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Model T Legacy

Model T & Society

Industrial Impact

Heritage & Influence

Model T Educational Lesson Plan

The Model T & Society

From 1910, when it became the principal Ford Motor Company plant, until 1927, when Model T production ended, a seemingly endless stream of automobiles flowed out of Ford's huge plant in Highland Park, Michigan. But Highland Park made more than cars - it made the very foundation of the twentieth century itself.

The assembly line became the century's characteristic production mode, eventually applied to everything from phonographs to hamburgers. But Henry Ford soon discovered that his workers resisted the relentless pace of the line. They simply quit and found other jobs. So, on January 5, 1914 Ford instituted his famous $5 day. This was an unheard-of amount of money for unskilled or semiskilled work, and it ended Ford's turnover problem. Suddenly more people wanted to work for Ford than there were jobs to fill. Everyone else who adopted Ford's production methods found they had to pay Ford's wages. High wage, low skilled factory jobs accelerated both immigration from overseas and the movement of Americans from the farms to the cities. The same jobs also accelerated the movement of the same people into an ever expanding middle class. In a dramatic demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, the creation of huge numbers of low skilled workers gave rise in the 1930s to industrial unionism as a potent social and political force.

Higher wages allowed workers to buy the very goods they produced, including cars. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. Finally, mass automobility meant that everywhere there was crude oil in the ground, from the Permian Basin to the Persian Gulf, there was a potential for wealth and conflict.

 

Images from the Collections of The Henry Ford
© The Henry Ford, 2007