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Seated man with two women standing behind him

Mose Nowland, with wife Marcia and daughter Suzanne, at The Henry Ford in June 2021.

The Henry Ford lost a dear friend and a treasured colleague on August 13, 2021, with the passing of Mose Nowland. When he joined our Conservation Department as a volunteer in 2012, Mose had just concluded a magnificent 57-year career with Ford Motor Company—most of it in the company’s racing program—and he was eager for something to keep himself occupied in retirement. We soon discovered that “retire” was just about the only thing that Mose didn’t know how to do.

To fans of Ford Performance, Mose was a legendary figure. He joined the Blue Oval in 1955 and, after a brief pause for military service, he spent most of the next six decades building racing engines. Mose led work on the double overhead cam V-8 that powered Jim Clark to his Indianapolis 500 win with the 1965 Lotus-Ford. Mose was on the team behind the big 427 V-8 that gave Ford its historic wins over Ferrari at Le Mans—first with the GT40 Mark II in 1966 and then again with the Mark IV in 1967. And Mose was there in the 1980s when Ford returned to NASCAR and earned checkered flags and championships with top drivers like Davey Allison and Bill Elliott.

Black-and-white photo of man with a car engine
Mose with one of his creations during Ford’s Total Performance heyday.

Following his retirement, Mose transitioned gracefully into the role of elder statesman, becoming one of the last remaining participants from Ford’s glory years in the “Total Performance” 1960s. Museums and private collectors sought him out with questions on engines and cars from that era, and he was always happy to share advice and insight. Mose’s expertise was exceeded only by his modesty. He never claimed any personal credit for Ford’s racing triumphs—he was just proud to have been part of a team that made motorsport history. Mose was able to see that history reach a wider audience with the success of the recent movie Ford v Ferrari.

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Ford workers, racing, race cars, philanthropy, Old Car Festival, Model Ts, Mark IV, making, in memoriam, Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Ford Motor Company, engines, engineering, collections care, cars, by Matt Anderson, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Panoramic image of brick building with many windows behind parking lot completely filled with cars

THF97674

In 1913, Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.

Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in manufacturing history.

Looking back now, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces, and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.

People work in a factory at a long line containing round parts, with bins of screws or bolts underneath
Workers place magnets on Model T flywheels, 1913. Fittingly, successful experiments with a moving magneto assembly line “sparked” Ford’s adoption of assembly line techniques throughout Highland Park. / THF96001

The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.

Diagram with numbered shapes and textual key underneath
Flow charts and maps in the book illustrated the logical, sequential arrangement of machine tools at Highland Park. / THF600582

It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes—an extraordinary improvement over 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.

People work on car bodies in factory
Workers lower an engine into a Model T chassis, 1913. Note that the line is not yet chain-driven. Ford constantly improved the assembly line in search of time and cost savings. / THF91696

The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which then prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.

The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.

Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate more than a century later.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from a 2013 post in our Pic of the Month series.

research, Model Ts, cars, Ford Motor Company, manufacturing, by Matt Anderson, Henry Ford, books

Portrait of man with wavy hair wearing suit
Henry Ford’s first official Ford Motor Company portrait, 1904. / THF97952


Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. But more than any other single individual, he was responsible for transforming the automobile from an invention of unknown utility into an innovation that profoundly shaped the 20th century and continues to affect the 21st.

Innovators change things. They take new ideas—sometimes their own, sometimes other people’s—and develop and promote those ideas until they become an accepted part of daily life. Innovation requires self-confidence, a taste for taking risks, leadership ability, and a vision of what the future should be. Henry Ford had all these characteristics, but it took him many years to develop all of them fully.

Portrait of the Innovator as a Young Man


Ford’s beginnings were perfectly ordinary. He was born on his father’s farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan, on July 30, 1863. At this time, most Americans were born on farms, and most looked forward to being farmers themselves. Early on, Ford demonstrated some of the characteristics that would make him successful. In his family, he became infamous for taking apart his siblings’ toys as well as his own. He organized other boys to build rudimentary waterwheels and steam engines. He learned about full-size steam engines by becoming acquainted with the engines’ operators and pestering them with questions. He taught himself to fix watches and used the watches themselves as textbooks to learn the basics of machine design. Thus, at an early age, Ford demonstrated curiosity, self-confidence, mechanical ability, the capacity for leadership, and a preference for learning by trial and error. These characteristics would become the foundation of his whole career.

