Henry Ford

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Henry Ford in 1934.

Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was a US automobile engineer and businessman who founded the Ford Motor Company and introduced modern mass production using the moving assembly line. Having experimented with gasoline-powered automobiles for a dozen years, he came to understand the need for a widely-affordable and rugged automobile to suit the US market. The 1908 Model T Ford fit this need, and sales escalated. To facilitate more efficient production, managers at Ford Motor Company innovated the moving assembly line method of mass production and paid high wages to workers, which became known as "Fordism." An antagonist of big finance and monopolies, Ford earned the respect of common folk throughout the US, who flocked to buy his cars. His hatred of corporate control and high finance led him to turn the Ford Motor Company into a sole proprietorship, an anomaly in the era of modern large-scale business enterprise. He also made Ford Motor Company a vertically-integrated company.

Throughout his life, Ford was active in many side affairs such as international peace, historic preservation, tractor and aircraft manufacture, politics, chemical research, race relations, housing construction, railroads, shipping, and publishing. He was vehemently opposed to outside interference in his business affairs whether it came from bondholders, minority stockholders, labor unions, or the US government. As such he violently opposed the organization of the United Auto Workers and refused to participate in New Deal economic recovery programs such as the National Recovery Administration.

In later life, Ford suffered at least two strokes and was incapacitated from about 1941. His son, Edsel B. Ford nominally headed the company as president from 1918 until his death in 1943, but was routinely undermined by his father as CEO. Ford passed management of the company to his grandson Henry Ford II in 1945. He died in 1947 leaving nearly all of his wealth to the Ford Foundation.


[edit] Early years

Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863, in Dearborn, Michigan, the oldest of five children. His parents were William Ford and Mary Litogot. William Ford was an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland, and Mary Litogot was a first generation American of Belgian immigrant parents. Ford attended school in a one-room school house and often sat next to Edsel Ruddiman (for whom Ford would later name his only son). Ford was educated in rote memorization from McGuffy Readers which was a standard pedagogy of the day.

During the summer of 1873, Henry saw his first self-propelled road machine, a Nichols, Shepard & Co., stationary steam engine that could be used for threshing or to power a saw mill. The operator, Fred Reden, had mounted it on wheels connected with a drive chain. Henry was fascinated with the machine and Reden over the next year taught Henry how to fire and operate the engine. Ford later said, it was this experience "that showed me that I was by instinct an engineer."[1]

Henry took this passion about mechanics into his home. His father had given him a pocket watch in his early teens and he began tinkering with it. By fifteen, he had a reputation as a watch repairman, having dismantled and reassembled timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times.[2]

His mother died in 1876 which devastated Henry. His father expected Henry to eventually take over the family farm, but Henry despised farm work. With his mother dead, little remained to keep him on the farm. He later said, "I never had any particular love for the farm. It was the mother on the farm I loved."[3]

Following this inclination to avoid farm work and pursue mechanics, Ford left the farm in 1879. He was apprenticed as a machinist it the Michigan Car Company one of Detroit's largest machine shops. In 1882, he returned to work his father's farm in Dearborn. During this time he purchased and operated a portable Westinghouse steam engine. The Westinghouse Company hired him as a local mechanic.

In 1888, he married Clara Ala Bryant. He bought a small plot of land and used the Westinghouse engine to lumber the woodlot in order to provide lumber for the home he was building there and to sell. Edsel, the Fords' only son, was born in 1893.

In the 1888s, Ford was becoming fascinated with self-propelled machines. He had learned of the experiments in Europe and began tinkering with his own design. He quickly realized that he needed to understand the properties and behaviors of electricity in order to build a working gasoline-powered engine. He thus sought employment with the Detroit Edison company, and was hired as an engineer in 1891. His mechanical aptitude quickly elevated him within the company, reaching Chief Engineer by 1893. With this promotion he began to devote more time to his experiments with gasoline engines, even going so far as to working on the machine at the sub-station where he worked. Other employees, such as Jimmy Bishop helped. By 1896, he had produced a prototype machine which he called the Quadricycle. He drove it for the first time in the morning of June 4, with Bishop leading the way on a bicycle. He sold the machine shortly thereafter but continued to tinker with ways to improve the basic design.

[edit] Henry Ford Company

In the late 1890s, Ford with other local investors began the Henry Ford Company to manufacture motorcars of Ford's design. However, Ford was more interested in experimenting with new designs and perfecting his current designs than in developing a production model. By the first years of the twentieth century, the investors ousted Ford by bringing in Henry Leland as chief engineer, a move that undermined Ford's authority. He left the company which was reorganized as the Cadillac Motor Company.

