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15 Fun Facts About the Ford Model T

Henry Ford posing with Model T in 1919. Photo celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Model T. (SeriousWheels.com

Henry Ford posing with Model T in 1919. Photo celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Model T. (SeriousWheels.com

In December of 1999, the Global Automotive Elections Foundation named the venerable Tin Lizzie as the Most Influential Car of the 20th Century. The iconic, sputtering, wooden-wheeled, Model T first rolled off the assembly line in 1908 and remained, essentially unchanged, for almost 20 years. Here’s a list of things many people don’t know about Henry Ford’s famous Fliver.

  1. The Model T had no transmission, as we know it. There was a gearbox, but it only offered one speed. You would push the shift forward to take the vehicle out of neutral and engage the drive train. To go in reverse, you would depress a pedal on the floor.
  2. Charles Kettering of what later became AC Delco, developed the first electric starter. It was available only on Cadillac models beginning in 1912. It would be several years before Ford began offering the option as a retrofit. Most T owners were uninterested due to the higher cost.
  3. The cranks used to start Model Ts were very dangerous. They could kick back and break your arm, and occasionally, the car would literally throw the crank as a high velocity missile.
  4. The bodies and interiors were made of wood. Thin sheet metal was nailed over the
    Interior showing reverse pedal and carburetor controls. Key switch is an aftermarket add-on. Model Ts didn’t have key switches. (SignificantCars.com)

    Interior showing reverse pedal and carburetor controls. Key switch is an aftermarket add-on. Model Ts didn’t have key switches. (SignificantCars.com)

    wooden body parts. The fenders however were made of sheet stock.

  5. Several varieties were available, including a 4-door Touring model, but most Ts only had one door, and one bench seat. The driver would either climb into his seat, or slide across from the passenger side.
  6. Cranking your model T wasn’t the only headache in getting it started. The choke and throttle controls were mounted on the steering column. You would set them both at mid-point, go out and start cranking, and as soon as the engine caught – you would run back and adjust the idle. If you didn’t get there quick enough, the engine would die.
  7. Although Ford paid his employees more than any other auto manufacturer, they were required to sign a contract stating that as soon as they became financially able to do so, they had to buy a Ford.
  8. He was also a vehement racist. He refused to hire anyone who was not a White Protestant. Prospective employees had to sign a morals contract in which they would agree – among other things – to regularly attend church.
  9. Women were hired to work in the offices, but were not allowed onto the factory floor for any reason. Ford believed their presence would upset the line workers. Only single women could work at Ford, for fear of pregnancy leave. Women also had to sign contracts stating that they would not date or marry, during their time of employment.
  10. Ford and others offered kits to convert the Model T to just about anything you could want it to be. One variant for example was the Snowflier. Here, a second set of drive wheels was added, and fitted with a set of tracks. Skis replaced the front wheels. It was, in essence, the first snowmobile. In another case, a traveling minister set up his Model T to power a portable pipe organ.
  11. The car had no speedometer. A glass thermometer atop the radiator cap monitored the engine temperature. Top speed was about 30mph. One model, the Speedster could attain 40mph. The stock engine put out 20 hp, but the Speedster boasted 25.
  12. Although Ford is known for stating that customers could buy a Model T painted any color they wished, as long as it were black, the earliest Ts were not available in black, at all. The first colors were gray, green, blue and red. By 1912, they switched to Midnight blue for all models. The iconic black was introduced as a cost saving measure during WWI.
  13. All Model Ts were built with a permanently affixed jack stand on the rear axle. This would allow the owner to remove the rear wheel and place a flat belt on the hub. The car could then be used to power farm equipment. This was factory standard on all Model Ts, right up to the 15 millionth produced in 1927.
  14. When only two roads existed in the entire state of Kansas – one going North to South, and one going East to West – two Model Ts crashed at the only intersection. Both drivers walked away, unscathed.
  15. Very few antique cars enjoy the longevity built into the Model T. Throughout the world, there are many Model Ts still running and in daily use, over a century old.
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Posted by on March 2, 2014. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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15 Responses to 15 Fun Facts About the Ford Model T

  1. Glenn Geist Reply

    June 24, 2019 at 8:26 am

    I’m amused and a bit irritated about the irate comments at such a late date, not all of which appear above. Much of the errata I mentioned above is very common, but not unique to Fords. Any student of early 20th century and late 19th as well, will note all the popular misconceptions that have grown up around radio as well, if not all the bad court decisions. In fact books are still being written about figures like Edison that totally disregard facts.

    As I said, I have also owned and dearly loved a Model T and have worked on A models as well and laughed a bit at the errors. I’ve read all the books and still belong to T related facebook groups, but just write it off please. No harm has been done and your point was made a long time ago by others.

  2. Chadwick Reply

    June 23, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    This is the difference between commentary and news. As something historical it would be expected to provide a bibliography of your sources. Rather than stating “you are wrong in so many ways” I offer this as an example as to why the phrase “fake news” has become so common. If you want to publish your opinion that is fine but to publish as “fact” then you need to be prepared to list your sources as primary or secondary sources in a bibliography.