Framed painting of a number of boys working with wood, machinery, and fire
Artist Irving Bacon depicted Henry Ford in his first workshop, along with friends, in this 1938 painting. / THF152920

Ford could simply have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer. But young Henry was fascinated by machines and was willing to take risks to pursue that fascination. In 1879, he left the farm to become an apprentice at a machine shop in Detroit. Over the next few years, he held jobs at several places, sometimes moving when he thought he could learn more somewhere else. He returned home in 1882 but did little farming. Instead, he operated and serviced portable steam engines used by farmers, occasionally worked in factories in Detroit, and cut and sold timber from 40 acres of his father’s land.

By now, Ford was demonstrating another characteristic—a preference for working on his own rather than for somebody else. In 1888, Ford married Clara Bryant, and in 1891 they moved to Detroit. Ford had taken a job as night engineer for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company—another risk on his part, because he did not know a great deal about electricity at this point. He took the job in part as an opportunity to learn.

Black-and-white photograph of men standing among machinery outside a large brick building
Henry Ford (third from left, in white coat) with other employees at Edison Illuminating Company Plant, November 1895. / THF244633

Early Automotive Experiments: Failure and Then Success


Henry was a skilled student, and by 1896 had risen to chief engineer of the Illuminating Company. But he had other interests. He became one of the scores of other people working in barns and small shops trying to make horseless carriages. Ford read about these other efforts in magazines, copying some of the ideas and adding some of his own, and convinced a small group of friends and colleagues to help him. This resulted in his first primitive automobile, the Quadricycle, completed in 1896. A second, more sophisticated car followed in 1898.

Green cushioned seat on top of platform containing mechanics with four wheels and rudder
Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle Runabout, the first car he built. / THF90760

Ford now demonstrated one of his most important characteristics—the ability to articulate a vision and convince other people to sign on and help him achieve that vision. He convinced a group of businessmen to back him in the biggest risk of his life—starting a company to make horseless carriages. But Ford knew nothing about running a business, and learning by doing often involves failure. The new company failed, as did a second.

To revive his fortunes, Ford took bigger risks, building and even driving a pair of racing cars. The success of these cars attracted additional financial backers, and on June 16, 1903, just before his 40th birthday, Henry incorporated his third automobile venture, the Ford Motor Company.

The early history of Ford Motor Company illustrates another of Henry Ford’s most valuable traits—his ability to identify and attract outstanding talent. He hired a core of young, highly competent people who would stay with him for years and make Ford Motor Company into one of the world’s great industrial enterprises.

Street scene with man in early, open car; also contains text
Print of Norman Rockwell's painting, "Henry Ford in First Model A on Detroit Street." / THF288551

The new company’s first car was called the Model A, and a variety of improved models followed. In 1906, Ford’s 4-cylinder, $600 Model N became the best-selling car in the country. But by this time, Ford had a vision of an even better, cheaper “motorcar for the great multitude.” Working with a small group of employees, he came up with the Model T, introduced on October 1, 1908.

The Automobile: A Solution in Search of a Problem


As hard as it is for us to believe, in 1908 there was still much debate about exactly what automobiles were good for. We may see them as a necessary part of daily life, but the situation in 1908 was very different. Americans had arranged their world to accommodate the limits of the transportation devices available to them. People in cities got where they wanted to go by using electric street cars, horse-drawn cabs, bicycles, and shoe leather because all the places they wanted to go were located within reach of those transportation modes.

Street scene with pedestrians and carriages; tall buildings line both sides of street
This Boston street scene, circa 1908, shows pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages on the road—but no cars. / THF203438

Most of the commercial traffic in cities still moved in horse-drawn vehicles. Rural Americans simply accepted the limited travel radius of horse- or mule-drawn vehicles. For long distances, Americans used our extensive, well-developed railroad network. People did not need automobiles to conduct their daily activities. Rather, the people who bought cars used them as a new means of recreation. They drove them on joyrides into the countryside. The recreational aspect of these early cars was so important that people of the time divided motor vehicles into two large categories: commercial vehicles, like trucks and taxicabs, and pleasure vehicles, like private automobiles. The term “passenger cars” was still years away. The automobile was an amazing invention, but it was essentially an expensive toy, a plaything for the rich. It was not yet a true innovation.

