Early Ford Trucks
25 artifacts in this set
In a sense, "Ford trucks" predate Ford Motor Company's founding in 1903. Henry Ford established his first car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, four years earlier. This delivery van was its first product. The venture was not successful. Detroit Automobile Company built no more than 20 vehicles before going out of business in January 1901.
Ford Motor Company produced some commercial trucks in its first years. The automaker's 1905 lineup included the delivery van seen on page 23 of this sales brochure. Apart from the enclosed body for cargo, the van was identical to Ford's Model C automobile. The van was priced at $950 while the two-seat car retailed for $800.
Ford introduced its groundbreaking Model T in 1908. Its chassis was light, strong and flexible. It was highly adaptable too. Over the T's 19-year production run, Ford used the platform for open touring cars, runabouts, roadsters, and enclosed sedans. Buyers modified the T into even more configurations. Eventually, Ford adapted the Model T chassis for truck service as well.
The company first experimented with a truck-style Model T in the form of a light delivery car. It used the same chassis and engine as the T automobile, but it had an enclosed wooden body for cargo with two doors at the rear. Though competitively priced at $700, the light delivery car didn't sell well and was discontinued in 1913.
The Model T's enormous popularity inspired countless aftermarket products and accessories -- including truck conversion kits. The Smith Form-a-Truck Company manufactured kits to extend and reinforce a Model T's frame, and to connect its rear axle and rear wheels with a hefty chain drive. The kits also included heavier rear wheels with solid tires to replace the T's pneumatic tires.
Ford-based trucks soon appeared in combat environments. As World War I raged across Europe, the Red Cross operated cook wagons built on Model T chassis. These vehicles moved quickly toward the front lines to provide hot food and drink. Each cook wagon could make stew for several hundred people or brew 60 gallons of coffee.
Ford's war efforts increased substantially once the United States entered the conflict in 1917. The company collaborated with the U.S. Surgeon General's office, as well as with front-line drivers, to design an ambulance based on the Model T. Ford built 5,745 of these ambulances for the Allied forces during the war. It built another 107 units for the Red Cross.
Ford joined the factory-built truck market to stay when it introduced the 1-ton Model TT in 1917. The truck used the same four-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine as the Model T car, but the truck's frame and rear suspension were reinforced to accommodate heavy loads. The Model TT also had a longer wheelbase -- 124 inches versus the Model T's 100 inches.
The Ford Model TT was a true heavy-duty truck optimized for hard work and hefty loads. Like the frame and suspension, the drivetrain received modifications. The standard Model T rear-axle pinion gear was replaced with a tougher -- but slower -- worm gear. Even with the optional high-speed worm gear, suggested top speed was only 22 mph.
Buyers who wanted a light-duty Ford truck without the TT's modifications had two main options. They could buy a Model T chassis and fit it with an aftermarket body and bed. Or they could purchase a two-seat Model T roadster, then remove the rear deck and replace it with a truck bed. Roadster conversions were popular -- despite their limited load capacities.
Ford Motor Company noticed the popularity of these aftermarket roadster trucks. The company introduced a factory-built Model T pickup in April 1925. The pickup featured a steel bed 56 inches long and 40-3/4 inches wide. Ford set the price at $281 and sold nearly 33,800 Model T pickups that first year.
Ford's TT trucks were a hit with farmers who used the vehicles to haul their produce either directly to market or to the nearest railroad depot for shipment to farther points. The stake body truck was especially flexible. The racks were removable to ease loading and unloading, or to accommodate oversized loads.
The versatility of the Model T and the Model TT made both vehicles practical platforms for fire trucks. Ford's low prices appealed to small-town fire departments with modest budgets. This Model T truck, modified for firefighting by American LaFrance, served the community of Milan, Michigan, for 12 years.
Albert Luce, a Ford dealer in Georgia, used a Model TT chassis as the platform for his innovative school bus. The body was made from wood but reinforced with steel -- perfect for withstanding rough rural roads. Luce's successful design led him to form the Blue Bird Company in 1932 and begin manufacturing buses full time.
One of the most unusual trucks produced by Ford Motor Company technically wasn't a Ford. This camp truck, built on a Lincoln chassis, was created for Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone to use on their "Vagabond" camping trips. It carried food and cooking utensils for the group's elaborate meals.
Slumping sales prompted Ford to replace the Model T with the all-new Model A for 1928. Likewise, the Model TT was succeeded by the Model AA. The 1-1/2 ton AA truck boasted beefier front and rear springs and a stronger rear axle. The standard AA rode on a 131.5-inch wheelbase. Ford added a 157-inch wheelbase version in 1930.
Ford complemented the heavy-duty Model AA with the light-duty Model A pickup. Both the AA truck and the A pickup were powered by the same four-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine used in Ford's Model A automobiles. The company sold more than 212,000 trucks in 1929 -- a great year for the industry in general -- but numbers fell when the Great Depression hit.
During the 1929 model year, the Model AA's welded spoke wheels were replaced with ventilated steel disc wheels, and a four-speed gearbox was made standard. Although Model A cars received styling updates for 1929, trucks remained unchanged into 1930 -- allowing Ford to use up its surplus 1929 front end components.
Ford brought horsepower to the mass market when it introduced an affordable V-8 engine in 1932. By casting the crankcase and cylinder banks as a single unit, the company cut production costs for the innovative engine. Ford offered the V-8 in cars starting in spring 1932, and in light and heavy-duty trucks by that fall.
Early trucks were considered working vehicles, and their standard equipment was basic. By the late 1930s, Ford offered some options. The buyer might upgrade a new truck with an available heavy-duty suspension, vacuum-powered windshield wipers, a windshield defroster, turn signals, or a locking fuel cap. More "extravagant" options included a clock and a radio.
Pickup styling tended to lag behind that of automobiles. Ford's cars got a fresh look for 1941, but its trucks received only minor updates. Apart from an abbreviated 1942 model run, these would be the last new civilian vehicles for a few years. Ford turned its employees and facilities exclusively to military production when the U.S. entered World War II.
Ford Motor Company made everything from airplanes to tents during the war. The total value of its wartime production approached $4 billion. Ford employees built some 282,000 jeeps, 77,000 trucks, and 12,000 sedans and station wagons for the Allied forces. Ford cargo trucks were important products from the "Arsenal of Democracy" -- President Roosevelt's memorable phrase for American industry's war effort.
Throughout the war, Americans on the home front depended on buses and trucks to move passengers and freight. In 1944, the U.S. government authorized manufacturers to build and sell a limited number of trucks and buses for domestic use. Ford produced some civilian chassis based on prewar designs and powered by the company's steadfast V-8 engine.
When Ford introduced its first all-new postwar trucks, it advertised them as "Bonus Built," which suggested they gave buyers added value for their money. The 1948 Ford F-1 had all the utility of its predecessors, but with a modern appearance. It marked a new way of thinking about trucks -- designed not just for cargo, but for people.
Farmers and business operators were still Ford's target truck markets when the F-1 debuted. But the stylish truck hinted at the pickup's greater sales potential. Over the following decades, F-series trucks grew more refined, eventually offering comforts and conveniences equal to family sedans. By the late 20th century, Ford's F-series trucks were the best-selling vehicles in the United States.