Henry Ford’s success was commercial: the creation of a gigantic and immensely profitable enterprise that, on the basis of a simple, reliable, inexpensive product, came to dominate its market. Ford was one of the first auto industry magnates to recognize the importance of simplicity, economy and high volume; the Model A Ford, introduced in 1903, was the first Ford automobile to embody those principles.
The Model A was the first product of the Ford Motor Company. Its transition from Henry Ford’s concept to a finished product in the hands of customers was balanced on a knife’s edge of cash flow. In early July 1903, Ford’s cash balance was just $223.65. Ford’s credibility with investors was exhausted. There was work-in-process inventory in the Mack Avenue factory, but without income there would soon be nothing to pay employees to keep assembling automobiles.
Most successful business stories come down to one single event upon which the survival of the business turns. In the Ford Motor Company’s case, it occurred on July 13th, 1903 when three customers made the first payments to the company. Only one of those first three Model A Fords has survived, with only five owners since it left Detroit – the 1903 Ford Model A Tonneau no. 30 that was sold to Herbert L. McNary of Britt, Iowa on July 13th, 1903.
The first Ford Motor Company product was called, not surprisingly, the Model A. It was powered by an opposed two-cylinder engine that displaced 100 cubic inches and was stated to develop eight horsepower. Built on a wheelbase of only 72 inches, it weighed roughly 1,250 pounds depending upon the body fitted. Its light weight made the most of the engine’s eight horsepower, and, importantly, an ordinary man could cover more ground in a day with a Model A Ford than with a horse and buggy. More importantly, the Ford didn’t need to be fed on days it wasn’t being used or have its stall mucked out, either!
Ford filled his manufacturing pipeline with product in early 1903, making more than a few running changes in the Model A’s design along the way, often as a result of the Dodges’ insistence. Yet while cash was going out to pay vendors and employees, shipments hadn’t started and no income was coming in to replenish the company’s coffers.
Even the deep pockets of Alexander Malcomson and the other investors couldn’t keep the Ford Motor Company’s head above water without sales of finished product. By mid-July, payments to suppliers and employees had whittled Ford’s bank balance to practically nothing. Henry Ford and James Couzens had bet the company on having product ready and customers signed up at exactly the moment the cash ran out. That day was Monday, July 13th, 1903 when the first three orders were received by the Ford Motor Company for Model A Fords.