Henry Ford had a wider vision for the automobile. He summed it up in a statement that appeared in 1913 in the company magazine, Ford Times:

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude. 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 so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one—and enjoy with his family the blessings of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

Two-page spread with text and image of family looking from a hill at a landscape, with a ghostly factory in the sky
This 1924 Ford ad, part of a series, echoes the vision expressed 11 years earlier by Henry Ford: “Back of all of the activities of the Ford Motor Company is this Universal idea—a wholehearted belief that riding on the people’s highway should be in easy reach of all the people.” / THF95501

It was this vision that moved Henry Ford from inventor and businessman to innovator. To achieve his vision, Ford drew on all the qualities he had been developing since childhood: curiosity, self-confidence, mechanical ability, leadership, a preference for learning by trial and error, a willingness to take risks, and an ability to identify and attract talented people.

One Innovation Leads to Another


Ford himself guided a design team that created a car that pushed technical boundaries. The Model T’s one-piece engine block and removable cylinder head were unusual in 1908 but would eventually become standard on all cars. The Ford’s flexible suspension system was specifically designed to handle the dreadful roads that were then typical in the United States. The designers utilized vanadium alloy steel that was stronger for its weight than standard carbon steel. The Model T was lighter than its competitors, allowing its 20-horsepower engine to give it performance equal to that of more expensive cars.

Page with text and image of car at top
1908 advertisement for the 1909 Ford Model T. In advertisements, Ford Motor Company emphasized key technological features and the low prices of their Model Ts. Ford's usage of vanadium steel enabled the company to make a lighter, sturdier, and more reliable vehicle than other early competitors. / THF122987

The new Ford car proved to be so popular that Henry could easily sell all he could make, but he wanted to be able to make all he could sell. So Ford and his engineers began a relentless drive both to raise the rate at which Model Ts could be produced and to lower the cost of production.

In 1910, the company moved into a huge new factory in Highland Park, a city just north of Detroit. Borrowing ideas from watchmakers, clockmakers, gunmakers, sewing machine makers, and meat processors, Ford Motor Company had, by 1913, developed a moving assembly line for automobiles. But Ford did not limit himself to technical improvements.

When his workforce objected to the relentless, repetitive work that the line entailed, Ford responded with perhaps his boldest idea ever—he doubled wages to $5 per day. With that one move, he stabilized his workforce and gave it the ability to buy the very cars it made. He hired a brilliant accountant named Norval Hawkins as his sales manager. Hawkins created a sales organization and advertising campaign that fueled potential customers’ appetites for Fords. Model T sales rose steadily while the selling price dropped. By 1921, half the cars in America were Model Ts, and a new one could be had for as little as $415.

Portrait of man wearing suit
Norval Hawkins headed the sales department at Ford Motor Company for 12 years, introducing innovative advertising techniques and increasing Ford’s annual sales from 14,877 vehicles in 1907 to 946,155 in 1919. / THF145969

Through these efforts, Ford turned the automobile from an invention bought by the rich into a true innovation available to a wide audience. By the 1920s, largely as a result of the Model T’s success, the term “pleasure car” was fading away, replaced by “passenger car.”

The assembly line techniques pioneered at Highland Park spread throughout the auto industry and into other manufacturing industries as well. The high-wage, low-skill jobs pioneered at Highland Park also spread throughout the manufacturing sector. Advertising themes pioneered by Ford Motor Company are still being used today. Ford’s curiosity, leadership, mechanical ability, willingness to take risks, ability to attract talented people, and vision produced innovations in transportation, manufacturing, labor relations, and advertising.

