Henry Ford

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Henry Ford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to navigationJump to searchThis article is about the American industrialist. For other people with the same name, see Henry Ford (disambiguation).

Henry Ford
Ford, c. 1919
BornJuly 30, 1863
Greenfield TownshipMichigan, U.S.
DiedApril 7, 1947 (aged 83)
Fair LaneDearborn, Michigan, U.S.
Years active1891–1945
Known forFounding and leading the Ford Motor CompanyPioneering a system that launched the mass production and sale of affordable automotives to the public
TitlePresident of Ford Motor Company
1906–1919 and 1943–1945
Political partyRepublican (before 1918)Democratic (after 1918)
Spouse(s)Clara Jane Bryant (m. 1888)
ChildrenEdsel Ford
Parent(s)William FordMary Ford

Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist and business magnate, founder of the Ford Motor Company and chief developer of the assembly line technique of mass production. By creating the first automobile that middle-class Americans could afford, he converted the automobile from an expensive curiosity into an accessible conveyance that would profoundly impact the landscape of the 20th century.

His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry. As the owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the richest and best-known people in the world. He is credited with “Fordism“: mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system that put dealerships throughout most of North America and in major cities on six continents. Ford left most of his vast wealth to the Ford Foundation and arranged for his family to control the company permanently.

Ford was also widely known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, and for promoting antisemitic content, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, through his newspaper The Dearborn Independent and the book The International Jew, having an alleged influence on the development of Nazism.


Early life

Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, on a farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan.[1] His father, William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County Cork, Ireland, to a family that was originally from SomersetEngland.[2] His mother, Mary Ford (nĂ©e Litogot; 1839–1876), was born in Michigan as the youngest child of Belgian immigrants; her parents died when she was a child and she was adopted by neighbors, the O’Herns. Henry Ford’s siblings were Margaret Ford (1867–1938); Jane Ford (c. 1868–1945); William Ford (1871–1917) and Robert Ford (1873–1934).

His father gave him a pocket watch in his early teens. At 15, Ford dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times, gaining the reputation of a watch repairman.[3] At twenty, Ford walked four miles to their Episcopal church every Sunday.[4]

Ford was devastated when his mother died in 1876. His father expected him to eventually take over the family farm, but he despised farm work. He later wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved.”[5]

In 1879, Ford left home to work as an apprentice machinist in Detroit, first with James F. Flower & Bros., and later with the Detroit Dry Dock Co. In 1882, he returned to Dearborn to work on the family farm, where he became adept at operating the Westinghouse portable steam engine. He was later hired by Westinghouse to service their steam engines. During this period Ford also studied bookkeeping at Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business College in Detroit.[6]

Ford stated two major events occurred in 1875, when he was 12. He received a watch, and he witnessed the operation of a Nichols and Shepard road engine, “…the first vehicle other than horse-drawn that I had ever seen.” In his farm workshop, Ford built a “steam wagon or tractor” and a steam car, but thought “steam was not suitable for light vehicles,” as “the boiler was dangerous.” Ford also stated, he “did not see the use of experimenting with electricity, due to the expense of trolley wires, and “no storage battery was in sight of a weight that was practical.” Then in 1885, Ford had the opportunity to repair an Otto engine, and built a four-cycle model in 1887, with a one-inch bore and a three-inch stroke. In 1890, Ford started work on a two cylinder engine. Ford stated, “In 1892, I completed my first motor car, powered by a two cylinder four horsepower motor, with a two-and-half-inch bore and a six-inch stroke, which was connected to a countershaft by a belt, and then to the rear wheel by a chain. The belt was shifted by a clutch lever to control speeds at 10 or 20 miles per hour, augmented by a throttle. Other features included 28-inch wire bicycle wheels with rubber tires, a foot brake, a 3-gallon gasoline tank, and later, a water jacket around the cylinders for cooling. Ford stated that “in the spring of 1893 the machine was running to my partial satisfaction and giving an opportunity further to test out the design and material on the road.” Between 1895 and 1896, Ford drove that machine about 1000 miles. Ford then started a second car in 1896, eventually building 3 cars in his home workshop.[7]

Marriage and family

Henry Ford in 1888
(aged 25)

Ford married Clara Jane Bryant (1866–1950) on April 11, 1888, and supported himself by farming and running a sawmill.[8] They had one child: Edsel Ford (1893–1943).[9]


