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Although the automobile was to have its greatest social and economic impact in the United States, it was initially perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto and Emile Levassor.
The Ford Motor Company greatly outpaced its competitors in reconciling state-of-the-art design with moderate price.This would be overwhelmingly an American achievement. Frank and Charles Duryea of Springfield, Massachusetts, had designed the first successful American gasoline automobile in 1893, then won the first American car race in 1895, and went on to make the first sale of an American-made gasoline car the next year.Thirty American manufacturers produced 2,500 motor vehicles in 1899, and some 485 companies entered the business in the next decade.The Model T runabout sold for 5 in 1912, less than the average annual wage in the United States.By the time the Model T was withdrawn from production in 1927, its price had been reduced to 0 for the coupe, 15 million units had been sold, and mass personal “automobility” had become a reality.Vanadium steel made the Model T a lighter and tougher car, and new methods of casting parts (especially block casting of the engine) helped keep the price down.
Committed to large-volume production of the Model T, Ford innovated modern mass production techniques at his new Highland Park, Michigan, plant, which opened in 1910 (although he did not introduce the moving assembly line until 1913-1914).
Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal called the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, 0 Ford Model N (1906-1907) “the very first instance of a low-cost motorcar driven by a gas engine having cylinders enough to give the shaft a turning impulse in each shaft turn which is well built and offered in large numbers.” Deluged with orders, Ford installed improved production equipment and after 1906 was able to make deliveries of a hundred cars a day.
Encouraged by the success of the Model N, Henry Ford was determined to build an even better “car for the great multitude.” The four-cylinder, twenty-horsepower Model T, first offered in October 1908, sold for 5.
In 1908 Henry Ford introduced the Model T and William Durant founded General Motors.
The new firms operated in an unprecedented seller’s market for an expensive consumer goods item.
The number of active automobile manufacturers dropped from 253 in 1908 to only 44 in 1929, with about 80 percent of the industry’s output accounted for by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, formed from Maxwell in 1925 by Walter P. Most of the remaining independents were wiped out in the Great Depression, with Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Packard hanging on only to collapse in the post-World War II period.