This is the first of a series of planned articles on Henry Ford.
Henry Ford was born in Greenfield Township near Dearborn Michigan in 1863. As a boy he had an early interest in clockwork and other mechanical devices. However, he seems to have a dislike for farm work, and by 16 he chose to move to Detroit, and became an apprentice machinist. By 1896 he had built his first gasoline powered vehicle which he called the “quadracycle.” He also worked for Thomas Edison’s company, and met this famous inventor of the light bulb personally. They talked to about gasoline engines, and Ford was reportedly given the advice by Edison, “Try it.”
By After eight years with Edison Electric, and rising through the ranks, Ford left the company to be Vice President and Chief Engineer of the newly formed Detroit Automobile Company. He designed a successful “delivery vehicle”, but left to form the Henry Ford Company. He left this Company during a dispute with bankers, but it is interesting to note that this company survived and changed its name to the “Cadillac Motor Car Company”. This was 1901-1902.
In 1903 the Ford Motor Company was officially incorporated. The model A was their product, it was cheaper than many of its competitors, but still beyond the means of most ordinary people. Ford announced his intention to build a car everyone could afford. By 1908 he had designed the Model T, and offered it for around 900 dollars, but this was still beyond the means of most people. Ford seems to have intuitively known that if he could produce automobiles cheaply enough he would be able to sell one to almost everybody.
Having perfected his product, he turned his attention to perfecting his production process. He researched and observed other industries. Took the best ideas he could find, and integrated them into a four story manufacturing facility at Highland Park, MI. His process was revolutionary, and included; interchangeable parts on an unheard of scale, a moving assembly line, “scientific management”, division of labor, and wages for his workers that were double the industry average. This reduced the production time of a model T from around one every 12 hours to one every hour and a half. By the mid-1920’s a Model T was rolling off the assembly line once every 24 seconds, and every operation from raw materials to the final product was consolidated in the gigantic new Dearborn Plant.
The impact of Henry Ford and his cars, processes, and policies on the world are far reaching. It would not be hard to make the case that suburban sprawl and interstate highways are a direct result of afforadable mass produced automobiles.