The Incredible History of Henry Ford
Henry Ford was the innovator of developing the assembly line technique of mass production and the founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford is known for manufacturing an affordable automobile for many middle-class Americans and introduced the Model T automobile that revolutionized American industry and transportation. Ford was one of America's greatest businessmen, and his inventions and contributions to the Industrial Age make him one of the most influential people in history. He was a fascinating figure, often called one of Michigan's oddest ducks, a wild idealist, and a champion of the average person.
Henry Ford Was Born On July 30, 1863
Henry Ford was born in 1863 on a farm in Greenfield, Township, Michigan, to William and Mary Ford. He was the oldest son of six children and was named after his uncle. He spent most of his childhood days in a one-room school and doing farm chores.
He demonstrated from a young age an interest in mechanical objects and hated farming life. After his mother died, he was forced to take over the farm work but also continued his love of anything mechanical.
Henry Was Born Into A Family Of Farmers
While Ford was growing up on the farm, he detested the work, which prompted him to come up with more efficient means of getting things done. He soon left the family farm to pursue his passion, but later in life, he went back and restored his family's farm.
He repaired and replaced the farm buildings and filled the house with original or similar furnishings he remembered from his childhood. He dedicated the restoration to the memory of his mother, Mary Litogot Ford. The house and outbuildings were later moved to Greenfield Village in 1944.
Henry Repaired Pocket Watches For Extra Money As A Teen
When Henry Ford was a teenager, his father gave him a pocket watch, which he took apart and reassembled. He made extra money as a pocket watch repairman after he had taught himself the craft of watch repair.
He even made his own tools used to work on the watches, which included tiny screwdrivers that he filed from old nails and tweezers made from the spring steel from a discarded corset. Henry was a mechanical genius from a very young age.
Henry's Mother Died In 1876
Mary Ford, Henry's mother, instilled in her children a sense of cleanliness and order and taught them to read. Her quiet forcefulness and strong moral influence was the guiding spirit for the entire family, and when she died in 1876, the family was devasted.
Henry's father wanted him to take responsibility and work on the farm, but now with his mother gone, he had no interest in the family farm. So at the age of sixteen, Henry left the farm and traveled to Detroit.
Henry Ford Constructed His First Steam Engine At Just Fifteen Years Old
Henry spent his spare time in a small machine shop, and in 1878, he constructed his first steam engine. He later became a machinist's apprentice in Detroit in James F. Flower and Brothers shops and in the plant of the Detroit Dy Dock.
He finished his apprenticeship in 1882 and then spent a year setting up and repairing Westinghouse steam engines in Southern Michigan. He then divided his time between operating and repairing steam engines.
At Twenty Years Old, He Was Promoted To Chief Engineer Of The Thomas Edison Illumination Company's Main Electrical Plant
In the beginning, Ford's passion for machines and steam engines didn't bring him any money, so he joined the Thomas Edison Illuminating Company. He was promoted to Chief Engineer of the main electrical plant in Detroit at just twenty years old.
He was in charge of providing electrical power for the city. He worked at the plant for six years, which encouraged his creative mind and served as his final inspiration to move forward with his gasoline automobile, which Thomas Edison encouraged him to do.
At Thirty Years Old, He Built A Gasoline Engine
Fifteen years after he built his first steam engine, his dream of building a gasoline engine became a reality. It was at the shops in Detroit where he worked that he had his first contact with the internal combustion engine.
His first engine came to be on a wooden table in the kitchen of his home. In internal combustion engines, the engine produces power by sucking in a mixture of gasoline and air and igniting it with a spark. The force then provides power to operate a vehicle or other machine.
Henry Married Clara Bryant In 1888
Henry Ford married Clara Jane Bryant on April 11, 1888, and he nicknamed Clara his great believer. Clara was Henry's loving partner and a confidant in business matters and a true companion sharing personal interests, including dance, nature, and music, and together built an entire industry and opened the door for countless others.
