On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the fifteen millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan. Since his "universal car" was the industrial success story of its age, the ceremony should have been a happy occasion. Yet Ford was probably wistful that day, too, knowing as he did that the long production life of the Model T was about to come to an end. He climbed into the car, a shiny black coupe, with his son, Edsel, the president of the Ford Motor Company. Together, they drove to the Dearborn Engineering Laboratory, fourteen miles away, and parked the T next to two other historic vehicles: the first automobile that Henry Ford built in 1896, and the 1908 prototype for the Model T. Henry himself took each vehicle for a short spin: the nation's richest man driving the humble car that had made him the embodiment of the American dream.
Henry Ford invented neither the automobile nor the assembly line, but recast each to dominate a new era. Indeed, no other individual in this century so completely transformed the nation's way of life. By improving the assembly line so that the Model T could be produced ever more inexpensively, Ford placed the power of the internal combustion engine within reach of the average citizen. He transformed the automobile itself from a luxury to a necessity.
The Advent of the Model T seemed to renew a sense of independence among Americans who had lost their pioneer spirit to industrialization. Yet the methods that Henry Ford devised for producing his car so efficiently advanced that very industrialization. Like its inventor, the Model T represented both high ideals and hard practicalities.