Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A short bit of history

The last post got me to thinking about the Model T Ford.  The thought occurred to me that if the Model T wasn't invented, the modern automobile's popularity may not have reached the level that it did.  The secret of the Model T was economy of scale, which drove down costs, and made the automobile affordable for the masses.

Just for my amusement, I looked up the history of the internal combustion engine.  This is really not new.  Some form of internal combustion engines have been around for a long, long time.  It is true, though, that innovations improved the basic design, but by 1908, when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, automobiles were still not that popular.

The Oil industry had been around for decades.  Spindletop may have made a difference, because it was so productive.  Cheap, abundant oil couldn't hurt the enterprise.  The process had to become self sustaining.  Evidently one success builds upon another.  Other wells begin to come in and the oil industry boomed.  The oil industry combined with a cheap automobile, propelled the automotive industry into economic dominance.

Another element necessary for the mass market was the construction of roads.  Without good roads, the new autos had nowhere to go.  With mass production techniques mastered, a cheap and abundant source of energy, and with it, the rising popularity of automobiles, it became politically possible to get support for the construction of roads as a public enterprise.  Everything needed for the success of automobiles was in place.  And so it was.

So, in short review, it was an affordable machine and an abundant source of energy that made automobiles affordable for the masses.  Then political support became possible.  Without affordability, it couldn't have caught on the way it did.  If nobody used mass production techniques the way it was used in the Model T, the modern automobile may never have become what it did.

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