In addition, Clara was passionate about her philanthropic pursuits, social reform projects. Several of her projects focused on making a difference in women's lives, from advocating for women's suffrage to supporting unwed mothers and unskilled girls who needed medical care and skills training. Henry and Clara had one son together, Edsel Ford.
Henry And Clara Welcomed A Son, Edsel Bryant Ford, In 1893
Henry and Clara only had one child, and Edsel Bryant Ford was born in 1893 in Detroit, and he was named after Edsel Ruddiman, one of Henry's closest friends. Henry prepared his son Edsel to take over the family automobile business, and he grew up tinkering on cars with his father.
As an adult, he became the secretary of Ford in 1915, married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, and had four children, Henry Ford II, Josephine Clay Ford, William Clay Ford, and Benson Ford. Edsel ended up becoming president of Ford Motor Company in 1919.
Henry Was Inspired By Thomas Edison To Build Cars
Ford had a meeting with Thomas Edison in 1896, and Edison approved of his automobile experimentation. He encouraged him to keep at it, and the two became lifelong friends and later ended up becoming neighbors. Henry and Thomas toured the parts of the United States together in Ford cars for a series of camping trips, which served as advertisements for Ford cars and Firestone tires.
They generated headlines such as 'Millions of Dollars Worth of Brains off on a Vacation.' "Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory if the success of the job requires it." ---- Henry Ford.
Completed His First Automobile, The Quadricycle, In 1896
Henry Ford completed his first horseless carriage in 1896 and called it the Quadricycle. It was his first attempt at building a gas-powered automobile, and he used angle iron for the frame, a buggy seat, and a leather belt and chain drive for the transmission.
The Quadricycle ran on four bicycle tires, and its success led to the founding of the Henry Ford Company. While test driving it, they achieved a top speed of twenty mph. The original Quadricycle can be seen at The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
In 1899, Henry Formed The Detroit Automobile Company
Henry Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, and it was an early American automobile manufacturer. He attracted the financial backing of twelve investors, including Detroit Mayor William Maybury and Wiliam H. Murphy.
A gasoline-powered delivery truck was the company's first product, and it received favorable coverage in the paper but had flaws. The company ended up going under and was closed in 1901 after only twenty vehicles were built and $86,000 of investment was lost.
Henry Entered A Race on The Grosse Pointe Track In 1901 And Won
Henry was a car racer for some time during his career, but he actually hated it. He turned to the world of automobile racing because car races were very popular and generated positive press for the winners. He only did it to promote his cars and the company, and because of his efforts, he was inducted into the 1996 Motorsports Hall of Fame.
In 1901 he raced against Alexander Winton and won, using the proceeds to create the Henry Ford Company. "I never thought anything of racing, but the public refused to consider the automobile in any light other than a fast toy. Therefore later, we had to race." ---- Henry Ford.
Henry Ford And Alexander Malcomson Start The Ford Motor Company In 1903
Henry Ford, along with Alexander Malcomson (pictured below), founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, and it was incorporated with a mere $28,000 from the public. In the early days, the company released model cars for about $600-$950 and eventually lowered them to $290.
Finally, middle-class Americans started purchasing affordable cars in 1927, which marked the start of Ford's long journey of manufacturing automobiles.
Henry Built The Model N Automobile In 1907
The Ford Motor Company started producing the Model N, and it cost about $600. It was built at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and was a front-engine car with a four-cylinder engine.
It was also the first American car to use vanadium steel, and seven thousand cars were made before production ended in 1908. Maroon was the only factory color for the Model N, and the car was viewed as highly affordable at the time.
Henry Introduced The Model T Automobile In 1908
Henry Ford's dream was to empower the common person and build a car for the multitude, and he realized his dream with the Model T. The Model T was launched in 1908 and was $950, but the price was dropped to $290 in 1927, making it more affordable for more of the population. It was named the most influential car of the twentieth century and 16.5 million were sold. It still, to this day, makes the top-ten list of most-sold cars of all time.
