The Ford Model T
In 1908, while America’s five hundred automakers built custom-made novelty automobiles, Henry Ford introduced the Model T. He called it the car ‘for the great multitude, constructed of the best materials.’ Although it only came in one color (black) and one model, the Model T was reliable, durable, and easy to fix. And it was priced so that the majority of Americans could afford one. In 1908 the first Model T cost $850, half the price of existing automobiles. In 1909 it dropped to $609, by 1924 it was down to $240. In comparison, the price of the horse driven carriage, the car’s closest alternative at the time, was around $400. A 1909 sales brochure proclaimed, ‘Watch the Ford Go By, High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car.’
Ford’s success was underpinned by a profitable business model. By keeping the cars highly standardized and offering limited options and interchangeable parts, Ford’s revolutionary assembly line replaced skilled craftsmen with ordinary unskilled laborers who worked one small task faster and more efficiently, cutting the labor hours by 60 percent. With lower costs, Ford was able to charge a price that was accessible to the mass market.
Sales of the Model T exploded. Ford’s market share surged from 9% in 1908 to 60% in 1921, and by 1923, a majority of American households owned an automobile. So great was the blue ocean Ford created that the Model T replaced the horse-drawn carriage as the primary means of transport in the United States.