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Innovate


Green car with black top, with text on side: "The Fifteen Millionth Ford"
Henry Ford was slow to admit that customers no longer wanted the Model T. However, in 1927, he finally acknowledged that shift, and Henry Ford and his son, Edsel Ford, drove this last Model T—number 15,000,000—off the assembly line at Highland Park. / THF135450

Henry Ford’s great success did not necessarily bring with it great wisdom. In fact, his very success may have blinded him as he looked to the future. The Model T was so successful that he saw no need to significantly change or improve it. He did authorize many detail changes that resulted in lower cost or improved reliability, but there was never any fundamental change to the design he had laid down in 1907.

He was slow to adopt innovations that came from other carmakers, like electric starters, hydraulic brakes, windshield wipers, and more luxurious interiors. He seemed not to realize that the consumer appetites he had encouraged and fulfilled would continue to grow. He seemed not to want to acknowledge that once he started his company down the road of innovation, it would have to keep innovating or else fall behind companies that did innovate. He ignored the growing popularity of slightly more expensive but more stylish and comfortable cars, like the Chevrolet, and would not listen to Ford executives who believed it was time for a new model.

But Model T sales were beginning to slip by 1923, and by the late 1920s, even Henry Ford could no longer ignore the declining sales figures. In 1927, he reluctantly shut down the Model T assembly lines and began the design of an all-new car. It appeared in December 1927 and was such a departure from the old Ford that the company went back to the beginning of the alphabet for a name—it was called the Model A.

Two men wearing suits stand by car in indoor space with lights and banners
Edsel and Henry Ford introduce the new Model A at the Ford Industrial Exposition in New York in January 1928. Edsel had worked to convince his father to replace the outmoded Model T with something new. / THF91597

One area where Ford did keep innovating was in actual car production. In 1917, he began construction of a vast new plant on the banks of the Rouge River southwest of Detroit. This plant would give Ford Motor Company complete control over nearly all aspects of the production process. Raw materials from Ford mines would arrive on Ford boats, and would be converted into iron and steel, which were transformed into engines, transmissions, frames, and bodies. Glass and tires would be made onsite as well, and all of this would be assembled into completed cars. Assembly of the new Model A was transferred to the Rouge. Eventually the plant would employ 100,000 people and generate many innovations in auto manufacturing.

But improvements in manufacturing were not enough to make up for the fact that Henry Ford was no longer a leader in automotive design. The Model A was competitive for only four years before needing to be replaced by a newer model. In 1932, at age 69, Ford introduced his last great automotive innovation, the lightweight, inexpensive V-8 engine. It represented a real technological and marketing breakthrough, but in other areas Fords continued to lag behind their competitors.

Engine
The V-8 engine was Henry Ford’s last great automotive innovation. This is the first V-8 engine produced, which is on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF101039

By 1936, the company that once sold half of the cars made in America had fallen to third place behind both General Motors and the upstart Chrysler Corporation. By the time Henry Ford died in 1947, his great company was in serious trouble, and a new generation of innovators, led by his grandson Henry Ford II, would work long and hard to restore it to its former glory. Henry’s story is a textbook example of the power of innovation—and the power of its absence.


Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Henry Ford and Innovation: From the Curators.”

by Bob Casey, engines, advertising, Ford Rouge Factory Complex, Model Ts, entrepreneurship, engineering, manufacturing, cars, quadricycle, Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford

Crowd of people stands by railway tracks with trains on them and a building on the other side of the tracks
Passengers rush to board the Overland Limited, which ran between Los Angeles and Chicago over the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway, ca. 1905. /
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Between 1865 and 1920, America’s railroad network increased sevenfold, from 35,085 miles to an all-time high of 254,037 miles in 1916. The rapid expansion of the national rail network corresponded with major technological improvements—including double tracking, improved roadbeds, heavier and faster locomotives, and the elimination of sharp curves—which allowed trains to operate at higher speeds. Travel times were steadily cut year by year. To emphasize time savings, railroad companies began to give their faster lines special names like “flyer,” “express,” and “limited.”

Page with text in black and red, timetable, and flag and badge icons
This 1913 timetable for the St. Louis-Colorado Limited line of the Wabash-Union Pacific Railroad boasted that it was the shortest line with the fastest time between destinations. / THF291441

However, increased speed came with disadvantages. High speeds resulted in an increasing number of gruesome railroad accidents caused by both discrepancies in local times and mix-ups between different railroad companies’ timetables.

