Henry Ford is known for many things he invented and popularized in his lifetime. Many of his inventions, such as business strategies like "Fordism" and sponsored projects are still alive today. Ford skillfully adapted to his increasingly-urbanized environment and introduced revolutionary concepts to Americans that changed his present and America’s future.
Ford successfully brought the automobile to consumers for a cheaper price, the assembly line to large businesses, and good wages for employees. His ability to initally adapt and innovate a new market brought him an incredible amount of wealth and fame.
This website was created by Daniel Jost, titled Henry Ford: The Man Who Fueled America and is in the Senior Division of National History Day 2009.
Henry Ford lived from July 30, 1863 to April 7, 1947. Henry was the oldest in the family with 4 younger siblings. As a boy, Ford grew up on a farm, but was always more interested in the machines then the work required of a farm boy. When he was fifteen years old, his father gave him a watch that he would disassemble and reassemble for fun, and he would fix his friends and neighbors' watches too. Three years after his mother died in 1876, Henry Ford went to find work in Detriot, Michigan and became skilled at repairing steam engines.
Ford was married in 1888 and had his only child, Edsel Ford, 5 years later. In 1891 Ford was hired at the Edison Illuminating Company, where he was quickly promoted up to Chief Engineer. He began testing gasoline-powered engines. The testing culminated in the Ford Quadricycle, which changed Henry's focus into creating automobiles for the masses.
The Ford Motor Company was Ford's 3rd attempt at creating an automobile business. His first company was the Detroit Automobile Company in which he was the Chief Engineer. This only lasted from 1899 to 1901 when Ford left the company because the automobiles were a low quality and were highly priced. Less than a year later came the Henry Ford Company, co-founded with C. Harold Wills. After Wills brought Henry Leland onto the team in 1902, Ford left the company, which was renamed the Cadillac Automobile Company.
Ford's 3rd company began as "Ford & Malcomson, Ltd." because Alexander Y. Malcomson was the financial backer for the company. John and Horace E. Dodge supplied the company with $160,000 worth of parts, but sales were slow, and when they demanded payment for the first shipment of parts, Malcomson had to bring in another group of investors and also had the Dodge brothers take a portion of the company, now renamed to the Ford Motor Company. The next step for the company was to gain popularity and obtain much needed profit. Going through all the different businesses taught Ford to manage things his own way or not at all. Ford later said, "Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success."
Ford used his experiences from past businesses to shape the Ford Motor Company, making prices cheaper and giving his employees good wages to encourage them to continue working hard and buy from the company itself. One of Ford's beliefs was that, "Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs." To keep prices cheaper, Ford used vertical integration and hired skilled workers to lower training costs and run production more efficently. Instead of hiring and losing workers, he weeded out the best workers and encouraged them to continue working for him.
The Model T was what put Ford on top of the car industry. It was cheap to make and repair, and late into the 1910's almost every car on the road was a Model T. In 1913, Ford introduced the assembly line (see photo), which greatly increased production. 3 years later Ford had sold almost 500,000 Model T's, and by the time Ford stopped production of the car in 1927, he had produced 15 million Model T's.
This video clip shows possibly the first Automobile Parade on November 4, 1899. You'll notice that nearly all the horseless carriages, or cars, are of a different design, and only 20 years later Ford had made almost every car a Model T. Ford took advantage of the new and growing market and was able to build the highest income car company of his time.
"It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages."
While Ford is often credited with the assembly line, many earlier groups used interchangeable parts to speed production, beginning as early as the Terracotta Army. Ford got the idea from Chicago meat packaging companies.
Bettering workers' wages was also an excellent example of lowering costs. The higher wages attracted the best mechanics and brute labor to work for Ford, which meant that Ford had to hire new workers much less often and labor costs came down because the labor was more skilled and efficent.
Ford was a shining example of Andrew Carnegie's vision of America. Ford was a stout philanthropist, creating The Ford Foundation and donating monetary gifts to various states and colleges. As Ford said, "An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous." And as Charles E. Sorensen puts it, "He was ruthless in getting his own way, yet he had a deep sense of public responsibility," and "He was contemptuous of money-making, of money-makers and profit seekers, yet he made more money and greater profits than those he despised."