Henry Ford, industrial pioneer, was born on this day in 1863 in Wayne County, Michigan.
According to the Henry Ford Museum, he was born on his father’s farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan on July 30th, 1863.
In 1879 he left the farm to become an apprentice at the Michigan Car Company, a manufacturer of railroad cars in Detroit.
He returned home in 1882 to operate and service portable steam engines used by farmers, occasionally worked in factories in Detroit, and cut and sold timber from 40 acres of his father’s land.
In 1888 Ford married Clara Bryant and in 1891 they moved to Detroit where Henry had taken a job as night engineer for the Edison Electric Illuminating Company.
By 1896 Ford had risen to chief engineer of the Illuminating Company. That same year he completed the first self-propelled vehicle called the Quadricycle with a group of friends.
On June 16th, 1903 Henry incorporated the Ford Motor Company.
In 1907 Ford’s four-cylinder, $600 Model N became the best-selling car in the country.
Working with a hand-picked group of employees he came up with the Model T, the next year.
The Model T immediately became a huge success and in 1910 the company moved into a huge new plant in Highland Park, Michigan, just north of Detroit.
Henry and his team borrowed concepts from watch makers, gun makers, bicycle makers, and meat packers, mixed them with their own ideas and by late 1913 they had developed a moving assembly line for automobiles.
Ford workers objected to the never-ending, repetitive work on the new line. Turnover was so high that the company had to hire 53,000 people a year to keep 14,000 jobs filled. Henry responded by doubling wages to $5 per day.
By 1922 half the cars in America were Model Ts and a new two-passenger runabout cost $269.
“Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it.”Henry Ford, Source: Ford News, p. 2. Date: 1/15/1923
With declining sales in the late 1920s, Ford reluctantly shut down the Model T assembly lines in 1927 and began designing an all-new car. It appeared in December of 1927 and was such a departure from the old Ford that the company went back to the beginning of the alphabet for a name, they called it the Model A.
In 1917 Ford had started construction on an even bigger factory on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan.
In 1932, at age 69 Ford introduced his last great automotive innovation, the lightweight, inexpensive V8 engine.
Struggling during the Great Depression, Ford was forced to lower wages and lay off workers. When the United Auto Workers Union tried to organize Ford Motor Company, Henry fought back with intimidation and violence, but was ultimately forced to sign a union contract in 1941.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor Ford Motor Company became one of the major US military contractors, supplying airplanes, engines, jeeps and tanks.
Henry Ford’s son Edsel Ford died in 1943, and Henry I officially turned over control of the company to his grandson Henry II in 1945.
Henry I retired to Fair Lane, his estate in Dearborn, where he died on April 7th, 1947 at age 83.