Print of a train crash with many people gathered around; with handwritten text at bottom
A catastrophic collision occurred between two passenger trains on the Providence & Worcester Railroad when they failed to meet at a passing siding as scheduled, 1853. / THF622050

Facing governmental intervention to address the problem, the railroads took it upon themselves to enact a single standardized time across the country by dividing the nation into five roughly even time zones. Some people at first rebelled against this arbitrary imposition, especially when the newly drawn time zone designations did not align with local practices. But most people found it increasingly convenient to set their clocks by this new “standard time.”

Color postcard of red brick buildings, one with tall clocktower, with cars, wagon, and green space in front
Residents of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, would have synchronized the time on their personal clocks and watches to the railroad depot clock seen in this ca. 1916 postcard. / THF124830

Another disadvantage, some people complained, was that the increasing speed of railroad travel was unhealthy. Many believed that the rapid pace of life contributed to new forms of stress and anxiety and that the railroad was a key cause of these problems.

People climb a staircase up from sunken railroad tracks with trains on them; buildings in background
Railroad passengers ascending the staircase after arriving in Chicago, via the Illinois Central Railroad, ca. 1907 / THF105820

By 1920, railroad passenger travel was at the highest level it would ever attain. But, with the exception of the unique conditions during World War II, the railroad would never again be the dominant form of personal transportation in America. Within a few decades, the American public would embrace automobiles with the passion they had once given over to the railroads. How did this transfer of allegiance from railroad to automobile occur so effortlessly and completely during the early 20th century, and how does it relate to Americans’ changing concepts of time?

People sitting in an old-fashioned open car, with "Davenport, IA. to New York" written behind the rumble seat
A group of motorists travelling from Davenport, Iowa, to New York, ca. 1905 / THF104740

At first, many railroad managers did not take automobiles seriously—and for good reason. When they were first introduced in the 1890s, automobiles had no practical purpose. They were considered amusing and entertaining playthings for wealthy hobbyists and adventurers.

Color print of people in long, open blue car; also contains text
1909 advertisement for the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car, an automobile geared to wealthy motorists who could afford to have a chauffeur handle the driving for them. / THF88377

Most railroad managers were complacent, agreeing with one claim that “the fad of automobile riding will gradually wear off and the time will soon be here when a very large part of the people will cease to think of automobile rides.” But, as it turned out, the public passion for automobile riding did not wear off. Increasingly, Americans from all walks of life embraced automobiles and their advantages over railroads. By 1910, more than 468,000 motor vehicles had been registered in the United States.

Automobiles would have not achieved the level of popularity that they did without major advancements in the roads on which they traveled. As far back as the 1890s, bicyclists and early motorists had tried to alert the public to, and lobby the government for, better roads—roads that the railroads had ironically either replaced or rendered unnecessary.

Black and white page with text, photo, illustrations, and decorative elements
The Bulletin and Good Road, the official organ of the League of American Wheelmen, kept bicyclists up to date on advancements relating to the “Good Roads” movement. / THF207011

One reason that people embraced automobiles was because they revived the promise of individual freedom. Compared with railroad travel, motorists were unhampered, free to follow their own path. Elon Jessup, author of several motor camping books, wrote, “Time and space are at your beck and call, your freedom is complete.”

Black-and-white photo of campsite with tent, people by a cooking fire, a Model T, two goats, and two dogs
Motorists enjoying life on the road in the Missouri Ozarks, 1923. / THF105550

According to a 1910 American Motorist article, no longer were people tied to intercity train schedules, “rushed meals,” and “rude awakenings.” The motorist was “his own station master, engineer, and porter.” Riding in his own “highway Pullman,” he had “no one’s time to make except his own.” Automobile advocate Henry B. Joy wrote in a 1917 Outlook article that motoring promised “freedom from the shackles of the railway timetable.” Automobiles were also considered a particular advantage for women, who were increasingly venturing out into public spaces to shop, work, socialize, and take pleasure trips.

