Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.
While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.
Very few men will ever have the chance to completely revolutionize the American way of life; even fewer who do so will come from obscure backgrounds. Henry Ford was born in 1863 on a farm near Detroit, Michigan. His father wanted Henry to take over the family farm, but Henry had other plans. At age 16, he left home to become a machinist’s apprentice. After several years, he returned to farm work, and also ran a sawmill. But his love for engineering kept calling him away. In 1891, Ford was hired by the Edison Illuminating Company, and he worked his way up to chief engineer. He saved money scrupulously until he had enough so he could quit and work on his experiments with gasoline engines.
Ford began creating and testing self-propelled vehicles, but could not produce them cheaply and efficiently as he desired. With this goal in mind, Ford and partner Alexander Malcomson founded Ford Motor Co. Ford’s technical smarts were matched by his business savvy. He offered his auto workers $5 an hour, nearly double the going rate. The country’s best mechanics thus flocked to Ford, and this greatly slowed employee turnover and increased productivity. And he introduced moving assembly belts to his plants, which greatly improved efficiency. Such ideas helped make the Model T an affordable, immediate, and widespread success; half of all cars on the road in 1918 came from Ford factories. Ford found equal success with his next model, the Model A, which he had large part in designing. Ford secured sole ownership of the company for his family, expanded the business internationally, reaped a massive fortune, and introduced America to its ongoing love affair with the automobile.
Henry Ford, age 2 1/2
Henry Ford, born July 30, 1863, was the first of William and Mary Ford’s six children. He grew up on a prosperous family farm in what is today Dearborn, Michigan. Henry enjoyed a childhood typical of the rural nineteenth century, spending days in a one-room school and doing farm chores. At an early age, he showed an interest in mechanical things and a dislike for farm work.
In 1879, sixteen-year-old Ford left home for the nearby city of Detroit to work as an apprentice machinist, although he did occasionally return to help on the farm. He remained an apprentice for three years and then returned to Dearborn. During the next few years, Henry divided his time between operating or repairing steam engines, finding occasional work in a Detroit factory, and over-hauling his father’s farm implements, as well as lending a reluctant hand with other farm work. Upon his marriage to Clara Bryant in 1888, Henry supported himself and his wife by running a sawmill.
In 1891, Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. This event signified a conscious decision on Ford’s part to dedicate his life to industrial pursuits. His promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893 gave him enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines.
These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of his own self-propelled vehicle-the Quadricycle. The Quadricycle had four wire wheels that looked like heavy bicycle wheels, was steered with a tiller like a boat, and had only two forward speeds with no reverse.
Although Ford was not the first to build a self-propelled vehicle with a gasoline engine, he was, however, one of several automotive pioneers who helped this country become a nation of motorists.
On June 4, 1896 in a tiny workshop behind his home on 58 Bagley Avenue, Henry Ford put the finishing touches on his gasoline-powered motor car. After more than two years of experimentation, Henry Ford at the age of thirty-two, had completed his first experimental automobile. He dubbed his creation the “Quadricycle,” so named because it ran on four bicycle tires. The success of the little vehicle fueled Ford’s automobile ambitions, leading ultimately to the founding of Ford Motor Company in 1903.
About our Car: (Gift of Ford Motor Company) The Quadricycle is built on a steel frame with no body. The dash is made of wood, and the seat is toolbox-like, covered in green cloth with metal arms. There is an electric bell in front of the dash and a bicycle lamp on the side. The metal plate on the back of the seat reads:
U.S. & FOREIGN
ON THE WORKING
PART & DESIGN
OF THIS MACHINE
Ford motor company
After two unsuccessful attempts to establish a company to manufacture automobiles, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated in 1903 with Henry Ford as vice-president and chief engineer. The infant company produced only a few cars a day at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. Groups of two or three men worked on each car from components made to order by other companies.
Henry Ford realized his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. This vehicle initiated a new era in personal transportation. It was easy to operate, maintain, and handle on rough roads, immediately becoming a huge success.
By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. To meet the growing demand for the Model T, the company opened a large factory at Highland Park, Michigan, in 1910. Here, Henry Ford combined precision manufacturing, standardized and interchangeable parts, a division of labor, and, in 1913, a continuous moving assembly line. Workers remained in place, adding one component to each automobile as it moved past them on the line. Delivery of parts by conveyor belt to the workers was carefully timed to keep the assembly line moving smoothly and efficiently. The introduction of the moving assembly line revolutionized automobile production by significantly reducing assembly time per vehicle, thus lowering costs. Ford’s production of Model Ts made his company the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
Aerial view of the Rouge Plant in 1930
Number of men on payroll at capacity: 81,000. Total floor space: 6,952,484 sq. ft. Total cost: $268, 991, 592.07. Dearborn, MI. Photo: P.833.55282.A
The company began construction of the world’s largest industrial complex along the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan, during the late 1910s and early 1920s. The massive Rouge Plant included all the elements needed for automobile production: a steel mill, glass factory, and automobile assembly line. Iron ore and coal were brought in on Great Lakes steamers and by railroad, and were used to produce both iron and steel. Rolling mills, forges, and assembly shops transformed the steel into springs, axles, and car bodies. Foundries converted iron into engine blocks and cylinder heads that were assembled with other components into engines. By September 1927, all steps in the manufacturing process from refining raw materials to final assembly of the automobile took place at the vast Rouge Plant, characterizing Henry Ford’s idea of mass production.
THE MODEL T
It has never been proven that Henry Ford ever said, “You can paint it any color…,” but the phrase has survived for 3/4 of a century and does indicate something about America’s beloved Model T: its “steadfastness,” its enduring and endearing “sameness.” The first production Model T Ford was assembled at the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on October 1, 1908. Over the next 19 years, Ford would build 15,000,000 automobiles with the Model “T” engine, the longest run of any single model apart from the Volkswagen Beetle. From 1908-1927, the Model T would endure with little change in its design. Henry Ford had succeeded in his quest to build a car for the masses.
Henry Ford with his Model T.
With the development of the sturdy, low-priced Model T in 1908, Henry Ford made his company the biggest in the industry. By 1914, the moving assembly line enabled Ford to produce far more cars than any other company. The Model T and mass production made Ford an international celebrity.
Because of the amazing run of this model, we decided not to focus on just one year of the “T.” Instead, the selected materials will follow the automobile through its entire production.
About our Car: (Pictured at top) This 1914 Touring Car is one of several Model T Fords given to naturalist John Burroughs by his friend, Henry Ford, in an ultimately successful attempt to convince Burroughs that cars aided, rather than hindered, the study of nature.