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The Triumphal Origin Legend of 'Tin Lizzie'

Alica Árvay
February 3, 2011

As with all origin legends, this is the truth about the conveyor belt, the mass manifacturing and Tin Lizzie. All in all, the flagship innovations of the modern time civilization derive from of one single basis: they all have Hungarian origin. Yesterday was the 130th birth anniversary of the father of these innovations.

It is the 130th anniversary of the birth of József Galamb (1881-1955) who was born in Makó, southeast Hungary, to a poor family of eight children. Despite hardships due to his talents  he earned his engineering degree in Budapest. His talent revolutionized mass manifacturing and added so many important innovations.

It seems that among the famous Hungarians who proved to be deserving world's acknowledgments he is one who is forgotten from time to time. He is a particularly charming figure, though, because when he returned to Hungary, at home his success story proved to be an enduring one. He returned to Makó many times and set up a foundation to support the town's poor but talented students.

Henry Ford owed Tin Lizzie to this son of Makó and some would say he is the father of mass manufacturing, for if was Jozsef Galamb who not only created Ford's Model T, affectionately called "Tin Lizzie" but was elemental in introducing the conveyor belt to production lines and the designer of the assembly lines.

Galamb's first job was with Magyar Automobil (today Arad, SW Romania), which sponsored a trip to Germany in 1903 to study at Daimler-Benz. The turning point in his life was the next year, 1904. He sailed to the United States to see the International Automobile Show at the Saint Louis World Fair, and travelled on to the car-manufacturing hub of Detroit.

It was there in 1905 that Henry Ford took him on after seeing his first sketches, assigning him to oversee the design and production of the new Model T. During that time, Galamb invented the planetary gearbox and the electric ignition plug, landmarks in auto technology. Galamb was also responsible for the seminal Fordson light tractor and the first conveyor belt installed in 1913, and he designed ambulances, light army tanks, trucks and racing cars.

Never forgetting his home town he shipped the first batch of Ford cars to Mako through the port of Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia) in 1921. Galamb himself returned to the town next year to help finish work on one of Hungary's first car saloons and shops his two brothers had opened. Cars started roaming on the streets of Mako with crazy speed in those years. Perhaps we owe to József Galamb that we think of innovation as the engine of development.Tin Lizzy alias Bádog Böske certainly deserves this honour.

Alica Árvay

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