In a few years, it broke down the age-old isolation of rural life. "You know, Henry," a Georgia farmwife wrote its maker, "Your car lifted us out of the mud. It brought joy to our lives."
Of course, the Model T couldn't remake a nation's social patterns without being deployed in staggering numbers. By 1912, Ford was producing 340 cars a day, which shows impressive organization and control.
But there is a vast difference between quantity production and mass production, and it is by inventing the latter that Ford invented the modern age.
Ford and his lieutenants began experimenting with bringing the work to the workers in a continuous flow. Instead of one man doing 20 things to assemble, say, a carburetor, 20 men would do one thing: tighten a screw or seat a valve as it rolled past them on a conveyor belt.
The results were astonishing. By the 1920s, the Ford Motor Co. was turning out a completed car every 10 seconds.
With the accelerating production came profits so great that, in 1914, Henry Ford raised his workers' base pay to $5 a day, doubling the standard wage in a single stroke.
And in doing that, he made his employees his customers. So began a cycle of consumerism that is with us yet, and that is the goal toward which those production lines were moving: widening prosperity; a growing, mobile middle class; the modern age.
Even as he became the richest man in America, Ford soured. The second half of his life was one of increasing bitterness and bile. He became jealous of his high lieutenants and fired them one by one.
He tormented his gifted son, Edsel, because he didn't think he was tough enough, when in fact Edsel would have been Henry's ideal successor: He understood, as the 1920s wore on, that the car was now no longer merely a utilitarian necessity but an object of desire.
The pioneering days were over.
Ford surely saw this, but he hated it. No inventor has ever been more emotionally bound to his invention. To its maker, the Model T was more than a generator of wealth; it was a moral force.
When Ford finally shut down the line after making his 15 millionth Model T, in 1927, he had waited years too long. In 1920, his company was building half the cars on the American road.
Those days were gone forever, and General Motors Co. was in ascendancy.
But what Will Rogers said remains true. Even now it is too early to fully assess Henry Ford's contribution to the United States, to the world.
But take one example: World War II. In his fine book about the conflict, "The Storm of War," Andrew Roberts writes, "If Britain had provided the time and Russia the blood necessary to defeat the Axis, it was America that produced the weapons."
It was Henry Ford who produced the weapons.
That was never his goal; he was a lifelong pacifist who once told the press that every American soldier should have the word "murderer" embroidered on his uniform.
But without the industrial techniques he developed 30 years earlier, the U.S. couldn't have done it. Over the years, those techniques would surely have come about, but would they have been here when Hitler started battering down the dikes of civilization?
In his best years, when he was a genuinely great man and an inspiring leader, one of his workers described Ford's personality by saying "he had the magnet." All of us are still feeling its pull.
Richard Snow is the author of "I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford" and several other books.