"I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces." ----- Henry Ford.
Ford's Highland Park Factory Begins Operating The First Moving Automobile Assembly Line In The World In 1913
Ford was the man responsible for the first assembly line that consistently moved, and it became a trademark system in manufacturing facilities across the globe. It wasn't the first assembly line produced, but it was the first one that was continuously moved by workers and established an efficiency unmatched at the time.
Because of these lines, what used to take 728 minutes, now took 93 minutes and eventually brought down the time to produce a Model T to just 24 seconds. The line also had feeder lines that supplied the right parts at the right time.
Ford Offered His Workers Five Dollars A Day For Eight Hours Of Work
Henry Ford believed in his workers' potential and offered them handsome salaries because his idea was to keep the workers satisfied and content with their jobs by paying them well. He was paying his workers almost double the standard wages, therefore, attracting a lot of talent and skill to his company.
He also shared his company's profits with the employees that had stayed with the company for more than six months and conducted their lives in a respectable way. Later, the practice of profit sharing was abandoned because it was seen as an interference in the employees' lives.
In 1914, Henry Ford Was Making One Thousand Cars A Day
The Ford Company was producing twenty-five cars a day before introducing the assembly line when the record time for building one car was twelve hours and thirteen minutes. However, with the new assembly line system, it only took one hour and thirty-three minutes to produce a car.
Therefore, they were able to produce one thousand cars every day. Thus, Ford was able to achieve his dream of making cars more affordable for the average middle-class American.
Henry Began Buying Land In 1915, To Build The Rouge Plant
Henry Ford started buying land in secret, and in 1927, the Ford River Rouge factory complex began full-scale automobile production. All of the materials were from a supply chain owned and controlled by Ford Motor Company.
The plant rolled out four thousand vehicles every day, and the complex was a mile and a half wide and more than a mile long. They had their own railroad, multiple buildings, fire department, modern police force, fully staffed hospital, and a maintenance crew; it was a city without residents.
Henry Ford Hospital Was Opened In 1915
In 1915, the Henry Ford Hospital opened as a tertiary care hospital with 877 beds and was located in Detroit. It was built and financed by Henry Ford, and the staff grew over the years and eventually, a research and education complex were added.
Finally, the new, much larger building was completed and opened in 1921 and provided five hundred new beds, and many new staff members were added, several from Johns Hopkins. Today, Ford has eight hospitals, twenty-nine medical centers, twenty-four pharmacies, and eight emergency departments.
Henry Announced His Plan To End World War I In 1915
Henry Ford always promoted peace, and because of this, he came up with the 'Ship of Peace' that set sail on a peace mission in 1915 in response to World War I. He financially supported the expedition to Europe and hoped to inspire soldiers on all sides to go on strike and derail leaders who he believed were financing the War to End all Wars.
The mission was widely mocked by the press, and the mission was unsuccessful, so he abandoned the endeavor. However, the Peace Ship continued its journey around Europe, and the whole thing cost Ford about half a million dollars. However, his plants did produce weapons, airplane engines, and boats for the war.
Henry Founded The Ford Airplane Company
Henry Ford founded the Ford Airplane Company during World War I and produced the now-iconic Ford Tri-Motor airplane in 1928. Ford's Tri-Motor plane even appears in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Unfortunately, the company didn't achieve the success he had hoped for because of the lackluster sales. He also built the first airport hotel, the Dearborn Inn, in 1931, a luxury hotel that featured Colonial architecture and design.
Ford Motor Company Got Sued In 1927
Ford was sued by Aaron Sapiro because of a smear campaign that Ford did in his newspaper. It set in motion a two-year-long roller coaster ride of battles in the courts and the press until Ford finally publicly apologized.
