U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

end of header


You are here: Census.govHistoryHome Page Archive2018 › October 2018
Skip top of page navigation


October 2018

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

U.S. Census Bureau History: Ford Model T

Ford Model T

The Evans family rests along Highway 10 near Missoula, MT, in July 1936. Leaving their
drought-stricken and grasshopper-plagued South Dakota farm behind, the family drove
200miles a day in their Ford Model T seeking a fresh start in the Pacific Northwest.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On October 1, 1908, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company produced the first Model T—a rugged and affordable automobile that made car ownership possible for middle-class Americans. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built more than 15 million Link to a non-federal Web site of the trustworthy vehicles. One hundred years since its introduction, the Model T remains one of the best-selling automobiles ever built.

When Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, automobiles were expensive, maintenance-intensive toys of the wealthy elite. Ford's investors urged him to focus on these affluent customers; however, the fledgling automaker believed the industry's future depended on school teachers, farmers, clerks, and factory workers buying his cars. Ford produced expensive models for the rich, but the success of the company's modestly-priced vehicles drove production and profits higher. By 1906, inexpensive vehicles like the bestselling Model N Link to a non-federal Web site (selling for $500) helped Ford Motor Company become the nation's top-producing automobile company ahead of Cadillac, Rambler, REO Motor Company, Maxwell, and Oldsmobile. It would remain the nation's leading automobile producer until 1927.

In 1908, Henry Ford and his design team (including Childe H. Wills and Joseph A. Galamb) began developing a new model—the Model T—at the company's Piquette Avenue factory Link to a non-federal Web site. The Model T incorporated many of the successful features of previous Ford cars, including a 4-cylinder engine that propelled the car to speeds of 40 miles per hour or more, resilient vanadium steel body parts, a planetary transmission designed to be easy to use by novice drivers, and a price well below that of other automobiles on the market.

Key to the Model T's success was Henry Ford's decision to focus on the development and production of a single automobile model. This decision allowed designers to incorporate interchangeable parts, lower development costs, speed up parts production and assembly, and ultimately lower the cost to manufacture each automobile. Ford passed these savings down to consumers with lower and lower prices. In 1909, Ford manufactured 10,660 Link to a non-federal Web site Model Ts that sold for about $825. After installation of its moving assembly line Link to a non-federal Web site at the Highland Park factory in 1913, the Ford Motor Company built 170,211 Link to a non-federal Web site Model Ts that sold for $525. By 1923, auto buyers could purchase one of the 2 million Link to a non-federal Web site automobiles Ford produced for $365. Two years later, new Model T prices were as low as $260, helping Ford outsell Chevrolet—its closest competitor—by more than 1.5 million vehicles!

Many of the millions of Model Ts the Ford Motor Company produced between 1908 and 1927 remained daily drivers for owners through World War II and years afterwards. In the 110 years since Ford Motor Company produced its first Model T, the venerable "Tin Lizzie" remains a fixture in American culture. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy drove Model Ts in many of their movies and actor Fred MacMurray drove (and flew) his "Flubber-fueled" Model T in Walt Disney's 1961 movie, The Absent Minded Professor. The "Munster Koach" driven by actor Fred Gwynne in the 1964–66 television series, The Munsters, incorporated several Model Ts; and more recently, Disney's Cars movie and animated features franchise featured a Model T named "Lizzie." The Ford Model T is so important to the history of the automobile that an international jury of automotive journalist named it the most influential automobile of the 20th century in 1999. The Model T earned this "Car of the Century" honor by beating England's Morris/Austin Mini, the French Citroen DS, and Germany's Volkswagen Beetle and Porsche 911.

You can learn more about the Ford Model T and automobile industry using census data and records. For example:

