May 26

This Day in History

Automotive

May 26, 1927:

Last day of Model T production at Ford

On this day in 1927, Henry Ford and his son Edsel drive the 15 millionth Model T Ford out of their factory, marking the famous automobile's official last day of production.

More than any other vehicle, the relatively affordable and efficient Model T was responsible for accelerating the automobile's introduction into American society during the first quarter of the 20th century. Introduced in October 1908, the Model T—also known as the "Tin Lizzie"—weighed some 1,200 pounds, with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. It got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and could travel up to 45 mph. Initially selling for around $850 (around $20,000 in today's dollars), the Model T would later sell for as little as $260 (around $6,000 today) for the basic no-extras model.

Largely due to the Model T's incredible popularity, the U.S. government made construction of new roads one of its top priorities by 1920. By 1926, however, the Lizzie had become outdated in a rapidly expanding market for cheaper cars. While Henry Ford had hoped to keep up production of the Model T while retooling his factories for its replacement, the Model A, lack of demand forced his hand. On May 25, 1927, he made headlines around the world with the announcement that he was discontinuing the Model T. As recorded by Douglas Brinkley in "Wheels for the World," his biography of Ford, the legendary carmaker delivered a eulogy for his most memorable creation: "It had stamina and power. It was the car that ran before there were good roads to run on. It broke down the barriers of distance in rural sections, brought people of these sections closer together and placed education within the reach of everyone."

After production officially ended the following day, Ford factories shut down in early June, and some 60,000 workers were laid off. The company sold fewer than 500,000 cars in 1927, less than half of Chevrolet's sales. The Model A's release beginning in select cities that December was greeted by throngs of thousands, a tribute to Ford's characteristic ability to make a splash. No car in history, however, had the impact—both actual and mythological—of the Model T: Authors like Ernest Hemingway, E.B. White and John Steinbeck featured the Tin Lizzie in their prose, while the great filmmaker Charlie Chaplin immortalized it in satire in his 1928 film "The Circus."

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