Mo Rocca, host of “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, ” poses with the exploded Model T in Henry Ford Museum during filming. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)
One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.
Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”
But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913.
Mo tries building a mini Model T himself on the assembly line. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)
The assembly line became the 20th century’s characteristic production mode, eventually applied to everything from refrigerators to hamburgers. An ever-widening stream of affordable goods flowed from American factories. High wage, low skilled assembly line jobs accelerated both immigration from overseas and the movement of Americans from the farms to the cities. The same jobs also accelerated the movement of the same people into an ever expanding middle class. The American standard of living was literally built on assembly lines.