Before 1901, automobiles were play-things for the rich. They were expensive custom-made machines that required a chauffeur conversant with its individual mechanical nuances to drive it. Henry Ford was determined to build a simple, reliable and affordable car; a car the average American worker could afford. Out of this determination came the Model T and the assembly line - two innovations that revolutionized the American society and molded the world we live in today.
Central to Ford's ability to produce an affordable car was the development of the assembly line that increased the efficiency to manufacture and decrease its cost. The assembly line was conceived by Ransom Eli Olds, and was perfected by Henry Ford.
Prior to the introduction of the assembly line, cars were individually crafted by teams of skilled workmen - a slow and expensive procedure. The assembly line reversed the process of automobile manufacture. By installing a moving belt in his factory, employees were able to build cars one piece at a time, instead of one car at a time. This principle of division of labor, allowed workers to focus on doing one thing very well, rather than being responsible for a number of tasks. Instead of workers going to the car, the car came to the worker who performed the same task of assembly over and over again. With the introduction and perfection of the process, Ford was able to reduce the assembly time of a Model T from twelve and a half hours to less than six hours.
The Model T made its debut in 1908 with a purchase price of $825.00. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record. Four years later the price dropped to $575.00 and sales soared. By 1914, Ford could claim a 48% share of the automobile market.
Henry Ford was truly a game changer.