In 1891, Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. After his promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893, he had enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on gasoline engines. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of a self-propelled vehicle which he named the Ford Quadricycle. He test-drove it on June 4. After various test drives, Ford brainstormed ways to improve the Quadricycle.[10]

Also in 1896, Ford attended a meeting of Edison executives, where he was introduced to Thomas Edison. Edison approved of Ford’s automobile experimentation. Encouraged by Edison, Ford designed and built a second vehicle, completing it in 1898.[11] Backed by the capital of Detroit lumber baron William H. Murphy, Ford resigned from the Edison Company and founded the Detroit Automobile Company on August 5, 1899.[11] However, the automobiles produced were of a lower quality and higher price than Ford wanted. Ultimately, the company was not successful and was dissolved in January 1901.[11]

With the help of C. Harold Wills, Ford designed, built, and successfully raced a 26-horsepower automobile in October 1901. With this success, Murphy and other stockholders in the Detroit Automobile Company formed the Henry Ford Company on November 30, 1901, with Ford as chief engineer.[11] In 1902, Murphy brought in Henry M. Leland as a consultant; Ford, in response, left the company bearing his name. With Ford gone, Murphy renamed the company the Cadillac Automobile Company.[11]

Teaming up with former racing cyclist Tom Cooper, Ford also produced the 80+ horsepower racer “999” which Barney Oldfield was to drive to victory in a race in October 1902. Ford received the backing of an old acquaintance, Alexander Y. Malcomson, a Detroit-area coal dealer.[11] They formed a partnership, “Ford & Malcomson, Ltd.” to manufacture automobiles. Ford went to work designing an inexpensive automobile, and the duo leased a factory and contracted with a machine shop owned by John and Horace E. Dodge to supply over $160,000 in parts.[11] Sales were slow, and a crisis arose when the Dodge brothers demanded payment for their first shipment.

Ford Motor Company

Henry Ford with Thomas Edison and Harvey FirestoneFort Myers, Florida, February 11, 1929.

In response, Malcomson brought in another group of investors and convinced the Dodge Brothers to accept a portion of the new company.[11] Ford & Malcomson was reincorporated as the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903,[11] with $28,000 capital. The original investors included Ford and Malcomson, the Dodge brothers, Malcomson’s uncle John S. Gray, Malcolmson’s secretary James Couzens, and two of Malcomson’s lawyers, John W. Anderson and Horace Rackham. Ford then demonstrated a newly designed car on the ice of Lake St. Clair, driving 1 mile (1.6 km) in 39.4 seconds and setting a new land speed record at 91.3 miles per hour (146.9 kilometres per hour). Convinced by this success, the race driver Barney Oldfield, who named this new Ford model “999” in honor of the fastest locomotive of the day, took the car around the country, making the Ford brand known throughout the United States. Ford also was one of the early backers of the Indianapolis 500.

Model T

The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 ($23,480 today) (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s, a majority of American drivers had learned to drive on the Model T.[12][13]

Ford created a huge publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford’s network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in almost every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to encourage exploring the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Although Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence AveryPeter E. MartinCharles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills.[14] (See Ford Piquette Avenue Plant)Ford assembly line, 1913

Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000.[15] (Using the consumer price index, this price was equivalent to $7,828 in 2015 dollars.)A 1926 Ford T Roadster on display in India

By 1918, half of all cars in the United States were Model Ts. All new cars were black; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”.[16] Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model Ts were available in other colors, including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. This record was achieved in 19 years from the introduction of the first Model T (1908).

President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.[17] Ford was defeated in a close election by the Republican candidate, Truman Newberry, a former United States Secretary of the Navy.

Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford in December 1918. Henry retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed the decisions of his son. Ford started another company, Henry Ford and Son, and made a show of taking himself and his best employees to the new company; the goal was to scare the remaining holdout stockholders of the Ford Motor Company to sell their stakes to him before they lost most of their value. (He was determined to have full control over strategic decisions.) The ruse worked, and Ford and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from the other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.[18]

In 1921, Ford also purchased Lincoln Motor Co., founded by Cadillac founder Henry Leland and his son Wilfred during World War I. The company went into receivership and the Lelands agreed to a Ford buyout, although they were soon expelled from it. Despite this acquisition of a premium car make, Henry displayed relatively little enthusiasm for luxury automobiles in contrast to Edsel, who actively sought to expand Ford into the upscale market. The original Lincoln Model L the Lelands had introduced in 1920 was also kept in production for a decade untouched, until it became too outdated and was replaced by the modernized Model K in 1931.