  3. Jem Bowkett Reply

    June 23, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    There is a robust English word that perfectly describes this article – bollocks.

    • Jason Burke Reply

      May 22, 2020 at 12:46 am

      Jem I have been trying to contact you its Jason from Hounslow Men’s Shed (formally Isleworth and Syon Vintage Vehicle Association) could you email me your contact number to jasonburke2010@icloud.com

      Many thanks


  4. Steve Jelf Reply

    June 23, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Almost every one of these fifteen items is not just wrong, but wildly, ridiculously, absurdly wrong. The one about Kansas is especially idiotic. Kansas became a state in 1861. The Model T was introduced in October 1908. After 47 years as a state, there were only two roads? Give me a break. It is incredible that anybody can have a low enough IQ to swallow such preposterous drivel.

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  6. chicken boi Reply

    March 21, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    eat some chicken it’s good for you

  7. Stacey Gray Reply

    March 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    For those interested there is good video of a number of Ts with the Snowflier kits in operation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4DbO9rX8DU .

    Where I lived in Vermont they didn’t plow the roads until the late 60s/early 1970s – instead they rolled them with a big horse drawn snow roller & drove on top of it. Of course the back roads might not be rolled for a few days after a storm. Our rural delivery Mailman delivered mail with a Snowflier – until his teenaged son tried to take a shortcut down the railroad tracks one night in 1968…. as far as I know the carcass remains in the woods.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      March 2, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Thanks Stacey!

    • bitcodavid Reply

      March 2, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      On the same page, I found this documentary. It doesn’t mention anything about powering farm equipment, or doubling as a snowmobile, but it is a fascinating history and it mentions a few other things I didn’t know about Model Ts.


      I’m still looking for the link that shows how to hook the thing up to power saws and threshers. I’ll put it up as soon as I find it. However, I know I’m right, because I saw it on a Model T that was on display in a modern Ford dealer’s showroom.

  8. Glenn Geist Reply

    March 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I hate to nit-pick but I owned a model T for 20 years: a 1926
    Tudor sedan — spent much of that taking it apart and putting it back together again, reading up on them and talking to other owners.

    There are a few errors here. In the first place, the cars all had two speed, planetary gear transmissions. It was a Ford innovation. You pushed down the left pedal for first gear and then let it up for second in which, on a good road and on a good day you might hit 40 – 45 mph. You could only do about 5 mph in first, but you needed it to get going and for hills.

    To hold it in neutral ( it would often creep forward on cold days even in neutral) you held the pedal halfway down or pulled the parking brake handle halfway back. Reverse required that you hold it in neutral and push the middle pedal. Right pedal is the brake.

    Earlier models had a slight advantage in weight and horsepower over the later ones in the mid to late 20’s, but I can assure you 40 was easily attainable if dangerous. Brakes were simply horrible, using one oil wetted drum inside the transmission.

    True, they didn’t come with a speedometer, It was a common accessory however. I had one. It had only an ammeter in those newer models that had a generator and battery as the electric start models did. True, the spark timing and throttle were hand levers, but the choke could be operated by a wire leading through the radiator. You also had to adjust the fuel mixture from a knob on the dashboard that was also the choke if you pulled it outward.

    “i’ve never ever seen or heard of or read about a jack stand. What you might have is a rim stretcher since the rims were detachable on all but some 1927 models and would coil up when not mounted. You needed this tool to instal a new tire. Fords went all black in 1914 until very near the end. My ’26, for instance. was originally green. From 1912 to 1914 the color was blue with black fenders.

    The thermometer was strictly an aftermarket accessory but rather common. I good T driver usually could gauge things like overheating or over rich mixture by the smell and spark timing by sound.

    • bitcodavid Reply

      March 2, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      I appreciate the corrections, being that I never owned one, and went by lore and reading. I will try and locate the source for the jack-stand thing, for you. I read it somewhere when researching the article. It was definitely not for changing the tires, and the article that I saw showed a graphic of it in operation. I’ll post the link once I find it. Other than that, thank you for the added insight.

  9. Michael John Scott Reply

    March 2, 2014 at 11:14 am

    I knew none of these things. Terrific read. Thanks David.

    • bitcodavid Reply

      March 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

      You’re quite welcome. 🙂

    • Bob Reply

      June 23, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      Almost none of this is fact. I own 8 Model T Fords and have worked on many others and don’t even know where 99% of this stuff came from but this is how fake news gets started. Don’t trust the “facts” you read on line because someone didn’t do his homework. And where is my “jack stand” ? Over 1000 Model T Fords were in Richmond Indiana for the 100 year event in 2008 and not one of them had a jack stand built into them anyplace on the car to run anything. Also the “key switch” that you claim the Model T didn’t have that is in your picture on your own article is original to that year Model T and yes they had keys. Some keys on early cars didn’t look like the key you know today but at least from about 1919 on they did have a real key like you expect to find in later cars that fit the switch on the dash to start the car. Look at your picture, that is what they look like. You need to find a better place to do your research and check your facts before you print this stuff.

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