The case had the richest and most famous man in America against a scrappy young lawyer. Sapiro was organizing farmers into cooperative associations during the early 1920s. Within two weeks of Ford's public apology, Sapiro announced his settlement with Ford.
Henry Ford Resigned From The Presidency Of The Ford Motor Company
Henry Ford decided to resign as president of Ford Motor Company in 1918 because of a clash with the other stockholders over global expansion. He hung on to the Model T for so long that by the mid-1920s, the company ceased being innovative and competitive.
Henry still owned 25.5% of the stock in the new organization, and his son, Edsel, was elected the new president of the company in 1919. In the future, Henry Ford would become President of Ford Motor Company again after a family tragedy.
His Son Edsel Took Over The Role Of President At The Company
Henry's only child Edsel Ford took over the position of president of the Ford Motor Company in 1926. However, the two clashed while Edsel tried to salvage the company; Henry would often veto his son's rule. As a result, Henry often humiliated Edsel in public, but Edsel was still able to introduce many lasting changes.
Edsel was a shrewd businessman and all-around good person, and he successfully launched the Mercury line and the company's acquisition of the luxury Lincoln brand. He also strengthened Ford Motor's overseas production and modernized the company's cars.
President Woodrow Wilson Convinced Henry Ford To Run For The Seat Of Senate As A Democrat
President Woodrow Wilson convinced Henry Ford that he should seek a life in politics, so Ford ran for a seat in the United States Senate in 1918. He disapproved of spending money for the election campaigns, and in fact, he didn't spend any of his money on his campaign.
He lost the election by four thousand and five hundred votes, but that was still a remarkable achievement. Instead, he went on to become one of the richest men in the United States.
More Than 20% Of Ford's Workforce Had Some Form Of Disability
Henry Ford had a big heart and a willingness to hire disabled people, including the deaf, blind, and those who had lost limbs either in combat or by accident. More than twenty percent of Ford Motor Company's workforce had some form of disability by 1919.
Ford had a soft spot for people with disabilities and felt that they deserved a chance as well. Ford was really all about the average American person, which is also why he paid his workers so well.
In 1919, The Ford Family Controlled All Of Ford Motor Company For The First Time
When the Ford Motor Company was started, Henry Ford and Alexander Y. Malcomson together owned fifty-one percent of the new company. The company went on to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. Then, in 1918, Ford stepped down from the presidency and established another company called Henry Ford and Son.
He made sure that it made the news that he was taking himself and his best employees to his new company, which bullied the existing stockholders of Ford Motor into selling their stakes to him before they lost their lucrative value. The trick worked, and Ford took over one hundred percent ownership of Ford Motor Company for the first time.
Ford Owned A Controversial Newspaper Called The Dearborn Independent
Henry Ford owned a weekly newspaper called The Dearborn Independent from 1919 until 1927, and it began running a series of articles that claimed a vast Jewish conspiracy was infecting America. There were ninety-one issues released that portrayed Jews as evil, and the most aggressive was titled "The International Jew."
Ford distributed half a million copies and was then sued. Due to the controversy, Ford closed the newspaper and apologized for the content, also claiming he was unaware of the content.
Ford Sued The Chicago Tribune In 1919
The Chicago Tribune newspaper labeled Henry Ford as an ignorant idealist and an anarchist. They tried to prove the ignorant claim by firing basic history-class questions at him, and Ford failed to correctly answer the question, what year the American Revolution occurred.
He sued the paper for one million dollars, and it was one of the longest suits on record at the time, lasting for three months. After the jury deliberated for ten hours, Henry won the suit in 1919, and the tribune was ordered to pay Ford.
Ford Produced The Model A Automobile In 1927
The Model A was the firm's first product, and it featured a two-cylinder engine, was designated a 1928 model, and was available in four standard colors. The Model A came in various styles, such as convertibles, coupes, town cars, station wagon, taxicab, truck, and commercial.