By the mid-1920s, General Motors was rapidly rising as the leading American automobile manufacturer. GM president Alfred Sloan established the company’s “price ladder” whereby GM would offer an automobile for “every purse and purpose” in contrast to Ford’s lack of interest in anything outside the low end market. Although Henry Ford was against replacing the Model T, now 16 years old, Chevrolet was mounting a bold new challenge as the make had been established under Sloan’s price ladder as GM’s entry-level division. Ford also resisted the increasingly popular idea of payment plans for cars. With Model T sales starting to slide, Ford was forced to relent and approve work on a successor model, shutting down production for 18 months. During this time, Ford constructed a massive new assembly plant at River Rouge for the new Model A, which launched in 1927.[19]

In addition to its price ladder, GM also quickly established itself at the forefront of automotive styling under Harley Earl‘s Arts & Color Department, another area of automobile design that Henry Ford did not entirely appreciate or understand and Ford would not have a true equivalent of the GM styling department for many years.

Model A and Ford’s later career

By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Ford to make a new model. He pursued the project with a great deal of interest in the design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Although Ford fancied himself an engineering genius, he had little formal training in mechanical engineering and could not even read a blueprint. A talented team of engineers performed most of the actual work of designing the Model A (and later the flathead V8) with Ford supervising them closely and giving them overall direction. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father’s initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission.[20]

The result was the successful Ford Model A, introduced in December 1927 and produced through 1931, with a total output of more than 4 million. Subsequently, the Ford company adopted an annual model change system similar to that recently pioneered by its competitor General Motors (and still in use by automakers today). Not until the 1930s did Ford overcome his objection to finance companies, and the Ford-owned Universal Credit Corporation became a major car-financing operation. Henry Ford still resisted many technological innovations such as hydraulic brakes and all-metal roofs, which Ford vehicles did not adopt until 1935-36. For 1932 however, Ford dropped a bombshell with the flathead Ford V8, the first low-price eight cylinder engine. The flathead V8, variants of which were used in Ford vehicles for 20 years, was the result of a secret project launched in 1930 and Henry had originally considered a radical X-8 engine before agreeing to a conventional design. It gave Ford a reputation as a performance make well-suited for hot-rodding.[21]

Ford did not believe in accountants; he amassed one of the world’s largest fortunes without ever having his company audited under his administration. Without an accounting department, Ford had no way of knowing exactly how much money was being taken in and spent each month and the company’s bills and invoices were reportedly guessed at by weighing them on a scale.[citation needed] Not until 1956 would Ford be a publicly traded company.

Also at Edsel’s insistence, Ford launched Mercury in 1939 as a mid-range make to challenge Dodge and Buick, although Henry also displayed relatively little enthusiasm for it.

Labor philosophy

The five-dollar wage

Time magazine, January 14, 1935

Ford was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism“, designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men per year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers.[22]

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($130 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers.[23] A Cleveland, Ohio, newspaper editorialized that the announcement “shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.”[24] The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.[25][26] Ford announced his $5-per-day program on January 5, 1914, raising the minimum daily pay from $2.34 to $5 for qualifying male workers.

Detroit was already a high-wage city, but competitors were forced to raise wages or lose their best workers.[27] Ford’s policy proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing and be good for the local economy. He viewed the increased wages as profit-sharing linked with rewarding those who were most productive and of good character.[28] It may have been Couzens who convinced Ford to adopt the $5-day wage.[29]

Real profit-sharing was offered to employees who had worked at the company for six months or more, and, importantly, conducted their lives in a manner of which Ford’s “Social Department” approved. They frowned on heavy drinking, gambling, and (what today are called) deadbeat dads. The Social Department used 50 investigators, plus support staff, to maintain employee standards; a large percentage of workers were able to qualify for this “profit-sharing.”[citation needed]

Ford’s incursion into his employees’ private lives was highly controversial, and he soon backed off from the most intrusive aspects. By the time he wrote his 1922 memoir, he spoke of the Social Department and of the private conditions for profit-sharing in the past tense, and admitted that

paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees’ private concerns is out of date. Men need counsel and men need help, often special help; and all this ought to be rendered for decency’s sake. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen orga

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