The Model T and ‘The American Road’

NPR’s “Morning Edition” has this week been marking the 100th anniversary of the Model T Ford, an entertaining enough series of stories about how the mass-produced vehicle changed America. The reporting has the expected rueful tone now and then, the regrets for modernity, and, “Now India wants affordable cars, too?”

“It was a wonderful invention, the Model T and the mass-mobility automobile,” says Dan Neil, the automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times. “But now, we’re starting to see that there were consequences.”

He says the debate over global warming, and dependence on oil-rich nations, all come back to the Model T’s internal combustion engine, powered by gasoline. And over time, these engines have only gotten bigger and thirstier.

All things considered, we prefer to celebrate freedom and prosperity and mobility than to regret the admitted consequences. In 1900, nearly half of all Americans lived on the farm, and it was a hard and spartan and constrained and oft-short life. Life’s better now.

So above you’ll find “The American Road,”* a Ford-sponsored documentary that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Model T.  Narrated by Raymond Massey, the 43-minute film notes the freedom and broadened experiences brought by the affordable car, not to mention the industrial revolution it launched:

Everywhere you looked you saw the Model T. It became part of the American scene. It took the housewife to market. It brought the doctor to his patients in time to save their lives. It saved time and speeded up business. Filling stations sprang up by the thousands and a whole new industry in gas and oil was created.

Not only did it save time, it gave the average citizen a wonderful new way to spend the time he saved. Now, for the first time, Americans were able to travel inexpensively across their own country in their own cars and see the grandeur of their own inheritance. They could visit the great national parks, which had been created for the people, which so few people had ever had the opportunity to see. Now the whole family could get away from the noise and the heat of the city.

Freedom, prosperity, comfort, experience. What’s to rue?

* The video is available at the Prelinger Archives, here. The embedded Google version includes updated shots from the ’70s.

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  • […] The Model T and ‘The American Road’ – Shopfloor.org NPR’s “Morning Edition” has this week been marking the 100th anniversary of the Model T Ford, an entertaining enough series of stories about how the mass-produced vehicle changed America… (tags: Prosperity) […]

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