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Friday, 20 February 2015

Henry Ford


Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 on a prosperous farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan. His mother, Mary, died when Henry was 13. His father, William, was an Irish immigrant who came across from county Cork during the potato famine.

As a child, Henry was passionate about mechanics, preferring to tinker in his father's shop over doing farm chores.

For eight years Henry attended a one-roomed school in the winter and helped on the family farm in the summer. At his local school only an exceptional mechanical ability was apparent.

Henry's father gave him a pocket watch when he was 13. He made a screw driver out of a knitting needle  and within a year or two, Henry was dismantling and reassembling the timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times, gaining the reputation of a watch repairman.

As he grew older, Henry became more and more fascinated by engines and one day he noticed a tractor parked by the side of the road. He studied the mechanism and asked the driver how fast the engine could run. The reply of 200 turns a minute gave Henry the inspiration for the motor car business.


In 1879, at the age of 16 Ford left home to find work in machine shops. He got a job as an apprentice machinist in Detroit, first with James F. Flower & Bros., and later with the Detroit Dry Dock Co.

Ford earned $2.50 from his first machinist job in Detroit. As his board and lodging was $2.50 a week, he he had to work for four hours every evening for a watchmaker for $2.00 a week to pay his way.

After three years, Ford returned to the family farm, where he worked part-time for the Westinghouse Engine Company becoming adept at operating their portable steam engine, In spare moments he tinkered in a little machine shop that he had set up.

At the age of 21 Ford's father gave him a 40 acre plot in an attempt to get him away from machinery (he expected him to eventually take over the family farm.). Even there Ford set up a sawmill and sold lumber. Eventually he built a small "farm locomotive," a tractor that used an old mowing machine for its chassis and a homemade steam engine for power.

Henry Ford in 1888
In 1891, Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company. Two years later, he was promoted to chief engineer at the main Detroit Edison Company plant with responsibility for maintaining electric service in the city 24 hours a day.

When Ford explained his idea of a gasoline powered car to Thomas Edison, Edison encouraged Ford that he "had it". Ford claimed later that "No man up to then had given me any encouragement".

Because he was on call at all times, Ford had no regular hours and could experiment to his heart's content. After experimenting in his spare time he built his first self-propelled vehicle. A small one-cylinder gasoline model, which was capable of 25mph., he named it the Ford Quadricycle. He gave it a successful test run on June 4, 1896.

The Quadricycle had four wire wheels that looked like heavy bicycle wheels, was steered with a tiller like a boat, and had only two forward speeds with no reverse.

When Ford's Quadricycle was initially ready to be driven out of his workshop he had overlooked it was too wide to get it out of his doorway. So Ford smashed a hole through the wall with an axe.

Once Ford had maneuvered his Quadcycle out of his workshop he drove it round the streets of Dearborn and Detroit. Fascinated crowds gathered wherever he drove and terrified horses galloped away in panic.

Ford resigned from the Edison Company and founded the Detroit Automobile Company on August 5, 1899. However, the automobiles produced were of a lower quality and higher price than Ford had hoped for. Ultimately, the company was not successful and was dissolved in January 1901

He founded Ford Motor company at Detroit on June 16, 1903, appointing himself chief engineer. Three years later, Ford was appointed President.

The Ford Motor Company was incorporated with a mere $28,000 in cash put up by ordinary citizens. This was because Ford had, in his previous dealings with backers, antagonized the wealthiest men in Detroit.

Ford Motor Company produced the first Model T in 1908. It seated two people and cost at the time a cheap $850. He announced the birth of the Model T  thus "I will build a motor car for the great multitude."

Its introduction revolutionized transportation and American industry and the Model T .(nicknamed the Tin Lizzie) remained in production until 1927 with the car's price falling from $850 to $290.

In 1913 Ford pioneered the moving conveyor belt assembly line to make the Model T.

Ford assembly line, 1913

Ford was an early promoter of aviation, building the Dearborn Inn as the first airport hotel. (The airfield was across the street and is now the site of a Ford Motor Company test track.)

Ford heavily sponsored the Stout Metal Airplane Company, which developed the Ford Tri-Motor, an early airliner.

Ford invented the charcoal briquette with the help of Thomas Edison in 1920. The motor mogul created the briquette from the wood scraps and sawdust from his car factory. E.G. Kingsford bought the invention and put the charcoal briquette into commercial production.

Henry Ford patented a plastic automobile on January 13, 1942 known as the Soybean Car. It was 30% lighter than a regular motor vehicle.

When Ford retired in 1945 Ford Motor Co was worth over $1billion.

Henry Ford on the cover of Time magazine, January 14, 1935

He was the second US billionaire after John D Rockefeller.

