The Model T for everyone

The Ford Model T will transform the landscape of America for ever

The Ford Motor Company was able to beat the competition not only because of the qualities of the car, but also its price. To lower the price, one needs to increase the productivity of the employees. Ford didn’t invent assembly lines and conveyers, but he (with the help Charles E. Sorensen) improved the process in a way that left his competitors far behind. Between 1909 and the early 1920, new methods were constantly introduced to limit the mobility of the worker and eliminate any wasted time. The psychological exhaustion associated with those repetitive, depressing tasks will inspire Charlie Chaplin in his movie Modern Times. However at some point even ordinary workers will be able to purchase a T model. The following table gives an idea of the evolution of prices and sales for the most common T models between 1909 and 1919.

Runabout Touring
Year Production, (USA) Price $ Production, (USA) Price $
1909 2,351 825 7,728 850
1910 1,486 900 16,890 950
1911 7,845 680 26,405 780
1912 ? 590 50,598 690
1913 33,129 525 126,715 600
1914 35,017 500 165,832 550
1915 47,116 440 244,181 490
1916 98,633 390 363,024 440
1917 107,240 345 568,128 360
1918 73,559 345 432,519 360
1919 48,867 500 286,935 525

Table: Total production of the Runabout and Touring (Ford model T)
by year, 1909-1919

In August 1913, Sorenson calculates that it takes 250 workers with 9 hours per day to make 6182 chassis in 26 days, so 12.5 hours of work per chassis. A couple of months later, it takes them less than two hours/chassis. The productivity gain is such that Ford Motor Company cannot just lower the price of the car, but even double the salary of its workers overnight. On January 5, 1914 Ford announces that the day of work will be paid $5 (for 8 hours) instead of $2,34 (for 9 hours). This is not just a philanthropic move; the stress created by repetitive tasks and the cost associated with the lost of an experienced employee need to be taken in account. The competitors will take several years before to react and use similar methods. It’s only after 1915 that General Motors, with its Chevrolet 490, becomes a serious rival for Ford. The Chevrolet 490 has also 4 cylinders, develops 20 hp and cost 550$ with a full electrical system ($490 otherwise, like the Ford Model T Touring)