  • Detroit, MI, is called the "Motor City" because it has been so closely linked to the automobile since the industry's start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1890 and 1910, some of the nation's largest automobile manufacturers helped grow the city's population from 205,876 to 465,766. At its peak in 1950, Detroit was home to 1,849,568, making it the nation's fifth-largest city. In 2010, Detroit's population was 713,777.
  • Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903, with 11 investors, including Detroit coal merchant Alexander Malcomson and his clerk James Couzens, automobile manufacturers Horace E. and John F. Dodge, and building contractor Albert Strelow. Thanks to the production of several sturdy and dependable automobile models beginning in mid-1903, the investors earned nearly 300 percent profit on their initial investment within 2 years.
  • The Ford Motor Company produced the Model T at its Piquette Avenue factory Link to a non-federal Web site in Detroit, MI, from 1908 to 1910. Ford's experiments using a moving assembly line helped the company become the nation's largest automobile manufacturer during this time. As Ford grew, so too did Detroit, MI. Between 1900 and 1910, Detroit's population grew from 285,704 to 465,766.
  • In 1910, Model T production moved to the larger Highland Park Ford Plant designed by industrial architect Albert Kahn. Located in Highland Park, MI, the factory's manufacturing jobs helped the Wayne County, MI, city grow from 4,120 in 1910 to 52,959 in 1930. The city's population reached 50,810 before declining in subsequent decades. In 2017, the Census Bureau estimated Highland Park's population was 10,900.
  • The moving assembly line at the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park Ford Plant allowed the company to increase Model T production from 82,388 Link to a non-federal Web site in 1912 to 585,388 Link to a non-federal Web site in 1916. Between 1923 and 1925, American automobile manufacturers produced nearly 10.8 million passenger vehicles. The Model T accounted for more than 5.8 million of this total as the "Flivver's" price dropped from $825 in 1909 to less than $300 in 1925.
  • Early motor vehicles, like the Model T, were designed to take a beating on the nation's poorly-maintained roads. In 1904, just 7.1 percent of the nation's 2.2 million miles of public roads had been "improved" to include proper drainage and a paved surface. The remaining 93 percent ranged from dirt thoroughfares to poorly drained paths that became muddy quagmires when wet. By 1928, municipalities paved 25 percent of the nation's 3.3 million miles of roads. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 65 percent of the nation's 4,165,000 miles of public roads had paved surfaces in 2014.
  • After producing more than 15 million Link to a non-federal Web site Model Ts, the Ford Motor Company ended production in 1927. Soon after, it began assembling Model As at its newly completed River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, MI. Today, the Rouge Complex assembles Ford's popular F-series trucks. Other factories in the United States manufacturing parts and assembling the company's vehicles include those in Chicago, IL; Louisville, KY; Lima, OH; Brook Park, OH; and Buffalo, NY.
  • In 2016, Automotive News reported that automobile models manufactured by Toyota (including Lexus) and General Motors topped North American automobile production. Auto workers at Toyota's Georgetown, KY, and Princeton, IN, factories helped build 1,282,292 Lexus and Toyota vehicles that year. General Motors employees in Arlington, TX, and Fort Wayne, IN, were close behind, manufacturing 1,270,016 Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC cars and light trucks.
  • In June 2018, Michigan and Kentucky lead the nation in motor vehicle manufacturing (NAICS 3361) employment with 39,300 and 24,600, respectively. Michigan also led the nation with the most motor vehicle parts manufacturing (NAICS 3363) jobs (133,400) followed by Ohio (76,500) and Indiana (66,000). That same month, the retail trade of motor vehicles and parts at auto parts stores and dealerships, employed more than 4 million people, while that same month while 935,400 used these parts to provide automotive repair and maintenance services.

Ford Model T

Production of the Ford Model T began on October 1, 1908. By the end of 1909, Ford Motor Company produced 10,660 Link to a non-federal Web site "Tin Lizzies." Production peaked
in 1923 when Ford manufactured 2,011,125 Link to a non-federal Web site of the easy-to-drive and maintain automobiles. Model T production ended in 1927 after the Ford Motor
Company produced approximately 15 million of the motor vehicles.

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Auto Registrations

Between 1908 when the Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T and 1927, when its production ended, the number of registered automobiles in the United States grew from 197,500 to more than 23.1 million.

Today, there were nearly 268.8 million private, commercial, and publically-owned motor vehicles registered in the United States.

Mary Oursler
View larger image

This Month in Census History

Public Law 95-416, began protecting the confidentiality of census records on October 5, 1978.

Before this law (and an early agreement between the National Archives and the U.S. Census Bureau known as the "72 Year Rule"), the Census Bureau's Custodian of Records protected respondent confidentiality.

Longest serving of these custodians was Mary Oursler (above) who reviewed records requests for proof of age and citizenship, inheritance claims, and genealogical research from 1909 to 1941.

In accordance with Public Law 95-416, the National Archives released the 1940 Census in April 2012. They will release the 1950 Census in April 2022.

Automobile manufacturing worker
View larger image


After a steep drop in motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs in 2008 and 2009, employment in the industry returned to prerecession levels in June 2016.

In July 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that motor vehicle and parts manufacturing employed 972,200.

The International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Link to a non-federal Web site reported that in 2017, the United States was the world's leading producer of commercial vehicles and the sixth-largest automobile-producing country behind China, Japan, Germany, India, and South Korea.

Photo courtesy of the office of Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

[PDF] or PDF denotes a file in Adobe’s Portable Document Format. To view the file, you will need the Adobe® Reader® Off Site available free from Adobe. This symbol Off Site indicates a link to a non-government web site. Our linking to these sites does not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or the information found on them. Once you link to another site you are subject to the policies of the new site.
  Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes    Thumbs Down Image No
No, thanks
255 characters remaining
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021