A 1915 Ford Model T sports improvements made since the car's 1908 inception.
1908: The first production Model T rolls out of the Ford plant on Piquette Avenue in Detroit.
The Model T was the first mass-produced automobile in history; approximately 15 million were built during a period lasting nearly 20 years. It achieved exactly what Henry Ford set out to do: to "build a motorcar for the great multitude."
While it may be fairly described as the world's first people's car, history has been less kind to the Model T in other regards. Time magazine included the 1909 Tin Lizzy on its list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time, describing it as "a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day."
Nor was the Model T where assembly-line production was introduced, as is widely believed. According to the Time "tribute," Ford engineer William Klann studied the process by visiting another assembly line -- or "disassembly line," if you will -- at a slaughterhouse. He then applied what he had observed to the business of building automobiles, lots of them, quickly and efficiently.
By 1913, the Model T's fifth full production year, an evolving assembly-line process had reduced the time for building an individual motorcar from 12 hours to an hour and a half. By 1927, the Model T's last year, Ford was cranking them out at a rate of one every 24 seconds.
But if Ford was an innovator in production technique, he was positively hidebound when it came to design. The Model T remained virtually unchanged during its lifespan and by the early 1920s it was too antiquated to compete with the more modern designs coming off the drafting tables of other car companies, notably Chevrolet. It probably didn't help that the Tin Lizzy came in only one color -- black -- for most of its career.
Nevertheless, the Model T would remain the most widely produced car in history until being surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle in the second half of the 20th century.