Today, we sell Model A's and Windows 95. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
The pre-release hype for
Windows 95 had to be the most spectacular
merchandising blitz ever for a new technology. Or
was it? Before we answer that question, consider
Microsoft gave its new product a name and a logo.
Everyone in America who'd used earlier versions of
Windows knew a major change was coming. Microsoft
advertised Windows 95 heavily and delayed delivery.
Bugs had to be found before it could be sold.
Selected users across America test-drove Windows 95
on their computers and reported trouble back to
Microsoft. Tension built as the program was
fine-tuned. Finally, delivery day! Sales flew off
Now let's move back 68 years -- to 1927. Henry Ford has been making Model
T's since 1908 with no major changes. The Model T
has changed the face of America. It has been the
standard of cheap effective transportation. Other
auto makers are finally gaining on it -- improving
on it -- but the Model T is still king.
It's time for Henry Ford to pull a new rabbit out
his hat if he wants to keep on being king. So he
announces a new car. He doesn't name it the Model U
to follow T. Rather he goes back to the front of
the alphabet and calls it: Model A. This will be a
wholly new beginning in automobile making.
Author Michael Lamm tells what happened next. In
May, 1927, the 15 millionth Model T came off Ford's
production line and Ford abruptly ended its
production. That was a brilliant public relations
ploy and one that took huge confidence and courage.
Suddenly Ford's assembly lines simply stopped.
Dealers all over America had no cars to sell. Not
even Microsoft did anything that audacious.
America waited. Ford said information about the new
Model A would follow in a few weeks. June passed;
silence from Ford! The media printed would-be
pictures of the new car. Some said it would have a
six-cylinder engine; some said eight. The ancient
Model T planetary gear transmission would surely be
replaced by something with a modern gear-shift.
Beyond that we knew nothing.
Meanwhile dealers with no cars to sell held on.
Only a few defected to Chevrolet. America waited.
Finally, in November, Ford announced the Model A
would hit the market on Dec. 2nd.
The first 125,000 Model A's were sold sight unseen.
When the car finally went on display in Madison
Square Garden, over a million people came to see it
on the first day. Three quarters of a million
orders had been placed within the first six weeks
and Ford stayed backlogged until 1928.
And so, Lamm tells us, what we recently saw with
Windows 95 was only a pale ghost of a strategy that
has never been imitated with anything to match the
panache that Ford showed us in 1927.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds