TBT: This Is How Ford Kept All of Those Model Ts on the Road

May 09, 2024

During the proliferation of the Model T, the need for a dealer network capable of servicing and keeping the “universal cars” on the road was quickly recognized – there were lots of Model Ts, but few qualified mechanics to be found. 

The evolution of Ford’s dealer network was swift. In the early days, Henry Ford was known to deliver Model Ts to their new owners, arranging for service among local handymen – and even blacksmiths – to ensure competent maintenance and repair. As Ford Motor Company and the Model T began to take off, though, dealers in various towns were designated to “devote their entire time to the care of Ford cars” under close factory supervision and to company standards, according to a 1930 advertisement. 

“It has always been our belief that a sale does not complete the transaction between us and the buyer but establishes a new obligation on us to see that his car gives him service,” it read. “We have installed a system of controlled service to take care of all Ford car needs in an economical and approved manner. We wish all users of Ford cars to know what they are entitled to in this respect, so that they may readily avail themselves to this service.”

Early Ford dealers were made up of machinists, blacksmiths, livery men, and hardware merchants. By 1930, Ford had established more than 8,000 dealers in the U.S. alone and thousands more throughout the world. They were specially trained in Ford-operated schools equipped with the latest machines and tools. The company prided itself on having clean shop spaces and courteous staff. Also, their presence meant owners would have access to proper Ford parts to repair their own vehicles, or that they could have their vehicles repaired at reasonable prices – something that was not always the case prior to the arrival of Ford dealers. 

The first Ford Dealer

Ford’s first dealer, San Francisco’s Billy Hughson, enlisted to become a Ford seller in 1902 – a year before the company had even been incorporated – upon meeting Henry Ford in Chicago at a bicycle show. Hughson would go on to continue as a dealer until the 1960s, though he infamously passed on investing in the young company in an amount that would eventually be worth some $35 million in stock. 

Ford was the only automaker that required its dealers to carry all the parts for different Ford vehicles and required training before they could service customers’ vehicles. Other OEMs simply referred their customers to existing mechanics for maintenance and repairs. 

Just as Ford put the world on wheels with the creation of the Model T, so too did Ford dealers help keep them there, ensuring owners had access to all the possibilities the Model T opened with its creation. Visit the FXC in Dearborn to see a collection of archival material dating back to the 1920s documenting Ford’s relationship with its dealers.

Love Ford history? Access http://fordarchivesonline.com with your CDSID to search your favorite topics. Or visit http://fordheritagevault.com , where no CDSID is needed, to browse and download product history.