Henry Ford Biography

(1863–1947)
One of America's foremost industrialists, Henry Ford revolutionized assembly-line modes of production for the automobile.

Synopsis

Born on July 30, 1863, near Dearborn, Michigan, Henry Ford created the Ford Model T car in 1908 and went on to develop the assembly line mode of production, which revolutionized the industry. As a result, Ford sold millions of cars and became a world-famous company head. The company lost its market dominance but had a lasting impact on other technological development and U.S. infrastructure.

Early Life

Famed automobile manufacturer Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on his family's farm in Wayne County, near Dearborn, Michigan. When Ford was 13 years old, his father gifted him a pocket watch, which the young boy promptly took apart and reassembled. Friends and neighbors were impressed, and requested that he fix their timepieces too.

Unsatistfied with farm work, Ford left home the following year, at the age of 16, to take an apprenticeship as a machinist at a shipbuilding firm in Detroit. In the years that followed, he would learn to skillfully operate and service steam engines, and would also study bookkeeping.

Early Career

In 1888, Ford married Clara Ala Bryant and briefly returned to farming to support his wife and son, Edsel. But three years later, he was hired as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company. In 1893, his natural talents earned him a promotion to chief engineer.

All the while, Ford developed his plans for a horseless carriage, and in 1896, he constructed his first model, the Ford Quadricycle. Within the same year, he attended a meeting with Edison executives and found himself presenting his automobile plans to Thomas Edison. The lighting genius encouraged Ford to build a second, better model.

Ford Motor Company

After a few trials building cars and companies, in 1903, Henry Ford established the Ford Motor Company. Ford introduced the Model T in October of 1908, and for several years, the company posted 100 percent gains.

However, more than for his profits, Ford became renowned for his revolutionary vision: the manufacture of an inexpensive automobile made by skilled workers who earn steady wages.

In 1914, he sponsored the development of the moving assembly line technique of mass production. Simultaneously, he introduced the $5-per-day wage ($110 in 2011) as a method of keeping the best workers loyal to his company. Simple to drive and cheap to repair, half of all cars in America in 1918 were Model T's.

Philosophy, Philanthropy and Anti-Semitism

From a social perspective, Henry Ford's was marked by seemingly contradictory viewpoints. In business, Ford offered profit sharing to select employees who stayed with the company for six months and, most important, who conducted their lives in a respectable manner.

The company's "Social Department" looked into an employee’s drinking, gambling and otherwise uncouth activities to determine eligibility for participation. Ford was also an ardent pacifist and opposed World War I, even funding a peace ship to Europe. Later, in 1936, Ford and his family established the Ford Foundation to provide ongoing grants for research, education and development. But despite these philanthropic leanings, Ford was also a committed anti-Semite, going as far as to support a weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, which furthered such views.

Henry Ford died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 7, 1947, at the age of 83, near his Dearborn estate, Fair Lane. Ford, considered one of America's leading businessmen, is credited today for helping to build America's economy during the nation's vulnerable early years. His legacy will live on for decades to come.

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