Henry Ford — Biography

Henry Ford Henry Ford is a legendary icon of a self-made man. A son of a farmer, he became rich and famous thanks to his own ideas, efforts and will.

* 30. 07. 1863 - Dearborn, Michigan
† 07. 04. 1947 - Dearborn, Michigan

Henry Ford was born in 1863, in Dearborn, Michigan, on his family’s farm. There his spent his early years till when at the age of 17 he left it and headed to Detroit to become an apprentice.

In 1882 he finished the apprenticeship and Westinghouse hired him for summer periods to demonstrate their steam engines on different farms. Winter time he spent with his father (his mother died when he was 12) on the farm, building his own steam engine. During one of such winter periods he met his future wife, Clara Bryant, whom he married in 1888 and with whom he moved to Detroit in 1891. There he started working for the Edison Illuminating Company in order to learn more about electricity. Thanks to this and to his work in his free time he managed to design his own gasoline engine ignited by electricity and on June 4, 1896 he completed the Quadricycle — his first successful horseless carriage.

Success of his own construction work made him believe that he could build automobiles for sale and that people need cars, which would be useful and make their lives easier. He tried several companies together with investors, but they disbanded in a short time. At the same time Ford was building and driving his own racecars and this was the first what made his name well known.

The third attempt in creating a company with investors was more successful than previous ones and this way Ford Motor Company was established. On July 15, 1903, the first car, Model A was sold by the Ford Motor Company for 850$. It created an opportunity for Ford to work further and improve design of his cars.

After several models (B, C and F) Ford designed the Model T (1908). It was specially created for mass production and was light, fast and strong. For this car Henry Ford used Vanadium steel (which was found also by him) and allowed the Model T to be much stronger and reliable. He also painted this model black because this color dried faster than others what helped to save extra time in production circle.

Model T became popular very quickly and due to strong demand Ford had to find a way to increase speed of production. Thanks to this, in 1913 he added a motorized assembly line in the plant. Now a car was moved to workers who had to add parts to it while it was passing them.

This invention significantly reduced time and cost of manufacturing and helped Ford to produce cars much faster and to drop prices (from 850$ for the first car the price eventually dropped to 300$). For a period 1908-1925 Ford produced about 15 millions of the Model T cars.

In order to improve productivity and quality of his workers Henry Ford doubled their wages offering 5$ per day which was the highest for those times in the automobile industry. He also set a reduced work week for his employees starting from 6 days for 8 hours (48-hour week) to 5 days for 8 hours (40-hour week).

In an interview to Samuel Crowther he commented it next way:

«We have,» said Henry Ford, «decided upon and at once put into effect through all the branches of our industries the five day week. Hereafter there will be no more work with us on Saturdays and Sundays. These will be free days, but the men, according to merit, will receive the same pay equivalent as for a full six day week. A day will continue to be eight hours, with no overtime.»

«We are now working out the wage schedules. We have stopped thinking in terms of a minimum wage. That belongs to yesterday, before we quite knew what paying high wages meant. Now so few people get the minimum wage that we do not bother about it at all. We try to pay a man what he is worth and we are not inclined to keep a man who is not worth more than the minimum wage.»

These improvements allowed Ford to attract more skillful workers and instead of heavy turnovers, which were in common those days amongst workers, to collect a constant set of skillful mechanics to his factory and to use their experience and knowledge raising productivity and lowering training costs.

Due to the growing demand the company started building of a large industrial complex along the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan. Construction works were completed by September 1927 and the resulting complex included in itself all what was needed for automobile production from steel mill and automotive assembly line to glass factory. It made Rouge Plant one of the biggest in the world in that time and was embodied realization of Henry Ford’s idea of mass automobile production.

In 1918, Henry Ford was asked by the president of USA to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan. His candidature was as one of peace and as a supporter of the proposed League of Nations.

This time Henry Ford involved his only son, Edsel Ford, in managing the company and turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to him, thou, staying with the final decision authority. In a while they managed to gain control over the whole company thus gaining the family sole ownership over it. Nevertheless, Henry and Edsel Ford not always could find common points about the way their business should be run. For example, when in mid-1920s sales of Model T reduced, Henry Ford declined any ideas of incorporating new features to the model and forming a customer credit plan which were offered and supported by his son. Drop of sales of Model T made Ford finally change his opinion and agree with creation of a new model. Edsel was responsible for the car’s body design and his father for the technical equipment. This resulted in a new, successful Ford Model A, which was introduced in December 1927 and for 3 years of its production made a total output of more than 4 million.

The Ford Motor Company played also a major role in the Allied victory during World War I and World War II. In order to support Europe Henry Ford’s company started mass production for the war effort. The most produced Allied bomber in history, B-24 Liberator bomber, was mostly produced on Ford’s factory, Willow Run (they achieved 600 machines per month in 24-hours shifts).

In May 1943 dies Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s son. For a while he assumed the presidency of the company, but weak health made him turned it soon to his oldest grandson, Henry Ford II in 1945. Two years later, on April 7, 1947, he died at age 83 in his Dearborn estate. He was buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.





„There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.“

- Henry Ford