Four women in an open automobile with text on door "Four Ladies in a Haynes from Chicago to New York"
Four women in a Haynes automobile, travelling from Chicago to New York, ca. 1905. / THF107595

In addition to restoring people’s personal control over their own time, automobiles succeeded in slowing down the fast pace of modern life. Early automobile advocates claimed that railroads were simply too fast. Elon Jessup, in his 1921 book, The Motor Camping Book, described the view from the train as “a blur.” In his 1928 book, Better Country, nature writer Dallas Lore Sharp remarked that railroads rushed “blindly along iron rails” in their “mad dash across the night,” offering passengers only “fleeting impressions.” Automobiles, on the other hand, promised a nostalgic return to a slower time. Harkening back to the “simpler” days of stagecoach and carriage travel, automobiles were “refreshingly regressive.” Instead of being rushed along by “printed schedules and clock-toting conductors,” motorists could stop and start whenever they wanted, or when natural obstacles intervened. A car trip was leisurely, allowing heightened attention to regional variation and uniqueness.

Four people in blue car on road through greenspace with trees and mountains in the background; also contains text
Motorists take a leisurely drive through the countryside on the cover of this September 1924 American Motorist magazine. / THF202475

All told, the automobile liberated the individual who “hated alarm clocks” and “the faces of the conductor who twice daily punched his ticket on the suburban train.” In his 1928 book, Dallas Sharp even claimed that motoring was, in fact, more patriotic than railroad travel because it encouraged people to enjoy the country “quietly” and “sanely.” As a result, the slower tempo of automobile travel was thought to be restorative to frayed nerves brought on by the increasingly hectic pace of life in an urban, industrial society.

No automobile had more impact on the American public than the Model T, introduced in 1908. Envisioned by Henry Ford as a car for “the great multitude,” the Model T was indeed “everyman’s car”—sturdy, versatile, thrifty, and powerful. While Model Ts sold well from the beginning, the low price, extensive dealer network, and easy availability of replacement parts led to a leap in Model T sales after World War I.

Two-page spread with yellow advertisement with text and image of people in car "breaking through" the page, and additional people waving from lakeside campground
Brochure for the 1924 Ford Model T, promoting its use as a vehicle for family pleasure trips. / THF107809

The need and demand for better roads corresponded with the unprecedented rise in Model T sales. The first and most widely publicized of the new, independently funded cross-country highways was the Lincoln Highway (1912), which ran (at least on paper) between New York City and San Francisco, California. In 1916—ironically, the same year that national railroad mileage reached a peak—the U.S. government passed the Federal Aid Road Act, providing grants-in-aid to several states to fund road improvement. The railroad companies watched helplessly as the government subsidized improved roads that extended to villages and hamlets the railroads could never hope to reach.

Book cover with text, portrait of Lincoln, American iconography, and line with individual points labelled with state abbreviations
Effie Price Gladding recounts her cross-country trip on the Lincoln Highway in this 1915 book. The cover points out the states she passed through along the route of this highway. / THF204498

By the end of the 1920s, due in large part to the unprecedented popularity of the Model T, automobiles had gained a “vice-like grip on the American psyche.” Total car sales had leaped from 3.3 million in 1916 to 23 million by the late 1920s. Motorists were not only opting to take cars rather than trains for their regular travel routines, but they were also beginning to take longer-distance trips than they had ever attempted before. As the 1920s closed, Americans were traveling five times farther in cars than in trains. Enthusiasm for the automobile remained high throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, when massive new road and highway construction projects were initiated to stimulate employment.

Page with text and decorative elements
Black Americans embraced automobiles to avoid discrimination and humiliation on public transportation—at least until they had to stop to eat, sleep, and fill up with gas. Beginning in 1936, the Negro Motorist Green Book listed “safe places” for Black motorists to stop in towns and cities across the country. / THF99195

Conversely, the Depression was devastating for the railroad companies, who abandoned a record number of miles of existing track during this decade. By the late 1930s, railroad companies were optimistically attempting to revive business by embracing modern new streamlined designs, which claimed to reflect aerodynamic principles and promised a smooth ride incorporating the latest standards of comfort and convenience. A new emphasis on speed led to numerous record-breaking runs.

