Carlisle Indians Built Model Ts

In 2003 three of my brothers and I took our soon-to-be 90-year-old father for a tour of old car museums in the Midwest. At Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI we took a ride in a Model T. That was all it took to whet his appetite for the Tin Lizzie. Before I knew it one appeared at my doorstep. Dan lives in Illinois but the 1915 brass radiator T he found was in New Jersey. The seller agreed to deliver it as far as my place in Pennsylvania. (See photo below)

This being the 100th anniversary of the Model T, one looks for connections between it and the Carlisle Indian School. Some employee surely had one but I haven’t bothered to explore that link because a much stronger tie exists.

Shortly after Henry Ford increased wages to $5 per day and reduced the workday from 9 hours to 8, a move that other industrialists thought would bankrupt him and possibly themselves as they tried to compete for workers, Superintendent Oscar Lipps arranged to have some Carlisle students enter the training program at Ford. In January 1915 6 boys left to put Americans on the road. At Ford they were placed in a training program which consisted of both classroom training and hands–on work in the various aspects of the Highland Park plant. Lipps received feedback on the boys’ performance and found it necessary to upgrade part of the academic program at Carlisle to better prepare students for positions in modern industrial concerns.

The boys performed well and received good evaluations from Ford. So good in fact, that additional students were sent to Ford. By mid-summer, 19 boys were in the Ford training program. In September most, including the football players, returned to Carlisle, but 9 remained at Ford. In December, after football season was over, 16 more, including several who had previously been in the Ford program returned to Detroit. By January 1916, Joe Gilman, Chippewa, set a Ford record by assembling a Model T in 2 hours and 50 minutes, breaking the previous record of 3 hours.

End of Part I

Ann cranks while Tom impatiently honks horn

Ann cranks while Tom impatiently honks horn

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One Response to “Carlisle Indians Built Model Ts”

  1. Veronica Pasfield Says:

    Hi and thanks for your wonderful story! I’m Veronica Pasfield, a member of Bay Mills Indian Community, and a grad student at the U of Mich. I’m doing my dissertation on Carlisle in this period. I just got back from the Ford archives in Dearborn and wanted to share a series of letters with you, as well as ask if you know anything more about this topic. I’ve been all through the Henry Ford Trade School archives and there is no mention of these students being there! However, I do have copies of letters between Lipps and Ford’s secretary when Gilmore tried (and failed) to get approved for an urban Ford dealership in Mnpls. in 1921.

    Let’s share our info!!

    Veronica
    veroniq@umich.edu

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