It was the first Ford to use the standard set of driver controls with conventional clutch and brake pedals, gearshift, and throttle. The Model A was also sold in Europe but was replaced by locally built cars.
Highland Park Was Shut Down For Six Months For Production Of A New Vehicle In 1927
Highland Park allowed for vast expanses of uninterrupted space large enough to accommodate the assembly lines. Highland Park was shut down for six months while preparing for the production of the new Model A vehicle.
Almost seventy-five percent of all existing tools needed to be scrapped, rebuilt or refurbished for the Model A. As a result of the shutdown, sixty thousand workers were laid off, and in the end, it cost almost $250 million before the first Model A was even assembled.
Henry Began His Fordlandia Project In 1927
In 1927, Henry Ford bought a chunk of property the size of Connecticut and attempted to build a city in the middle of the Amazon. His concept was to build an entire city to obtain a supply of rubber for automobiles. He called it Fordlandia, but the efforts were defeated, and the town is still empty to this day.
There ended up being a riot, devastation of the rubber crop by insects, and resistance to the assembly line by native workers. The town in Aveiro, Brazil, remains as empty today as it was in 1927.
In Late 1927, River Rouge Factory Begins Full-Scale Automobile Production
Henry Ford built the River Rouge plant intending to create the largest vertically integrated production facility in the world. It would feature a native electricity production facility, docks for freighter ships, an integrated steel mill, and miles of railroad tracks.
The plant is still running today with thousands of employees, and it cranks out about twelve hundred Ford F-150 pickups every day. It is the longest continuously producing auto plant in the nation.
Ford Opened A School House
When Henry Ford was growing up, he attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. Then, as an adult, Ford bought a property in Sterling, Massachusetts, that was used just for storage. He repurposed the building into a proper school and named it the Redstone Schoolhouse.
The school was relocated to be a part of his Wayside Inn historic district in Sudbury and taught students from first grade through fourth grade. The school operated until 1951, and Ford even published a book about the school titled The Story of Mary and Her Little Lamb and Ford Ideals.
Ford Unveiled The Thomas Edison Institute In 1929
In 1929, there was a grand party thrown to dedicate the Thomas Edison Institute in honor of the American inventor. Several well-known people attended the party, such as Walter Chrysler, Roy Rogers, Charles Schwab, John D. Rockefeller, President Herbert Hoover, and of course the guest of honor, Thomas Edison.
Ford moved Edison's lab and boarding house from New Jersey to Detroit and re-constructed them to look just as they had in 1879 when Edison invented the lightbulb. The Thomas Edison Institute showcases hundreds of historic buildings and artifacts and is located in the Greenfield Village.
Ford Was Hit By The Great Depression In 1929
Ford experienced the most problems during the 1930s, during the Great Depression. He lost $88 million between 1932 and 1933, had massive layoffs, and halted most of its advertising. He tried to recover by offering increased wages for the workers and decreasing the price of Ford Motor cars.
Unfortunately, the scheme was unsuccessful, and as the depression hit harder, he had to lay off even more workers and had to reduce the workers' pay from seven dollars per day to only four dollars per day.
The Battle Of The Overpass
Henry Ford offered very good wages to his workers but was against labor unions. He considered them to be too heavily influenced by confident leaders who ultimately ended up doing more harm for the workers. He also strongly believed that labor unions restricted productivity in order to increase employment and often instigated strikes in order to maintain their power.
In 1937, Harry Bennett and the Ford Motor Company security guards clashed with members of the UAW, and the next day those pictures were published in the newspapers and it was labeled the Battle of the Overpass.
In 1941, Ford Signed An Agreement With Union Officials
Ford's factory workers went on strike in 1941, demanding higher wages, job security, and overtime pay. At the Rouge plant, fifty thousand employees refused to work until Ford agreed to meet union demands, and Ford replied he would rather shut down his factories than give in to the union.
