Henry Ford

Everyone thinks of Henry Ford when they see a classic Model T. The Model T transformed the United States’ transportation industry. Henry Ford transformed America’s industrial workplace. Ford also conceived a dealer franchise system that put his automobiles up for sale globally. Ford’s greatest accomplishment, however, was ensuring that his motor company stayed within his family’s control after his death. Henry Ford was a notable industrialist at a time when America needed one.

William Ford and Mary Litogot Ford welcomed son Henry into the world on July 30, 1863. By age 15, Ford proved to be mechanically inclined, and spent his free time taking apart and putting back together watches and other timepieces. Ford was expected to establish his career on the family farm, but when his mother died, he lost all interest. Ford became a machinist in Detroit, which eventually led to servicing steam engines for Westinghouse Company.

Ford found himself in good company in 1891. He began work as an engineer for Thomas Edison’s Edison Illuminating Company. Ford was promoted to Chief Engineer in 1893. This feather in Ford’s cap provided the income he needed to begin working on his own inventions. Ford drew on his previous experience in an effort to refine gasoline engines.

Ford hit the road in his first one-cylinder gasoline engine “Quadricycle” on June 4, 1896. Edison was impressed by the young inventor’s spirit, and encouraged Ford to continue with his experiments. Ford secured funding from William H. Murphy, a Detroit lumber magnate, and resigned from Edison Illuminating Company. Ford’s Detroit Automobile Company opened its doors on August 5, 1899.

Ford Motor Company Heritage

The Life of Henry Ford

The Ford Foundation

Michigan Department of Natural Resources: Henry Ford The Innovator

University of Virginia: Ford America

MIT: Henry Ford

The first automobiles to come out of Detroit Automobile Company were undesirable. Ford felt the automobiles were not worth the asking price. So did consumers, and the Detroit Automobile Company folded in January 1901. Detroit Motor Company’s stockholders stuck by Ford, and he quickly designed and implemented a 26-horsepower automobile engine. Henry Ford Company was financed on November 30, 1901.

Ford didn’t stay for long. William H. Murphy still had a hand in Ford’s business and hired Henry M. Leland to guide the new venture. Ford left in 1902 and partnered with coal-dealer Alexander Y. Malcomson to form Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. Business did not begin with a bang, and Malcomson was forced to find additional investors, including the Dodge brothers of Dodge Motor Company. Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. morphed into Ford Motor Company in 1903.

The Model T hit the market on October 1, 1908, and introduced America to a quirk it is still known for today: the steering wheel was on the left-hand side of the car. The Model T realized Ford’s vision of presenting an automobile that was easy to drive, easy to maintain, and affordable. In fact, Ford dropped the Model T’s sticker price on an annual basis, encouraging all Americans to get behind the wheel. American’s jumped on board and demands for the Model T skyrocketed.

Ford Motor Company Heritage

The Life of Henry Ford

The Ford Foundation

Michigan Department of Natural Resources: Henry Ford The Innovator

University of Virginia: Ford America

This prompted Ford’s other major accomplishment in industrial America. Ford understood that keeping his workers happy meant they stayed with the company; far more efficient than having to continually hire new workers to replace disgruntled ones. In 1914, Ford increased worker’s wages to $5 a day. This doubled his current employees’ salaries and brought people to Detroit in droves looking to work for Ford Motor Company.

Ford suffered from strokes toward the end of the 1930s. The strokes left him in fractured health, both mentally and physically. Ford tried to resume presidency of Ford Motor Company in 1943, after his son and president of the company, Edsel, died. Ford was unable to mentally handle the position, however, and in September of 1945, Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his grandson, Henry Ford II.

Henry Ford died in his home of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1947. The days following his death resembled that of the death of a president. Ford was viewed publicly by as many as 5,000 people per hour. This sentiment alone speaks volumes of the impact that Henry Ford had on Americans. Today, Ford Motor Company still remains in the Ford family, and Ford’s Model T is an automobile collector’s dream.

MIT: Henry Ford

Clemson University: Henry Ford

PBS: People and Discoveries – Henry Ford

University of Detroit Mercy: Henry Ford

Eyewitness to History: Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908