Boldly colored image of train coming around a curve and traffic light (?); also contains text
For its speed, as well as its beauty, comfort, and convenience, the Wabash Railroad’s “Blue Bird Streamliner” of 1950 was touted as “The Most Modern Train in America.” / THF99239

After World War II, the lifting of wartime rationing, the inclusion of two-week paid vacations in most labor union contracts, pent-up demand for consumer goods, and general postwar affluence ensured the automobile industry “banner sales,” which lasted into the 1950s.

Brochure cover with text and image of convertible car with oversized heads of a man and woman sticking out the top
Travel brochures like this one abounded after World War II, appealing to family vacationers. / THF202155

State-endorsed toll roads met the immediate postwar demand for motorists’ “right to speedy and accident-free travel over long distance.”

Colorful landscape with road traveling through it; overlaid with text
The Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first state-endorsed toll road, officially entered service on October 1, 1940. It currently stretches three times its original length. / THF202550

But the U.S. government’s long-time obsession with highway improvement truly reached a “dizzying crescendo” in 1956, with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act. This Act called for 46,000 miles of state-of-the-art, limited-access superhighways, to be funded by public taxes on fuel, tires, trucks, buses, and trailers. Although justified for military and national defense purposes, the interstate highway system made it possible for average citizens to reach their destinations faster in their cars than by taking trains.

Pamphlet cover showing complex highway interchange; also contains text
Although the new urban expressways were promoted as modern advantages, as seen in this 1955 “Auto-Owners Expressway Map” for the Detroit area, in fact, these same expressways cut through and often devastated poor and historically marginalized communities. / THF205968

Ironically, as automobiles became the standard vehicle for long-distance transportation, and highways beckoned motorists with higher speed limits and improved surfaces, the slow, leisurely pace of motoring—so lauded 50 years earlier—had transformed into an outpacing of even the “blurring” speed of railroads.

Young boy and young man look at eye level at a large model of a road with cars
The wonder of the fast and efficient new expressways is evident in the child’s expression in this 1959 promotional photograph, as he views a futuristic model highway envisioned by researchers at General Motors. / THF200901

For the most part, travelers rejoiced as four-lane divided highways replaced the older two-lane highways. With the new speed and comfort features of cars and improved highways, the impulse toward getting somewhere as rapidly and efficiently as possible, along the straightest path, became the new end goal.



Sources consulted include:

  • Belasco, Warren James. Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1979.
  • Douglas, George H. All Aboard: The Railroad in American Life. New York: Paragon House, 1992.
  • Gordon, Sarah H. Passage to Union: How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.



Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This blog post is adapted from her M.A. Thesis, “American Dreams and Railroad Schemes: Cultural Values and Early-Twentieth-Century Promotional Strategies of the Wabash Railroad Company” (University of Michigan-Dearborn, 2013).

roads and road trips, Model Ts, by Donna R. Braden, cars, travel, trains, railroads

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What are the icons of the Industrial Revolution—steam engines, printing presses, combine harvesters, textile machinery? Any such list would surely include Ford’s Model T.  Like the other machines that would make the grade it too was a complex mechanism, but it was also a beloved consumer product rooted in personal practical everyday use, and it was a design icon—in its day a symbol of absolute modernity.

The T’s success came about through two revolutions within the Industrial Revolution—those of power generation and distribution, and precision production manufacturing.  Developments in the electrical industry liberated Henry Ford and his production experts from the constraints of mechanical power distribution. Earlier systems dictated where machinery was placed based on long straight runs of shafts and associated pulleys.  Electric motors powering first groups and then individual machines enabled Ford’s engineers to position machine tools where the production process dictated.  It was the incredible machines developed specifically for that process that were crucial to the speed and quality of Model T production.

Henry Ford and his assistants developed a system of mass production at Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant that was based on moving components through a refined sequence of manufacturing, machining and assembly steps.  Launched in October 1913, Ford’s new system ultimately reduced the time of producing Model Ts from about 12½ man-hours to only 1½ man-hours.

Model Ts contained more than ten thousand parts. Ford’s moving assembly line required that each one of these parts be manufactured to exacting tolerances (the acceptable amount of variation) and be fully interchangeable with any other part of its kind. By organizing the automobile’s construction into a series of distinct small steps and using precision machinery, the assembly line generated enormous gains in productivity. 

