The origins of Route 66 and the U.S. Highway system are firmly rooted in the bicycle craze that swept the nation in the late 19th century, and the resultant rising cry for better roads upon which to enjoy them. However, this bicycle mania did more than spawn lobbying groups such as the League of American Wheelmen, and consequently an organized “Good Roads” movement, it also served as a foundational element in the development of the American automobile industry.
Many of the pioneering automobile companies initiated production as bicycle manufacturers including Pope, Pierce-Arrow, and Haynes. An argument could also be made that it was the bicycle that spawned the American aviation industry as the Wright brothers initiated their endeavors with a bicycle repair facility in Ohio.
The speed with which the automobile, its manufacture, and the development of supportive infrastructure transformed society was without equal in history and only the development of the Internet and electronic communication can compare.
In the 1880s, Ransom Olds began endeavors to move his company from the production of stationary engines to self propelled vehicles with the development of experimental steam powered carriages. In 1896, a Duryea motor wagon received top billing at the Barnum & Bailey circus over the albino and fat lady.
By 1904, an automobile had been driven from coast to coast and there were literally dozens of companies manufacturing automobiles. In 1906, a Stanley built “steamer” established a new speed record that was just shy of 150 miles per hour. In the next three years, a race from New York to Paris, across the United States, China, and Russia, dominated international headlines and in 1909, the Wayne County Road Commission, on Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile Roads, introduced a revolutionary new concrete roadway.
With the luxury of hindsight, we now see that 1909 was also the year for an event that truly transformed the world. This was the year Henry Ford introduced the Model T, a car that would become affectionately known as the Tin Lizzie.
One of the most innovative aspects of the new Ford was its price, less than$1,000. The overwhelming percentage of automobiles being produced sold for twice as much or more, and this at a time when a nice home could be purchased for $2,000.
Surprisingly, the new Ford offered state of the art automotive technology for this price. In fact it also featured a wide array of highly advanced features including extensive use of vanadium steel, a new process that allowed for lighter, stronger metals.
From his earliest endeavors in automobile production, Henry Ford had envisioned the automobile as a contrivance for the common man, a vehicle that would free farmers from rural isolation, and provide urban residents with access to the recuperative bucolic landscapes of the farmlands. The Model T was a manifestation of this vision.
Most manufacturers pushed the envelope of automotive technology and embraced the resultant advancements. Henry Ford chose to instead focus on means of streamlined and faster production to lower costs, and ways to keep the costs of production to an absolute minimum.
As a result, the cost for a new Ford continued to plummeted while other companies were forced to raise their prices. At the time of its introduction in 1909, the Model T sold for less than $900.00. By 1913 the base price had dropped to near $500.00.
Numerous companies tried to compete as Ford was soon dominating the market. Chevrolet introduced its model 490 (a nomenclature indicating the price) in its second year of operation but still was unable to compete as Ford merely lowered his prices.
By the late teens Ford had, with the exception of rubber, full control of every aspect of his automobile production. He owned vast tracks of hardwood forests in northern Michigan near Iron Mountain, a material utilized in the internal body ribbing of his cars as well as the wood spoke wheels. He also owned coal mines, iron mines, and railroad and ship companies for the transport of raw materials to the factory, and the transport of finished products to dealers throughout the world.
In the late teens he stood the social order of the day on its ear by instituting a $5.00 work day. Leading economists and bankers decried this as the unleashing of anarchy but Ford saw this as an opportunity for making his cars affordable to a larger customer base.
Then, in the 1920s, he built the legendary River Rouge plant. With docks and rail yards, this massive plant could literally take in raw materials at one end, and roll a completed vehicle from the other. 
By 1920, Ford dominated the world automobile markets. A study from this period found that one in three automobiles in the world was a Ford. And this did not take into account the trucks or tractors also produced by the company.
The Model T represented an engineered simplicity that proved to be a perfect fit for the market of the times. With even limited mechanical skills repairs were possible with the most rudimentary of tools. It was rugged enough to meet the grueling road conditions of the time and was even designed to offer more frame and body flex to endure the rigors of rutted roads. 
However, by the early 1920s the dominance of the Ford was facing serious challenges from numerous competitors. Roads were improving if ever so slightly. Technological advances allowed for manufactures to offer basic amenities even in low priced vehicles while Ford was still offering what was essentially a 1909 model automobile. 
Ford had abandoned the water pump after 1910 to cut costs. By 1920, the Ford was still utilizing thermosiphon cooling.
The first successful electric starter made its debut on the 1912 Cadillac. This was not offered as an option on Ford produced automobiles until late 1923.
To put this in perspective, imagine having an electronics store today, and your inventory consisted of Commodore computers and Atari game consoles. This was exactly the position Ford dealers were in by 1925.
Henry Ford had consistently lowered the price, $390.00 in 1924, but the public was clamoring for a more modern vehicle and other manufacturers were more than happy to meet the demand. Chevrolet was nipping at the heels of Ford by 1924, and other companies such as Star and Willys Overland, were also garnering a share of what was once a Ford dominated market.
In 1927, Ford succumbed to the mounting pressures, including vocal complaints from his son, Edsel, and simply closed down operations while design work for a new and improved Ford commenced. The result would be the now famous Model A introduced for the 1928 model year.
Today, more than a century after its introduction, the lowly Model T remains a treasured memento. A recent study pertaining to classic car ownership indicated there were more than 300,000 of these cars registered world wide.
They remain, as intended, an every mans car. Restored examples sell for $10,000 or less making them ideal as an entry level vehicle for classic car enthusiasts. The parts supply is both plentiful and reasonable. Their simplistic mechanical design makes it easy for the novice to repair and maintain.
Henry Ford’s Tin Lizzy forever changed the world. He put the world behind the wheel and, as a result, finshed what the League of American Wheelmen had begun, created a demand for good roads that could not be ignored.
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