This Day in History: The Affordable Auto is Born

Workers on the first moving assembly line put together magnetos and flywheels for 1913 Ford autos" Highland Park, Michigan
Workers on the first moving assembly line put together magnetos and flywheels for 1913 Ford autos” Highland Park, Michigan

The name of Henry Ford is synonymous with motor vehicles. In fact, the motor company that was started by this American industrialist still bears his name and remains a leading automotive giant today. Though Henry Ford did not actually invent the automobile, he is the man responsible for transforming what was originally a luxury item for wealthy elites into a more affordable and life changing investment for middle class households.  It was Ford’s implementation of the first automotive assembly line that changed everything, and it happened on this day in history.

Henry Ford introduced the Ford Model T in 1908. His goal was to “build a motor car for the great multitude” by making autos affordable for middle class Americans. Ford understood not only automobile design, but also the importance of innovation in the manufacturing  process. In order to produce an affordable auto, he knew he must lower the high cost of producing them.

On October 7th, 1913, Ford’s factory in Highland Park, Michigan ran the first continuously moving auto assembly line.  The chassis was pulled through the various work stations on the factory floor using a motorized rope pulley system. This cut the labor hours to complete one Model T nearly in half, from 12.5 hours to six. Further refinements in the assembly line process reduced the time required to  a mere 93 minutes of labor. This substantial increase in productivity brought about by the moving assembly line allowed Ford Motor Company to drastically reduce the cost of the Model T from its introductory price of $850 to $360. Sales more than tripled that of the previous year.  Ultimately Ford was able to produce one Model T every 24 seconds, and the price dropped to below $300. Before it was discontinued in 1927, over 15 million Model T’s were made and comprised nearly half of all automobiles sold in the world at that time.

His innovative manufacturing plan took Henry Ford’s vision from a dream to reality, and changed the way we live, travel and work today.