Henry Ford is quoted as saying “You can have any color you want so long as it’s black.” And like so many quotes, there is dispute that it was ever said. Fortunately, no one is ascribing it to Mark Twain.
But whether Ford said it or not, he certainly did write it. It’s in his book My Life and Work, published in 1922. The entire quote is as follows:
Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to be “Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked: ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.’
What’s odd about this statement is that Model T’s were available in a variety of colors, at least until 1915. In fact, up until that point, black wasn’t even an option! But from 1915 to 1925, black was the only option. But why?
A common answer given to this is that black was chosen because it was fastest to dry. Fast drying paint, meant less time on the production line, and as we all know, Ford was all about efficiency. There’s a problem with this argument though: while some black paints do dry quickly, Ford didn’t use just one on his cars. In fact, a Model T completed between 1915 and 1925 would have had as many as 30 different kinds of black paint on it, all with different drying times.
While it’s possible that some key component such as the body benefited from a quick drying time, and that all the other other parts were painted black to match, it’s likely that the reason black was chosen was much simpler: it was a cheap, forgiving paint. By painting everything black, Ford didn’t have to worry about having his production line retool for different colors. He also didn’t have to worry about batches of paint being slightly different, and any nicks or scratches could be easily painted over. This argument gets a boost from the fact that during the years 1915-1925, the automobile was undergoing a transition from a luxury that only the wealthy could afford, to something an everyday person might have. The value, then, was in getting as many cars out as possible, and there was no need to lure someone in with a pretty paint color.
In 1926, Ford introduced Green and Red in order to offer some variety and compete with other car companies who were gaining market share. In 1927, the Model T was available in 10 colors, including black and four shades of green. That would be the last year of Model T production, as it was replaced by the Model A, a much more substantial vehicle with twice the top speed and a wide variety of body types and yes, colors.