Born on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan,
on July 30, 1863, Henry Ford became a machinist's
apprentice in Detroit at the age of 16.
From 1888 to 1899 he was a mechanical engineer,
and later chief engineer, with the Edison
Illuminating Company. In 1893 he completed
the construction of his first automobile
and in 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company.
Henry Ford had always favoured the smaller engine, his Model K had used a six-cylinder engine, but when production ceased around 1908, a six-cylinder engine would not be used again by Ford until 1941.
The Model K had not been a sales success. While Ford had wanted to produce small and inexpensive vehicles, his board of directors had persuaded him to produce a larger, luxurious, and expensive model. In 1906, Henry Ford purchased the majority of stock leaving him in control and in charge of the direction of the company.
After World War 1 he purchased the remaining Ford stock so he could dispense with the board of directors entirely. From 1906 through 1908, Ford created the Model N, R and S which eventually evolving into the Model T. In 1913 Ford began using standardized interchangeable
parts and assembly-line techniques in his
Although Ford did not originate the use of assembly-line techniques, he was chiefly
responsible for their general adoption and for the consequent great expansion
of American industry and the raising of the American standard of living. By early
1914 this innovation, although greatly increasing productivity, had resulted
in a monthly labor turnover of 40 to 60 percent
in his factory, largely because of the unpleasant
monotony of assembly-line work and repeated
increases in the production quotas assigned
Ford met this difficulty by doubling the daily wage then standard in the industry,
raising it from about $2.50 to $5. The net result was increased stability in
his labor force and a substantial reduction in operating costs. These factors,
coupled with the enormous increase in output made possible by new technological
methods, led to an increase in company profits from $30 million in 1914 to $60
million in 1916.
In 1908 the Ford company initiated production of the celebrated Model T
1927, when the Model T was discontinued in favor of the more up-to-date Model A
the company produced and sold about 15 million cars. Within the ensuing few years,
however, Ford's preeminence as the largest producer and seller of automobiles
in the nation was gradually lost to his competitors, largely because he was slow
to adopt the practice of introducing a new model of automobile
each year, which
had become standard in the industry.
During the 1930s Ford adopted the policy of the yearly changeover, but his company
was unable to regain the position it had formerly held. In the period from 1937
to 1941, the Ford company became the only major manufacturer of automobiles in
the Detroit area that had not recognized any labor union as the collective bargaining
representative of employees.
At hearings before the National Labor Relations
Board Ford was found guilty of repeated violations
of the National Labor Relations Act. The
findings against him were upheld on appeal
to the federal courts. Ford was constrained
to negotiate a standard labor contract after
a successful strike by the workers at his
main plant at River Rouge, Michigan, in April
Early in 1941 Ford was granted government contracts whereby he was, at first,
to manufacture parts for bombers and, later, the entire airplane. He thereupon
launched the construction of a huge plant at Willow Run, Michigan, where production
was begun in May 1942. Despite certain technical difficulties, by the end of
World War 2 (1945) this plant had manufactured more than 8000 planes. Other
Activities Ford was active in several other fields besides those of automobile
and airplane manufacturing.
In 1915 he chartered
a peace ship, which carried him and a number
of like-minded individuals to Europe, where
they attempted without success to persuade
the belligerent governments to end World
War I. He was nominated for the office of
U.S. senator from Michigan in 1918 but was
defeated in the election.
In the following year he erected the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at a cost
of $7.5 million. In 1919 he became the publisher of the Dearborn Independent,
a weekly journal, which at first published anti-Semitic material. After considerable
public protest, Ford directed that publication of such articles be discontinued
and that a public apology be made to the
Advancing age obliged Ford
to retire from the active direction of his
gigantic enterprises in 1945. He died on
April 7, 1947, in Dearborn. Ford left a personal
fortune estimated at $500 to $700 million,
bequeathing the largest share of his holdings
in the Ford Motor Company to the Ford Foundation, a nonprofit organization.
Also see: Honour Roll - Founding Fathers Of The Automotive Industry