Alternate History: What If Henry Ford, and Not Edsel, Had Died Young?

Henry Ford Date of Death

About Henry Ford / March 4, 2019

DETROIT, April 7-Henry Ford, noted automotive pioneer, died at 11:40 tonight at the age of 83. He had retired a little more than a year and a half ago from active direction of the great industrial empire he founded in 1903.

When he retired Mr. Ford was in excellent health, but turned over the management of the vast empire to his grandson. Henry Ford 2d, because, he said, he wanted to devote more time to personal interests.

Death came to the famed industrialist at his estate in Fairlane, in suburban Dearborn, not far from where he was born in 1863. At the Ford Company news bureau offices it was said that the exact cause of death would not be known until Henry Ford 2d, his grandson, could reach the family home, perhaps within an hour.

Mr. Ford was reported to have been in excellent health when he returned only a week ago from his annual winter visit to the Ford estate in Georgia.

Kept Interest in Research

The automobile industry leader dropped completely out of the management of the far-flung Ford Company when he resigned as president late in 1945. He had been able to spend some time each week at the Ford engineering laboratory, where he maintained a private office and workshop, but was rarely seen about the administration building, where affairs of the big company were directed.

There were many reports that the elder Ford had given up his leadership of the Ford interests at the insistence of other members of his family, particularly the widow of his only son, the late Edsel B. Ford. Although never confirmed officially, reports had it that she was dissatisfied with the course of company affairs.

He leaves a widow, the former Clara Bryant, whom he married in 1887, and two grandsons, Henry 2d and Benson.

Father of Mass Production

Henry Ford was the founder of modern American industrial mass production methods, built on the assembly line and the belt conveyor system, which no less an authority than Marshal Josef Stalin testified were the indispensable foundation for an Allied military victory in the Second World War.

Mr. Ford had many other distinctions. As the founder and unchallenged master of an industrial empire with assets of more than a billion dollars, he was one of the richest men in the world. He was the apostle of an economic philosophy of high wages and short hours that had immense repercussions on American thinking. He was a patron of American folkways and in later years acquired a reputation as a shrewd, kindly sage. But these were all relatively minor compared with the revolutionary importance of his contribution to modern productive processes.

His career was one of the most astonishing in industrial history. Nearing the age of 40 he was looked upon as a failure by his acquaintances-as a day-dreaming mechanic who preferred to tinker with odd machines than to work steadily at a responsible job. Yet within a dozen years he was internationally famous, and his Model T automobile was effecting changes in the American way of life of profound importance.

He lived to see the Ford Motor Company, which he founded with an initial investment of $28, 000 put up by a few friends and neighbors who had faith in him, produce more than 29, 000, 000 automobiles before the war forced the conversion of its gigantic production facilities to weapons of war. Then he directed its production of more than 8, 000 four-motored Liberator bombers, as well as tanks, tank destroyers, jeeps and amphibious jeeps, transport gliders, trucks, engines and much other equipment.

Struck a cruel blow shortly before his eightieth birthday by the death of his only son, Edsel Ford, on May 26, 1943, Mr. Ford unfalteringly returned to the presidency of the Ford Motor Company, which he had yielded to his son twenty-four years previously. He remained at its helm as it reached the peak of its gigantic war production, directing the war-expanded force of 190, 000 workers.

Mr. Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm near Dearborn, nine miles west of Detroit. He was the eldest of six children. His mother died when he was 12 years of age. He went to school until he was 15. Throughout his schooldays he worked on the farm after school hours and during vacations.

His mechanical bent first showed itself in an intense interest in the mechanism of watches. When he was 13 he took a watch apart and put it together again so that it would work. He had to do this work secretly at night, after he had finished his chores on the farm, because his father wanted to discourage his mechanical ambitions. His tools were home-made and were limited to a screwdriver and a pair of tweezers, fashioned respectively from a knitting needle and an old watch spring.

In 1879, at the age of 16, he took the step that foreshadowed his remarkable career. He ran away from home. Walking all the way to Detroit, almost penniless, he went to work as an apprentice in a machine shop. He did this in order to learn all he could of the making of machinery. He received $2.50 a week for ten hours a day, six days a week-a far cry from the wages paid in the Ford factories today. As he had to pay $3.50 a week for board and lodging, he took another job, working from 7 to 11 o'clock every night for a jeweler, for $2 more a week.

Built a Steam Tractor

Returning to his father's farm to live, he spent his spare time for several years endeavoring to evolve a practical farm tractor of relatively small size and cost. He succeeded in building a steam tractor with a one-cylinder engine, but was unable to devise a boiler light enough to make the tractor practicable. For several years he confined himself to cutting the timber on forty acres his father had given him;...

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