1 October 1908: the first Model T Ford is built

On this day in October 1908, Henry Ford’s “car for the great multitude” – the Model T – was unveiled to the public. Over the next 19 years, 15 million would be built.

Henry Ford With His Model T © Getty Images
Henry Ford With His Model T
(Image credit: © Getty Images)

In the early days of motoring, cars were playthings of the wealthy, far out of reach of the average worker. But Henry Ford believed that the motor car was a necessity. He vowed to build “a motor car for the great multitude”.

“It will be large enough for the family but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces.”

He set to work finding the right suppliers and materials to make the Model T in large numbers, to enable him to do it at an affordable price.

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And so on 1 October, 1908, the first “Tin Lizzie” came off the production line. It was a huge success – over the next year, Ford sold 10,607. In all, over 15 million were built by Ford's American plants before production stopped in 1927. In that time, the price dropped from $850 to $300.

It was in 1909 that Henry Ford made his often-misquoted remark, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” But in fact, the one colour you couldn't buy a Model T in was black. You could have grey, green, blue, or red. But not black. It wasn't until 1913 that Ford went monochromatic.

In 1911, Ford began assembling the Model T at its Trafford Park factory in Manchester. Initially, it was made from imported parts. But by 1924, 94% of the components were made in Britain. Between 1913 and 1923 it was the country's best-selling car.

In 1931, Ford switched its manufacturing activities to its massive new plant at Dagenham, Europe's biggest car plant. But by 2013, all that remained of Ford's vehicle production in Britain were its Bridgend and Dagenham engine plants, and its transmission factory at Halewood.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.