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Henry Ford

The Man Who Taught America To Drive

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Founder of
Ford Motor Co.
Founded: 1903

"I will build a motor car for the great will be so low in price that no man will be unable to own one."-Henry Ford

Henry Ford was nearly 40 when he founded Ford Motor Co. in 1903. At the time, "horseless carriages" were expensive toys available only to a wealthy few. Yet in just four decades, Ford's innovative vision of mass production would not only produce the first reliable, affordable "automobile for the masses," but would also spark a modern industrial revolution.

Ford's fascination with gasoline-powered automobiles began in Detroit, where he worked as chief engineer for the Edison Illuminating Co. The automobile offered the promise of a bright new future.a future Ford wanted to part of. So in 1891, Ford began devoting his spare time to building what he called the "Quadricycle"-a crude contraption that consisted of two bicycles placed side by side, powered by a gasoline engine. After working on the Quadricycle for nearly a decade, Ford took Detroit lumber tycoon William H. Murphy for a ride in his hand-built automobile. By the time the ride was over, they were in business.

The Detroit Automobile Company opened in 1899 with Ford as superintendent in charge of production. But the venture only lasted a year. Ford could build a car, but he couldn't build them fast enough to keep the company afloat. Undaunted, Ford hatched a new plan-to build a racer. Ford saw racing as a way to spread the word about his cars and his name. Through the notoriety generated by his racing success, Ford attracted the attention of the backers he needed to start Ford Motor Co. in June 1903.

Ford set up shop in a converted wagon factory, hired workers, then designed and produced the Model A, the first of which he sold to a Chicago dentist in July 1903. By 1904, more than 500 Model A's had been sold.

While most other automakers were building luxury-laden automobiles for the wealthy, Ford had a different vision. His dream was to create an automobile that everyone could afford. The Model T made this dream a reality. Simpler, more reliable and cheaper to build than the Model A, the Model T-nicknamed the "Tin Lizzie"-went on sale in 1908 and was so successful within just a few months that Ford had to announce that the company couldn't accept any more orders-the factory was already swamped. Ford had succeeded in making an automobile for the masses, but only to create a new to build up production to satisfy demand. His solution? The moving assembly line.

Ford reasoned that if each worker remained in one assigned place and performed one specific task, they could build automobiles more quickly and efficiently. To test his theory, in August 1913, he dragged a chassis by rope and windlass across the floor of his Highland Park plant-and modern mass production was born. At peak efficiency, the old system had spit out a finished Model T in 12 and a half working hours. The new system cut that time by more than half. Ford refined and perfected the system, and within a year it took just 93 minutes to make a car.

Because of the more efficient production, Ford was able to cut hundreds of dollars off the price of his car. Cutting the price enabled Ford to achieve his two aims in life-to bring the pleasures of the automobile to as many people as possible, and to provide a large number of high-paying jobs.

But there was one problem Ford hadn't foreseen. Doing the same task hour after hour, day after day quickly burned out his work force. The turnover rate became such a problem that the company had to hire close to 1,000 workers for every 100 jobs it hoped to fill. To solve the problem, Ford decided to pay his employees $5 per day-nearly twice the going rate. Workers flocked to Ford's gates.

His labor problems solved, Ford turned his attention to another matter-the issue of who really controlled Ford Motor Co. Believing they were parasites who continually interfered with his plans, Ford bought out all his stockholders in 1919. Free to lead the company as he chose, Ford explored a number of different ventures. In addition to building tractors and single-passenger planes, Ford also operated an early mail route and the first regularly scheduled passenger flights. Undoubtedly the grandest of Ford's ventures was The Rouge-a factory that was in itself one giant machine. Built on the Rouge River, the 1,096-acre plant was the largest industry complex of its time.

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