Henry Ford and the Birth of the Model T

WORLD HISTORY | March 2, 2019

Henry Ford and the Model T. Source: (wikipedia.commons.org)

Famed industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford is known for his creation of the Model T and his progressive strides in assembly-line factory production. He was also known for his controversial political views and is remembered as one of America’s leading businessmen.

Ford was born on July 30, 1863, in Dearborn, Michigan, located in Wayne County. His parents, William and Mary Ford, owned a farm. He showed an interest in machinery at an early age. When he was thirteen and his father gave him a pocket watch, his response was to take it apart and put it back together again. The family’s friends and neighbors were so impressed by this display of talent that they began coming to him when their own timepieces were in need of repair.   

Henry Ford. Source: (networthpost.org)

At the age of sixteen, Ford moved to Detroit where he began working as an apprentice to a machinist. He eventually returned to the family farm but continued to work on steam engines and do occasional factory work in Detroit. He married Clara Bryant, who had grown up on a nearby farm, in 1888, and ran a sawmill for the first few years of their marriage. The couple moved to Detroit in 1891 and Ford was hired as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company. He was promoted to chief engineer two years later, around the same time as the birth of his only son, Edsel Bryant Ford.  

Mr. and Mrs. Ford in his first car. Source: (wikipedia.org)

Ford began working on building a gasoline-powered horseless carriage, or automobile as it is called today. He began with the Quadricycle, completed in 1896, with a two-cylinder, four horsepower engine and four bicycle wheels attached to a metal frame. He was encouraged by Edison to keep working on a better model. In 1898, he received his first patent for a carburetor and in 1899, he left Edison Illuminating Company and with the help of investors formed the Detroit Automobile Company, which would later become the Henry Ford Company and then the Cadillac Motor Car Company after Ford’s departure in 1902.  

A 1905 Ford Model B on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Source: (wikipedia.org)

In 1903, Ford established the Ford Motor Company and the very first Ford car, the Model A, was born a month later. Assembled at a plant on Mack Avenue, it had a two-cylinder, eight-horsepower engine. In October 1908, the Model T made its mark as the first car to be affordable for the general public. Known as the “Tin Lizzie,” the car was an immense success and by 1918 nearly all cars in the U.S. were Model Ts. As a result of the Model T’s success, it became necessary to develop a system of mass production. So in 1913, Ford introduced the moving assembly line. Ford’s mass production practices allowed him to reduce production time to cut costs while increasing the daily wage of his workers.

Henry Ford in Germany; September 1930. Source: ( wikipedia.org)

The political and social front was a bit of a mixed bag for Henry Ford. On the one hand, he was a pacifist and a philanthropist, funding a peace ship to Europe during World War I and establishing the Ford Foundation to provide grants for research and education. At the same time, he offered profit sharing to his employees. But his political views were not so generous. Ford was a very outspoken anti-Semite, publishing a number of pamphlets as well as using a local newspaper to spread these ideas. In 1938, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Adolf Hitler. The Ford Motor Company would later be sued in 1998 on allegations of benefiting from forced labor at one of its truck factories in Germany during WWII. The company denied the allegations but donated $4 million to human rights studies on forced labor. Henry Ford died of a cerebral hemorrhage near his Dearborn estate on April 7, 1947, at the age of eighty-three.

Tags: Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company, The Model T car, 1800s

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