What Is a Ford Model T?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Ford Model T is a make of automobile produced by the Ford Motor Company in the United States between 1909 and 1927. This car marked a number of innovations in the automobile industry, and it has become extremely famous. Extant examples can be seen in car museums and sometimes on the open road, thanks to car enthusiasts who restore and maintain Model Ts and other classic cars.

The Ford Model T was an automobile produced by the Ford Motor Company between 1909 and 1927.
The Ford Model T was an automobile produced by the Ford Motor Company between 1909 and 1927.

Known colloquially as the Tin Lizzie, the Model T was designed to be affordable to almost all citizens. Ford claimed that he wanted to build a car accessible to the masses. The Ford Model T was inexpensive and durable, to target it at the bulk of the population. Since roads of the era were often in poor condition or nonexistent, he had to build a car with different design concerns in mind. The engine was more robust to compensate for steep grades and treacherous terrain, and the Ford Model T operated at relatively low speeds.

The Ford Model T made it possible for most families to own a vehicle.
The Ford Model T made it possible for most families to own a vehicle.

Providing cost-effective cars created new possibilities for many residents of the United States and ushered in a long love affair between Americans and their cars. The Ford Model T made it possible for most families to own a vehicle they could use for commuting and recreation, and numerous battered models could be seen on the roads during the Great Depression, when impoverished families packed up their cars and fled for other regions of the country in search of work.

Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line for the Model T, but he contributed significantly to the refinement of mass production in the United States. The Ford Model T had a very basic, utilitarian design, and he focused on getting cars off the line as quickly as possible by breaking manufacturing down into a number of components. Rather than using artisans to construct the car by hand, he created a factory setting where each worker focused on specific parts and moved cars in progress through different departments until they were finished. This is a standard part of production today, but it was unusual at the time.

One of the enduring legends about the Ford Model T is the quote attributed to Ford, who allegedly said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” In fact, early models came in a range of colors like green and red. The all-black production didn't start until shortly before the First World War, and may have been an innovation to save money on production costs by using a single paint color. The black paint was also extremely durable, an important quality in a low-cost vehicle that owners might be unlikely to repaint during its lifetime.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Here's something else confusing. There was a Model A that was built by hand and sold for a couple of years. It came out at least a decade before the Model T. That name was recycled for the Model A which replaced the Model T.

Confusing? The auto industry has confused people since the very beginning.


What is fascinating about this car is that it is sometimes regarded as the first automobile. That is not true. The Model T was the first affordable automobile because it was mass produced rather than built by hand like earlier models.

Something else odd is the way this thing was made. The Model T was replaced by the Model A but, logically, you'd think the Model A came first.

Thus started a tradition of naming vehicles strangely.

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