Ford never threw away a letter or bill. It took his lawyers two years to sort out the five million documents he'd left after his death.


Ford married Clara Bryant in 1888 and initially supported himself by farming and running a sawmill. Clara had grown up on a farm not far from Ford's.

Clara drove an electric car and refused to drive the Ford Model T.

He named his only child Edsel after schoolboy friend Edsel Ruddiman. Edsel was president of Ford Motor Company from 1919 to his death of stomach cancer in 1943.

Ford  had an interest in American folk music, especially square dancing, and frequently sponsored square dance events.


A Protestant, Ford once proclaimed “I shall live again” when he announced he had been a convert to reincarnation at the age of 26.

Ford visited Europe in 1915-16 in attempt to end World War 1.  He proclaimed "we are going to try to get the boys out of the trenches before Christmas." Three weeks later Ford was back in the USA. "I didn't get much peace" he said " but I learned that Russia is going to be a great market for tractors."

President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations. He was defeated in a close election by the Republican candidate, Truman Newberry, a former United States Secretary of the Navy.

A Chicago Tribune editorial called Ford an "ignorant idealist" because of his opposition to US. involvement in World War I. Ford took out a libel action  and while the jury found for the motor mogul, it awarded him only six cents.

In 1919 Ford became the publisher of the Dearborn Independent, a weekly journal, which at first published anti-Semitic material. After considerable public protest, Ford directed that publication of such articles be discontinued and that a public apology be made to the Jewish people.

His anti Semitic views prevented Ford from pursuing a possible nomination for the American presidency.

Ford was praised in Hitler's Mein Kampf and the future fuhrer kept a life-size portrait of the motor mogul next to his desk.

Henry Ford in 1919

Henry Ford was a proponent of hiring the handicapped. In 1919, more than 20% of his workforce had some form of disability.

Ford habitually washed his hair in water containing rusty razor blades as he believed that rusty water is a hair restorer.


In order to attract backers Ford built a racing car and entered it against the top racing driver of 1901, Alexander Winton. At the Gross Pointe Blue Ribbon track in Detroit Ford won by over one mile.

On January 12, 1904 Henry Ford set a land-speed record of 91.37 mph on the frozen surface of Michigan’s Lake St. Clair in his 70 Hp Arrow. As news of his record spread around the US, Ford's new car company garnered a much needed boost in sales.

Henry Ford standing next to driver Barney Oldfield with his car in 1902

Henry Ford was one of the early backers of the Indianapolis 500.


An advocate of a healthy diet, Ford campaigned for synthetic milk as he believed cows are too unhygienic.

Ford maintained that eating sugar was tantamount to committing suicide as its sharp crystals cut a person's stomach to shreds.

When he heard that the botanist George Washington Carver ate weed sandwiches every day, Ford decided to do the same.

A teetotaller, Ford declared "Nobody can drink alcohol and smoke without injuring their brains. It is easy for me. I don't like alcohol."

Ford was convinced that the soya bean could be converted into products with commercial value. He once appeared at a convention attempting to promote soya beans by dressing himself with a suit and tie, entirely produced from soya beans.


Ford's Fair Lane 1,300-acre estate in Dearborn, Michigan was named after an area in County Cork in Ireland where his adoptive grandfather, Patrick Ahern, was born.

Ford pent his winters at his holiday home at Daytona, on South West Florida next door to his friend and ex employer, Thomas Edison

In the early 1930s Henry Ford visited Stow-On-The Wold in the Cotswold area of England where he saw an old forge and a farm cottage. He proceeded to buy them and hired a local builder, Cox Howman, to take them down and rebuild them in the US. Each stone was marked, boxed and shipped to Dearborn, Michigan, where they were re-erected.

Ford created Greenfield Village at Dearborn, Michigan, a historic village in which the handicraft arts of the past are represented in their national settings.


Ford died on April 7, 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age 83 at his Dearborn estate.

All Ford plants and dealers were closed on the day of his funeral three days later. Funeral services were held in Detroit's Cathedral Church of St. Paul and he was buried in the city's Ford Cemetery.

Ford grave, Ford Cemetery. By Dwight Burdette -  Wikiprdia commons

Ford left a personal estate of around $600,000,000 at his death. Most of it was left to the Ford Foundation, a non profit organisation, set up by Ford and his son "for scientific, educational, and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare." It subsequently became the richest private foundation in the world.

Ford was named Businessman of the Century in a 1999 poll organised by America's Fortune magazine.

Sources  Daily Mail , Encyclopedia Britannica, Encarta, Faber Book of Anecdotes, Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

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