However, he had a lot of pressure from Edsel, the government, and the unions, so he finally signed an agreement with union officials. He ended up giving them everything they wanted, such as a union shop, higher wages, and union dues deducted from workers' paychecks.
Ford Debuted A Prototype Of A Plastic-Bodied Car
In 1941, Henry Ford debuted a prototype of a plastic-bodied car, and the car's body was biodegradable, with the panels being made entirely from soybeans. He wanted to use the soybeans in Ford cars, but the outbreak of World War II sidelined the project.
He chose the beans because the body was lighter and more fuel-efficient than a normal metal body, and he was looking to integrate industry with agriculture. Ford also claimed that the plastic made the cars safer. Unfortunately, the car never made it into the museum's collections.
Ford's son, Edsel, Died From Stomach Cancer
Henry Ford's son, Edsel Ford, developed metastatic stomach cancer, and the surgery for the cancer was unsuccessful due to the fact that the cancer had metastasized to other areas of his body. Edsel Ford died in 1943 at his home, at the age of forty-nine.
Per his will, all of his nonvoting stock was donated to the Ford Foundation, which he and his father founded seven years earlier. Edsel was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1943, Ford Once Again Became President Of Ford Motor Company
After Edsel Ford's death, Henry Ford briefly reassumed the presidency of Ford Motor Company. However, in 1945, Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, became president of the company.
Henry Ford was almost eighty when he became president of the company again and didn't relinquish until the end of World War II. Henry was eighty-two when he finally resigned for the last time.
In 1945, Ford Suffered A Stroke
Henry Ford stepped down from his role of president at the Ford Motor Company due to suffering a stroke in 1945. He suffered a debilitating stroke while on a trip to Richmond Hill, his estate in Georgia.
After returning to Fair Lane, he remained mentally and physically frail and often failed to recognize old friends and associates. As a result, he was carefully kept out of the public eye, and his twenty-eight-year-old grandson took over the company.
Henry Ford Died In 1947
In 1947, Henry Ford died from a cerebral hemorrhage at his Fair Lane estate in Dearborn, Michigan. He had lived an extraordinary life and contributed to the development of the American economy, and started one of the most successful companies of all time.
Thousands of Americans that didn't even personally know Ford mourned his death, and many waited in a mile-long line to pay their respects while Ford lay in repose at Greenfield Village. In addition, there were crowds of mourners outside the church on the day of his funeral.
Henry Ford Was America's Second Billionaire
Henry Ford was America's second billionaire, after John D. Rockefeller, and he became one of the richest Americans of his time by creating efficient work for Americans and generated a richer economy overall. In addition, he encouraged car-buying for Americans and innovative manufacturing.
During Henry's time, Ford automobiles sold around fifteen million in revenue, and after his company's success in 1920, his net worth peaked at two hundred billion.
Ford Had More Than 160 Patents
During his lifetime, Henry Ford had established over one hundred and sixty patents of products and designs. With most of his designs, he was striving to create products that would make working smarter and improve the quality of work.
Henry was intrigued and fascinated by science and inventions, and he never stopped being a scientist. He believed he could significantly impact the world, and he was right; he changed the world forever.
Henry Ford Invented The Charcoal Briquette
Ford's plants were turning out the Model T, which featured many parts made of oak, so he found himself with an overabundance of wood scraps. His Brother-in-law suggested that they create a charcoal manufacturing plant, so that is exactly what they did.
Ford called the product Kingsford Charcoal. So, Ford is credited with inventing Charcoal Briquette, and to this day, Kingsford remains among the top producers of charcoal briquettes in the industry.
The Henry Ford Museum Features All Of His Inventions
Ford had a museum as well called The Henry Ford Museum, and items representing American experience and ingenuity are preserved in the museum. The museum was opened in 1929, and you can see a collection of his inventions.
One of the strangest artifacts at the museum is a vial of Thomas Edison's last breath. Ford asked Edison's son to capture Thomas' last breath as he was dying.