Henry Ford, is not just a name of an American industrialist, he is the man who introduced the most influential car of the 20th century, the ‘Ford Model T’. Henry Ford was a folk hero who changed the face of automobile manufacturing in America and also revolutionized American industry by introducing mass production method.

He is one of those people in business and technological marvel world who started from scratches and then made it impossible for everyone to disregard his rise to success. With tremendous fame and wealth Henry Ford also earned many criticism and stirred controversies for his political standpoints on war and his anti-Semitic views and writings.

Henry Ford posing with 1921 Model T; Image Source: assets.hemmings.com

Henry Ford was born in 1863, on the family firm near Dearborn, Michigan, a town 8 miles west from Detroit. He was the only surviving child of the eight children of William and Mary Ford. Henry used to attend a one room school for eight years while he was helping his father in harvesting.

At the age of 16, after his mother died, he left Dearborn for Detroit in search of work at machine shops. After three years he returned back to hometown, took a part-time job at Westinghouse Engine Company and built a little machine shop of his own to work at spare time.

A ready for adventure Henry with his inventor friend Thomas Edison before their annual road trip in 1923; Image Source: thenypost.files.wordpress.com

In 1888, he married a girl grown up in a nearby firm named Clara Bryant. In 1891, after nine years he returned back to Detroit with his wife and was hired at the Edison Illuminating Company as an engineer. Within two years, he got ranked hire in position as a chief engineer.

Henry gained recognition and encouragement from Thomas Edison and he withheld Edison in a place of affection throughout his life. In Edison Company, his job was to maintain electric service in the city for 24 hours a day. Having no regular work it was the golden opportunity for him to experiment his ideas. In 1893, he completed his first gasoline powered engine and in 1896 completed his first horseless carriage ‘Quadricycle’.

Unlike many other self-powered vehicle builders of that time, ford didn’t hold onto his creations. He sold one after another to finance the next improved one. In 1903 Ford was finally ready to market his consistently improved automobile. The Ford Motor Company was incorporated with mere $28,000 in cash put up by ordinary citizens.

A month later establishing the company, first of the numerous Ford cars, Model A- with two cylinders, eight horsepower was assembled. Henry was determined on building an efficient, affordable car for the mass not for the rich few. The result of his determination was Model T, known as ‘Tin Lizzie’. Model T made its debut in automobile market in 1908. Tin Lizzie was an immediate success for the company. With passing time and growing production, demand for the model remained so high that in 1918, half of Americas all cars were Model T!

This striking birth rate of Model T was made possible by incorporating some of the most advanced production technologies and strategies. Henry made one of the most successful application of ‘Assembly Line’ method and always tried to cut costs. With the assembly line system evolved by Henry and his engineers, a complete chassis could be turned in every 93 minutes, much less than the previous timing.

Mass production method, division of labor, large production plant also helped to shorten the time needed to produce an automobile, which allowed to cut the cost in production. In 1914, Henry Ford announced to pay his workers, minimum wage of $5 for 8 hour work per day allowing three shifts of work time. Some admired its humanitarian aspect, some criticized it for socialist bias. Significantly this minimum wage did set a standard for the industries, attracted most efficient workers to Ford Company thus increased their production and reliability.

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials in 1938; Image Source: allthatsinteresting.com

Henry Ford was a controversial personality for the political arena. It seemed, he hated war when he took a peacekeeping stance in World War I, though he allowed Ford Company to turn into one of the biggest military plane builders in the war. In 1918, in some local paper, he published many anti-Semitic writings which he later renounced and apologized for. This engineering and business idol, died at his own home in 1947.

Controversy or success, in whatever standard we measure him we can’t deny that Henry Ford turned himself into a brand from the scratches and will definitely be remembered for his entrepreneuring spirit.


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