Henry Ford set out to build a car which everyone could afford to buy. It was slow, ugly and difficult to drive, and was nick named the ‘Tin Lizzie’. The attraction of the Model T Ford was that its price never increased. It cost $1200 in 1909, but only $295 in 1928. By 1929 Ford was producing more than one car per minute in the River Rouge plant in Detroit, which employed 81,000 men. Ford was able to sell cars cheaply because they were mass-produced and every part was standardised - only one colour and one engine size were available, or as he said, “A customer can have any colour he likes for his car so long as it’s black”. Using an idea he borrowed from the meat-packing industry, Ford invented the idea of using an assembly line to speed up the process of building a car. This meant that workers stayed at a fixed station along the line and the car was brought to them. They would perform their operation on the car and it would then move on to the next station until it was completed. In 1925 Ford explained that “the thing is to keep everything in motion and take the work to the man not the man to the work” or as one worker put it, “the belt is boss.” In 1913 it took 14 hours to assemble a Model T using the old system. In 1914 at Ford’s Highland Park plant in Michigan using the new assembly line it was 93 minutes.
By producing large numbers of cars on an assembly line Ford needed fewer skilled workers, and that cut the cost of paying wages which helped keep the price of the car low. By 1925 Ford factories completed a car every 10 seconds. Made quickly and cheaply the cars could be sold in large numbers for a low price and a small profit on each car. This meant that more and more people could buy and enjoy a car, but it also meant more work for more people. By the 1920s other American car companies like Chrysler and General Motors copied Ford’s techniques and increased their car sales as well. During the 1920s annual car production in the USA rose from1.6 million in 1920 to 5.6 million in 1929. Car production boosted employment in other industries because it used up 20% of America’s steel, 80% of her rubber, 75% of her plate glass and 65% of her leather. By the end of the 1920s American cars used seven billion gallons of petrol a year which helped to create jobs in the oil industry and made the oil state of Texas rich. With more jobs there were more people with the money to be able to afford a car. Increasing car ownership resulted in more roads being built with more roadside diners, motels and petrol stations being built along with them. There was a massive road building programme from 1916. In 1920 there were 620,000 miles of roads and 9,000,000 cars. By 1929 there were 1,000,000 miles of roads and 26,000,000 cars.