Ford’s undeserving reputation?

When we talk about the Roaring Twenties, the Ford Motor Company and its namesake, Henry Ford are rarely forgotten from speech or conversation, yet some people argue that Ford was neither special nor unique in-comparison to other automobile companies.

The Ford Motor Company, currently trading as ‘F’ on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), was incorporated on June 16, 1903 by Henry Ford, an American industrialist and automobile heavyweight. Through the assembly line and the division of labour, he developed and manufactured the first inexpensive car which became accessible to many middle-class Americans during the 1920s.

This affordable car was the Ford Model T, colloquially known as the ‘Tin Lizzie’ due to it being slow, ugly and dangerous to drive – nonetheless, it was a powerful symbol of modernisation that was sweeping across America during the Jazz Age. Ford introduced the assembly line into the production process in 1911 and this had a phenomenal impact on the price of the car, as well as the time-scale in-which it could be produced. In 1909, prior to the assembly line’s introduction, the Model T cost $1200 – by 1928, it was less than a quarter of that price, coming in at $295. With such an eye-catching price, it enabled ordinary Americans to buy this car via the new methods, such as hire purchase, and thus improve their living standards whilst experiencing new things. It is said that one-in-five United States (US) citizens owned a car by the end of the decade – the United Kingdom (UK), didn’t achieve this until around 40 years later. Out of the 20 million cars on the road, 10 million of these were the Model T; this model, amongst others paved a new environment for Americans, and it is commonly known that teenagers would use their parent’s cars to go meet friends and go to the cinema, families were also known to skip Church on Sundays and instead, go on road-trips up-and-down the city.

People tend to disregard Ford’s claim-to-fame due to the other successful, and more innovative car-companies which broke into the US automobile market during that period of prosperity. Henry Ford stated that “the way to make automobiles is to make one automobile like another automobile, to make them all alike”; this repetitive attitude meant that other competitors like General Motors (GM) and Chrysler could capitalise on the Ford Motor Company’s weaknesses. Ford’s ‘Tin Lizzie’ was only sold in one colour; black. By the mid-1920s, General Motors, on the other hand, sold an assortment of models in contrasting colours. This allowed a sense of variety and catered for the specific wants of the consumer. Companies such as Chrysler and the Jordan Motor Company focused on different aspects such as advertising to draw customers in. For its Plymouth model, Chrysler had the famous aviator, Amelia Earhart promote it in Madison Square Garden, New York (USA). This tactic helped the company appeal to women alongside men – with the increased consumerism, advertisements played a pivotal role in the automobile industry.

As for Henry Ford himself, he did not invent the assembly line; he was simply the first American to implement this into the production process to lower the cost of production whilst also increasing supply. In correlation to the other major players in the industry, he did not look to appeal to certain audiences, such as women, he simply wanted to provide a staple car that Americans could use to increase their quality of living.

Coincidentally, with the increase in petrol stations; traffic lights; and new roads that sprung up from coast-to-coast, Ford created an illusion that middle-class American families could ‘go on day outs’ and ‘experience what they hadn’t experienced before’. Therefore, whilst some do feel that the Ford Motor Company steals all the limelight from the other automobile companies during the 1920s, we have to remember that Henry Ford was the pioneer of the new methods used in the industry. Ford’s main aim was to create a cheap car, whilst still keeping profits high. The main reason that the Ford Motor Company deserves more credit and a better reputation than the other automobile businesses present in the US during the 1920s is because Henry Ford responded to America’s cries for modernisation. His strategic use of the assembly line meant that prices could be slashed and this opened up sales to a growing number of Americans. It is from here that other companies started implementing his methods and whilst they went further, by using new sales-tactics and introducing a variety of colours with new models, Ford and his company were the forerunners of the automobile revolution that took place during Jazz Age.

by Milan Shah


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