon.I think people developed a love of the vehicles with time. Tim
No man is superior in all fields, but one who recognizes his shortcomings and surrounds himself with others who can compliment him in those areas.....well there is a man who will be successful.
The Model T was different from most other products which increase in price each year as time goes by. The T actually cost about half as much at the end of the 19 year run than it did the first year. When Henry changed things he did it gradually. For example, when he added the starter, he left the crank in place. When he added the battery, he kept the magneto, so you had two ways to start the car and two ways to run the car, so if one way failed, the car still ran.
History repeats itself. My first home desktop computer was a store display model running Windows 95. Cost me $1100 or so. Now look at the price of an average laptop of today.
Clearly Henry (the other one) was both smart and lucky. But what sealed the deal was an affordable car with a back seat. After all, at least one theory indicates mankind may have diminished to near extinction by the middle 20th century if it weren't for an adequate supply of back seats.
Many people are unaware that Ford was already the largest auto builder in 1907. Henry Ford had the desire to build an inexpensive, advanced family car, and provide it at the best price possible. As some have mentioned, James Couzens was the right man in the right place at the right time. Throw in Norville Hawkins by 1908, and Ford had everything in place when the Model T hit the market.
Technologically, the T had so many things that other automobiles had, except they were all combined in one model. I think another stroke of genius was going with one chassis, and offerening many body styles. Economies of scale then took over, and as the T became "outdated" production techniques and mass production allowed decreasing price to keep the car relevant (relevant, hell, put the world on wheels...)
What a great story.
Burger, I agree, the story of the U.S. during this time is important too. Before 1920, over half the U.S. population lived in the country/farms. After 1920, the shift to urban and suburban population centers.
My 2 cents....
So many factors to consider.
One that doesn't get talked about often enough, and certainly most people are not aware of. Is how close we, the world, came to not having Henry Ford and the model T. Many people understand that Henry was the "right person at the right time"! However, he was almost twenty years too early. Born in 1863, he was in his thirtys when he built the Quadracycle, almost forty when Thomas Edison encouraged him to follow his dream, and fully forty when the Ford Motor Company was founded. Most of his fellow automotive innovators were fully ten or more years younger than Henry was. R E Olds was born only a year later, however he built his first automobile (steam powered) nearly ten years earlier than Ford did. And Ransom's father owned and ran one of the largest gasoline industrial and marine engine manufacturing companies in the world. Ransom Eli had no financial difficulties to overcome, and had all the facilities he could want for his early experiments.
Some of Ford's disadvantages may have actually helped him in realizing his ultimate dreams, even though a bit late in life. The lessons he learned with his struggles ultimately helped him to overcome roadblocks for controlling and building the largest factory in the world.
A few years difference surrounding the circumstances, and Henry Ford could easily have been an unknown factory manager for someone else.
As for the fast success of the model T? Henry did it about as right as anyone could have done it. Enough experimentation, a lot of teaching himself things that nobody at the time knew, and a good amount of publicity and self-promotion. He was poised to get the successful company going.
One must always keep the truth of historic events in the context of their time. The first model A Fords were not the cheapest cars of their day, nor were they the best cars of their day. And they certainly were nothing compared to what was being done ten years later. But for 1903, nothing else was as good a value, and certainly nothing at that price was being built by anyone as well known as Henry. Alexander Winton was better known than Henry was, before 1900. However, Winton had no desire to build "cheap" cars. Ransom Eli Olds was fighting the same issues with investors that Henry did. He also, independently, had a similar vision of cars for the masses. Olds was manufacturing the CDO two years before Henry's first model As were available. Before the Ford model N, the Olds CDO was the largest produced car of the world. In that early decade, R E Olds was Henry's greatest competition. First with the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, then with the REO, his two companies were among the biggest competitors Henry had to get ahead of. The forces behind Maxwell had gotten their training from Olds, Cadillac was begun by Ford, and Buick was about the only other major competition in the quality low price field at that time. (Buick was being run by William Durant, who later founded Chevrolet)
The automobile's time had come. Hundreds of people around the world contributed to the development of the automobile. It was going to become a force in the world. However, when one realizes how only a handful of people had the vision for the automobile to become a "universal car"? The impact of the automobile could have been quite different than Henry Ford made it.
From 1901, through 1906, tens of thousands of Curved Dash Oldsmobiles were manufactured. The model A was manufactured by Ford for only about two years, and only about two thousand were built. The similar mechanically model C and F were also only built in a few thousand from 1904 through 1905. But these cars were far superior to the CDO, and only a little more expensive. The model B and K Fords added greatly to the quality image of the Ford product, and Henry's knowledge and design abilities. But were relatively expensive, although remarkable values compared to other larger cars of the day. In 1906, the model N was an incredible car, compared to everything else. For ONLY $500. LESS than the models A, C, F, or any other model Ford before it, the bare-bones model N was a powerful four cylinder modern automobile. The R, S, and their minor variations cost only a little more, and blew away all their competition. Ford manufactured as many of these models as he could, and sold them all!
The single failing of the NRS Fords, was that they were a little under-built, and most carried only two people. Ford could have easily provided a simple detachable tonneau for any of these models (similar to the ones offered for the models A, C, F), and been as good as any other low price car on the market (or better than most). But Henry did not do that. He had better ideas.
He had been held back, for a few years now, by how many cars he could produce. He needed a better, more universal design, one that was light enough for a runabout, yet strong enough for a five passenger touring (or even slightly heavier work). And he needed the means to manufacture them in larger numbers. The design, was the model T Ford. The means was Highland Park. When the model T was unveiled, the world was ready, and eager to buy. Highland Park was nearly ready to open, and Henry wasn't yet done with bigger ideas.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
I got interrupted before I finished that piece, and when I went back to it I left out one detail that I had intended to put in.
When the model T was made available, it was $850 for the basic touring car. Considerably more than the early model A with a tonneau or the $500 that the first bare-bones model N sold for. The later N and the R, S and S Roadsters (the only cars in the NRS series to carry three people) sold for somewhat more, however still less than the T touring. But the T was much more car, and had more power. It was worth every penny.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
I once asked a participant in a HCCA tour who had a big collection of high dollar cars, why he was on the tour with a 1915 T tourer. His reply was, "I know it will do the distance."
How many other cars do you know of which will consistently out perform an early T, regardless of price? It was this performance at such a reasonable price which propelled the success of the T. Peter Kable was right on.
Allan from down under.
horses v/s cars thats why I got old and have a
low maintenance cat ain't gotta walk a cat in the snow !!
If you had ever woke up in a cold morning and had to catch the horses, harness them, load the wagon, and head to town you'd know why the T was such a hit.