An automobile and a covered wagon on a trail in Nebraska.
As a 4th grader on a class trip at the Henry Ford Museum, I was more interested in having fun with my friends than learning about history. It’s clear to me now just how large Ford’s impact was not only on the automobile industry, but on American society as a whole.
When the automobile was first invented, it was an expensive luxury good that only the wealthy elite could afford. That all changed in 1908 when Henry Ford introduced his Model T to the market. Ford made use of the revolutionary assembly line model of production, and the Model T became the first car to be mass-produced. As a result, the Model T made was much more affordable for the common person, and purchasing an automobile quickly became a realistic goal for the average American.
Not only did Henry Ford’s Model T change the American lifestyle, his treatment of his workers set new standards for industrial working conditions. In 1914, Ford began to pay his workers $5 a day, a significant increase from previous wages. He also shortened the workday to 8 hours a day. Ford’s reasoning for this was that, “if you cut wages, you just cut the number of your customers.” And it worked. In 1900, 8,000 Americans owned cars, but by 1920, that figure had soared to 8 million. Ford’s new standard of shorter workdays and higher wages had a large impact, as his workers had more leisure time and more money to spend on commodities—a societal change that mirrored the cultural revolution of the “Roaring Twenties” that changed the landscape of American life.
This photo demonstrates the impact that the automobile would have on American life. This photograph was taken in 1912 on a trail in Nebraska, right as the automobile was becoming more common for the average American. In the photo, the juxtaposition of the automobile compared with the covered wagon gives a clear picture of what kinds of advancements the automobile would bring to American life, showing both where we came from in the past and where we were going. This picture was taken in the middle of a prairie that appears largely undeveloped and uninhabited. The presence of a piece of technology like the automobile in that area represents just how quickly this invention would allow technology to spread across America and the cultural changes that it brought with it.
The automobile represented the new age of consumerism in American society, and brought newfound freedom to people in both rural and urban settings. It is also credited with impacting the flapper movement, which revolutionized American society, especially among young people. In these, and many other ways, Henry Ford and his Model T ushered in a new era that would have a lasting impact on the American lifestyle.
Citations: Photograph. 1912. By A.L Westgard.
Curcio, Vincent. Henry Ford. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print
Porretto, John. "Putting American in Motion, Ford Legacy Rides on More Than Four Wheels."South Florida Sun Sentinel 14 June 2003. The Associated Press. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.