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Henry Ford

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Henry Ford
The name Henry Ford is synonymous with the American automobile industry. Many credit Ford with the invention of the first American automobile in 1908 with the Ford Model T, but this is not the case. Automobile makers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz were already building cars in Europe as far back as the mid 1880s, before Ford even built his first gasoline engine in 1893.[1] What Henry Ford is most legendary for is revolutionizing the American automobile industry by instituting and standardizing a system of mass production via a moving assembly line. In this regard, many see him as a “capitalist folk hero”[2] of sorts. While other automobile manufacturers deemed the automobile a luxury product for the wealthy, Ford held steadfast that it was a product for the masses. He achieved great success in the mass production of both the Ford Model T and the Fordson tractor. However, he also had many other interests and was regarded as a man who often expressed conflicting views and held some rather startling prejudices.

Henry Ford was one of eight children born to Irish parents William and Mary Ford, who immigrated to the Dearborn, Michigan area in the 1840s during the infamous potato famine.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Ford and Mass Production

Ford got his start in the automobile industry by working for Detroit Automobile Co. Eventually, Ford left and began to build racing cars, forming Henry Ford Co. in 1901. Cars were essentially manufactured one by one. Ford wanted to standardize automobile manufacturing but others were not receptive to such an idea. After resigning in a dispute with his financial backers in 1902, the company became Cadillac Motor Car Co.

Ford continued to build racing cars to showcase his engineering potential and these cars were good enough to garner the backing of financial partners. The Ford Motor Co. was founded in June 1903. The company introduced its first automobile, the Model A, in 1903.  Not to be confused with the vehicle of the same name from the 1920's, this version of the Model A sold only 1750 units.[3]  In 1907, Ford pitched his dream to create a motorcar for mass consumption. This vision was embodied with the introduction of the Model T—a simple, reliable, completely standardized car offering no factory options and available in only one color.[4] The production of the Model T started in 1908 and lasted until 1927. Within that timeframe, Ford sold an astounding 15 million cars worldwide, which equaled half the auto output of the world.[5]

The overwhelming success of the Model T can be linked to the principle of what Ford called the “division of labor.”[6] A moving conveyor belt in his factory permitted employees to build cars one piece at a time as opposed to one car at a time. This meant each employee was delegated to conduct the same task over and over again to the point that they became specialized or experts. Ford’s formula for mass production was pivotal in transforming automobile manufacturing but was not exactly fail proof. Productivity at his plant slowed down substantially in 1914 when monthly labor turnover piqued at 40 to 60 percent. To combat the problem, Ford doubled employee wages from $2.50 to $5.00 per hour.[7] As a result, employee turnover evened out and operating costs decreased substantially.

Henry Ford replicated his success with the Model T when he introduced and mass-produced the Fordson tractor in 1918. That year, a record 133,000 were built by a number of manufacturers, of those 34,167 were Fordson tractors. By 1923, he had captured 77 percent of the market in the U.S.[8]

Ford’s ideas regarding mass production spawned the beginning of an age that would move away from a rural, agriculture base to urban industrialization.

[edit] Henry Ford, Politics, and Philanthropy

Aside from an entrepreneur and businessman, Henry Ford was a philanthropist. In 1936, he established the Ford Foundation. As a non-profit, independent, nongovernmental organization, it has contributed over $12 million in grants, projects, and loans.[9]

Henry Ford was also a man with strong political opinions that at times seemed contradictory and did not always blend well with mainstream views. For example, in 1915, in opposition of World War I, Ford chartered a ship for a pacifist peace mission to England where he and other individuals tried to persuade government officials to put an end to the war.[10] In 1918, he actually ran for the U.S. Senate as a democratic candidate but was largely unsuccessful although he would continue to be outspoken on political issues. He also owned a very controversial newspaper called The Dearborn Independent, an anti-Jewish publication that many found offensive. Surprisingly enough, he was not a huge proponent of labor unions and was the last automobile manufacturer to actually unionize his workforce.[11]

[edit] Ford, the Agricultural Enthusiast

Even though Ford was reputed as an industrialist, he always maintained an affinity to the agricultural roots in to which he was born. Ford had a vacation residence in Richmond Hill known as the "Ford Plantation." He contributed greatly to the local area by building a chapel and a schoolhouse, and employing local residents. He also had a passion for “Americana” [12]and built "Village Industries," which were small factories in rural Michigan established so people could work and farm throughout the year and thereby experience both urban and agricultural living simultaneously.[13] This work led him to start collecting memorabilia and materials for his museum that was opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute, encompassing a theme of practical technology.[14]

[edit] Henry Ford the Inventor

Exploring his more inventive side, Ford also actively sought ways to incorporate the use of agricultural products in industrial production. One product in particular that held a fascination for Ford was the soybean and he used it to make plastic automobile parts such as horns and paint for his cars throughout the 1930s. The culmination of his efforts led him to patent an entire automobile made completely of plastic and attached to a tubular welded frame. The automobile weighed 30 percent less than a steel car, was more durable, and ran on grain alcohol known as ethanol instead of gasoline.[15]

In the 1940s, he promoted the early use of aviation technology when he was awarded government contracts to manufacture parts for bombers and later, bomber planes in their entirety. By the end of World War II, his plant had built more than 8,000 airplanes.[16]

He also played a key role in developing charcoal briquettes, using wood scraps from the Ford factory. He established a company called Ford Charcoal (later renamed Kingsford).[17]

[edit] Ford’s Death and Estate

In 1947, Henry Ford died. He left a staggering personal fortune behind estimated at somewhere between $500 to $700 million. He contributed most of his personal holdings in the Ford Motor Co. to his nonprofit organization, the Ford Foundation.[18]

[edit] References

  1. PBS. People and Discoveries: Henry Ford, 2008-09-27.
  2. Schultz, Stanley K. Ford, Henry. American History 102: Civil War to the Present, 2008-09-27.
  3. Ritz Site. Early Ford Models 1903-1908 [May 14, 2009].
  4. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  5. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  6. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  7. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  8. 1918 Fordson Tractor. AgMuseum.com, 2008-09-27.
  9. Inventor/Philanthropist. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  10. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  11. The Life of Henry Ford. The Henry Ford, 2008-09-27.
  12. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  13. The Life of Henry Ford. The Henry Ford, 2008-09-27.
  14. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  15. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  16. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  17. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.
  18. Fascinating facts about Henry Ford: inventor of mass production in 1913. The Great Idea Finder, 2008-09-27.