Remembering the Model T

Authored by Jim Farrell
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Henry Fords Model T ended production in 1926. In that year, a number of people have gathered to offer their perspectives on its historical (and environmental impact).

Learning Goals

To complexify the history of the Model T, to show that the early American car culture was contingent and contested, and to get students thinking about the ways that automotive progress led to environmental problems.

Context for Use

American Conversations is a four-semester learning community offering interdisciplinary perspectives on the American experience. It does this not by "covering" everything, but by uncovering the complexities of "dense facts" like the Model T Ford.

Description and Teaching Materials

In 1926, a group of people is telling their versions of the story of the Ford Model T, and evaluating its historical and environmental significance. They are:

  • Henry Ford
  • a factory worker at the Ford Highland Park plant
  • Daniel Burnham, or another city planner
  • a real estate developer
  • a Midwestern farm family: husband, wife and four children
  • Thomas Midgely, the inventor of leaded gasoline
  • Stephen Mather, directory of the National Parks
  • an African-American resident of Harlem

Each of them will talk to the group, addressing the following questions:

What good is the Model T? Who is it good for? How has the Model T (and other cars) changed your life? How have cars changed the American landscape? Are cars an environmental problem? If so, how? If not, why not?

Teaching Notes and Tips

This will probably take two days of oral presentations, which will also help students fulfill the college ORC assignment.


Assessment both on content (including contingency, context, complexity, causality), and on presentation (interest, clarity, engagement).

References and Resources