The Early Years:
Ford was born the first of six children July 30, 1863, to prosperous farmers in Dearborn, Michigan.
Not liking his farming life and his studies in school, Ford set off at the young age of sixteen to the nearby town of Detroit to work three years as a machinist’s apprentice. After his experience, he went back to his home in Dearborn working only part time for Westinghouse Engine Company and spending his spare time working in a small machine shop that he put together on the family’s land.
Ford’s marriage to Clara Bryant in 1888 required him to get a better paying job. In 1891 he started as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company and was promptly promoted to Chief Engineer. The job required Ford to be on call 24 hours a day. In his on-call time, he began to experiment with internal combustion engines and created the Quadricycle, the first “horseless carriage, ” powered by gasoline and riding on four bicycle wheels. This invention led to the founding of Ford Motor Company.
Ford Motor Company:
Ford made several attempts to establish his company.
In 1903 with $28, 000, eleven men, and Ford as Vice President and Chief Engineer, Ford Motor Company was incorporated. They produced only three cars a day and had up to three men working on each. In 1908 the company produced the famous Model T, a reliable and affordable vehicle for the mass market. Ford drove and raced this vehicle at every opportunity to prove how reliable it was.
Assembly Line Innovation:
In response to growing demand, Ford built a new factory using standardized interchangeable parts and a conveyor-belt based assembly line. The factory was able to build a car in just 93 minutes, producing roughly 1 million vehicles a year (one every 24 seconds). With this advancement in production, Ford was able to market to the general public. The factory had everything it needed to construct the vehicles including a steel mill, glass factory, and the first automobile assembly line.
Ford had a complex, conflicting and strongly opinionated personality. Most of the company’s struggles were linked to his stubborn management style. He refused to unionize with the United Automobile Workers, and to prevent his employees from doing so he hired spies and company police to check in on his workers. When work on the assembly line proved overly monotonous and sent employee turnover rates to over 50%, he doubled the going wage to $5, buying back their loyalty and upping productivity.
Other Innovations and Inventions:
Ford was responsible for cutting the workday from nine hours to eight hours so that the factory could convert to a three-shift workday and operate 24 hours a day.
He also continued his engineering innovations, patenting a transmission mechanism in 1911 and a plastic-bodied car in 1942. He also invented the first one-piece engine, the V-8. Ford fought and won a patent battle with George B. Selden, who was being paid royalties by all American car manufacturers for his patent on a “road engine”.
Losing the Top Spot:
In the 1920s, General Motors and others began offering cars in a variety of colors with added features, extending credit so that consumers could afford them. Ford insisted on keeping costs down by offering limited features and just one color (black). But after losing market to GM, the company shut down for several months to transition to the redesigned Model A. After this Ford came out with the “V-8”. The vehicles were both successful, but the company remained outsold by General Motors.
Henry Ford died April 7, 1947, and his presidency was passed down to his grandson Henry Ford II. Today Ford Motor Company is one of the world’s leading consumer companies for automotive products, including a family of widely-recognized brands: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, and Volvo. The Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village, a rural town which Ford sponsored the renovation of, is one of America’s top history attractions.