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Any Color as Long as it’s Black


North Dakota was quick to embrace the horseless carriage. In 1904 there were almost 60,000 miles of roads in the state, although only 212 miles were surfaced with gravel or stone. The rest were dirt. By 1921, North Dakota ranked seventh out of the states in road mileage. In 1924, the Highway Department printed 5,000 copies of a North Dakota road map. The map immediately sold out and the Department printed 2,000 more. In 1925, there were 130,000 automobiles in the state. That same year, a seven mile stretch of road between Bismarck and Mandan was the longest stretch of paved road. By 1929, North Dakota ranked third in the nation, with 4,300 miles of road.

Henry Ford did his bit to nurture the traveling spirit of North Dakotans. On this date in 1927, Ford began selling the Model A. Prices ranged from $385 for the standard model to $1,400 for the Town Car. The Model A replaced the Model T, which had begun losing business to Ford’s competitors.

The Model A was a powerful car, with a top speed of 65 miles per hour. It was easier to drive, with a standard clutch and brakes. The new shock absorbers were a welcome addition, considering the rough roads of the day. The Model A also had a visual gas gage, a popular innovation. It was the first vehicle to come with a windshield made of safety glass. Optional, was a rearview mirror.

The Model T had initially been available in various colors, but Ford later changed his mind and famously stated that the Model T was available “in any color, as long as it’s black.” The Model A, however, came in four colors. Customers responded, and by February, 1929, one million Model A’s were on the road. The public was so impressed with the Model A that Tin Pan Alley came out with a new song, “Henry’s Made a Lady Out of Lizzie.” The reference was to “Tin Lizzie,” the nickname of the Model T.

North Dakotans welcomed automobile travel, and the trend shows no signs of stopping. In 2003, there were almost 700,000 vehicles registered in the state – more vehicles than people. And when it comes to miles of road per capita, North Dakota ranks first in the nation. Henry Ford would be proud.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


North Dakota Department of Transportation. http://www.dot.nd.gov/dotnet2/view/history.aspx Accessed 9 November, 2014.

Shay History. http://www.shayhistory.com/HistoryFord.html Accessed 9 November, 2014.