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This is the only survivor of the vast range of custom-designed high-production machine tools used at Ford’s Highland Park plant. THF129616

Machines like this 1912 Ingersoll milling machine were crucial to the high production levels attained at Highland Park.  Milling machines are machine tools that rotate cutters to plane or shape surfaces.  Teams of Ford specialists collaborated with machine tool designers to develop and continually improve machinery for Highland Park, resulting in milling machines that were capable of undertaking highly accurate, multiple cutting operations on many components at the same time.

One of six similar machines in a careful arrangement of machine tools in Highland Park’s cylinder finishing shop, this planer-type milling machine – both a vertical and a horizontal miller – simultaneously milled the underside and main bearing holders of Model T engine blocks.  Cutters on the horizontal spindle shaped the bearing holders, while large cutters on vertical spindles milled the bottom surface of the blocks flat.  The machine could mill 15 engine blocks in one batch—loaded and unloaded by semi-skilled labor.  The work was physically demanding, and while it did not demand the skills of a trained machinist, it did require dexterity and attention to detail in addition to stamina. 

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The Henry Ford’s Ingersoll milling machine is represented by one of the six horizontal cross shapes labeled #2 on the left of this diagram, which shows the arrangement of machine tools in the cylinder block machining shop at Highland Park. THF300582

The Ingersoll milling machine first arrived at Ford’s Highland Park plant in December 1912.  It was just one of a vast range of new, specialized machines that enabled Ford to mass produce quality, affordable vehicles – and capture 50% of the American market! Today, it is exhibited in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation as the only survivor of the custom-designed high-production machine tools used at Highland Park. Twenty-one feet long and eight feet high, the machine is an imposing presence and a compelling reminder of Ford’s moving assembly line—as important a development as the Model T itself.

cars, Ford Motor Company, Made in America, Henry Ford Museum, Model Ts, manufacturing

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As cars became more widespread during the early 20th century, mechanized vehicles began to replace horses and wagons in wartime. While tanks were tested on the battlefield during World War I, there was also a need to remove wounded soldiers from the front quickly, safely, and efficiently. Ford Motor Company’s Model Ts were light, economical, and easy to operate, which made them perfect for this need.

We’ve just digitized dozens of photographs and drawings showing these innovative World War I–era Ford Model T ambulances, including this October 1918 demo picture, with the wartime message “On to Berlin” visible on the shoe soles of the “patient.”

Visit our Digital Collections to browse more photographs and technical drawings of Model T ambulances.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.

cars, World War I, Model Ts, healthcare, Ford Motor Company, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

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As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I. 

Go online to learn more about our parts drawings holdings, or browse all the digitized Ford parts drawings in our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

World War I, by Ellice Engdahl, Model Ts, Ford Motor Company, drawings, digital collections, cars, archives

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Dozens of engines will be on view during Engines Exposed, but here Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites to kick off this annual exhibit.

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1909 Ford Model T
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 177 cubic inches displacement, 22 horsepower

Early Model T engines circulated cooling water with a gear-driven pump, visible just behind this engine’s fan. After 2,500 units, Ford switched to a simpler – and less expensive – thermosiphon system dependent on natural convection. Model T never used an oil pump. The flywheel, spinning in an oil bath, simply splashed the lubricant around. The engine and transmission efficiently shared the same oil supply.

Driving America, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, engines, cars, Model Ts

Exploded Model T

September 10, 2015 Archive Insight

Mo Rocca, host of "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation," poses with the exploded Model T in Henry Ford Museum during filming. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)

One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”

But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913. Continue Reading

by Bob Casey, Model Ts, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, cars

This full-page advertisement announcing the introduction of the Ford Model T is rich with text and technical detail—a rational approach to selling the product. The text reinforces the theme of "Ford: High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car" throughout the ad. This advertisement appeared in Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines on October 1, 1908. THF122987

"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford

Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.

The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.  Continue Reading

archives, advertising, by Cynthia Read Miller, Ford Motor Company, Model Ts, cars