By Matt Wolfe
March 18 1908; the Ford Model T is announced to dealers.
By 1908, Henry Ford had established Ford Motor Company as the best-selling auto manufacturer in the United States. Ford had surpassed Oldsmobile and Cadillac as the # 1 volume producer in 1906, and in 1907 became the first U.S. auto manufacturer ever to sell over 10,000 units in a year. Though Ford was still on top in 1908, he had lost roughly 4000 units in sales from the previous year.
Ford knew as early as 1907 that in order to retain the sales crown, he would need an inexpensive vehicle that was easy to assemble, drive and maintain. Ford had created an “experimental room” in a back corner of his Piquette assembly plant where he and a team of handpicked employees like C. Harold Wills began development on what would become the Model T. Ford’s engineering team produced numerous prototype parts and tested them on a Model N chassis. After a year and a half of development, the first prototype Model T’s were completed in the spring of 1908.
Ford distributed an advance catalog of the Model T to his dealers on March 18th. The dealers were extremely optimistic about the new car. Some of them even wrote the factory to say they were hiding the advance catalogs for fear they would find it impossible to sell any of Ford’s existing models if word got out about the T. The first production Model T was built in September of 1908, and the first ad for the car was published on October 3rd.
The ad was so successful that the October issue of The Ford Times proclaimed, “The ‘ad’ appeared on Friday. Saturday’s mail brought nearly one thousand inquiries. Monday’s response swamped our mail clerks and by Tuesday night the office was well nigh inundated.” Demand for the T was so great that Ford had to refuse orders for two months to satisfy existing ones. Production was slow at first, however over the next year thousands of Model T’s would roll out of the Piquette Avenue plant and into Ford showrooms. Ford’s dealers had no problem selling the car, and in 1909 Ford sold over 17,000 units and nearly double that figure in 1910.