[edit] Ford Motor Company

Ford, with 11 other investors and $28,000 in capital, incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903. In a newly-designed car, Ford drove an exhibition in which the car covered the distance of a mile on the ice of Lake St. Clair in 39.4 seconds (91.3 MPH), which was a new land speed record. Convinced by this success, the famous race driver Barney Oldfield, who named this new Ford model "999" in honor of a racing locomotive of the day, took the car around the country and thereby made the Ford brand known throughout the United States. Ford was also one of the early backers of the Indianapolis 500.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 a day wage that more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. The move proved extremely profitable. Instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing in their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs. Ford called it "wage motive." The company's use of vertical integration also proved successful, as Ford built a gigantic factory that shipped in raw materials and shipped out finished automobiles.

Model T used for fishing

[edit] The Model T

The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had many important innovations—such as the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the 4 cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and—more important—easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s a majority of American drivers learned to drive on the Model T, leaving fond memories for millions. Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford's network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to explore the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100 gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. Although Henry Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin, Charles E. Sorensen, and C.H. Wills. (See Piquette Plant) By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000.[4]

By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T's. As Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black".[5] Until the development of the assembly line which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T's were available in other colors including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Henry Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This was a record which stood for the next 45 years.

Ford assembly line in 1913

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson personally asked Ford to run for the Senate from Michigan as a Democrat. Although the nation was at war Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.[6] In December 1918, Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford. Henry, however, retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed his son. Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.

By the mid-1920s, sales of the Model T began to decline due to rising competition. Other auto makers offered payment plans through which consumers could buy their cars, which usually included more modern mechanical features and styling not available with the Model T. Despite urgings from Edsel, Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to form a customer credit plan.

[edit] The "Model A" and Ford's Later Career

By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Henry to make a new model car. Henry pursued the project with a great deal of technical expertise in design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father's initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission. The result was the successful Ford Model A, introduced in December, 1927 and produced through 1931, with a total output of over four million automobiles. Subsequently, the company adopted an annual model change system similar to that in use by automakers today. Not until the 1930s did Ford overcome his objection to finance companies, and the Ford-owned Universal Credit Company became a major car financing operation.

[edit] Death of Edsel Ford

In May 1943, Edsel Ford died, leaving a vacancy in the company presidency. Henry Ford advocated his long-time associate Harry Bennett to take the spot. Edsel's widow Eleanor, who had inherited Edsel's voting stock, wanted her son Henry Ford II to take over the position. The issue was settled for a period when Henry himself, at age 79, took over the presidency personally. Henry Ford II was released from the Navy and became an executive vice president, while Harry Bennett had a seat on the board and was responsible for personnel, labor relations, and public relations.

[edit] Ford's labor philosophy

President Herbert Hoover, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone at Edison's 82nd birthday. Ft. Myers, Florida, February 11, 1929.

Henry Ford was a pioneer of "welfare capitalism" designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men a year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers. On January 5, 1914, Ford announced his five-dollar a day program. The revolutionary program called for a reduction in length of the workday from 9 to 8 hours, a 5 day work week, and a raise in minimum daily pay from $2.34 to $5 for qualifying workers.[7]

Ford had been criticized by Wall Street for starting the 40 hour work week and a minimum wage. He proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing, and therefore be good for the economy. Ford labeled the increased compensation as profit-sharing rather than wages. The wage was offered to men over age 22, who had worked at the company for 6 months or more, and, importantly, conducted their lives in a manner of which Ford's "Sociological Department" approved. They frowned on heavy drinking and gambling. The Sociological Department used 150 investigators and support staff to maintain employee standards; a large percentage of workers were able to qualify for the profit-sharing.

Ford was adamantly against labor unions in his plants. To forestall union activity, he promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer, to be the head of the Service Department. Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing. The most famous incident, in 1937, was a bloody brawl between company security men and organizers that became known as "The Battle of the Overpass."

Ford was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the United Auto Workers union (UAW). A sit-down strike by the UAW union in April 1941 closed the River Rouge Plant. Under pressure from Edsel and his wife, Clara, Henry Ford finally agreed to collective bargaining at Ford plants, and the first contract with the UAW was signed in June 1941.

[edit] Ford Airplane Company

Ford, like other automobile companies, entered the aviation business during World War I, building Liberty engines. After the war, it returned to auto manufacturing until 1925, when Henry Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company.

Ford's most successful aircraft was the Ford 4AT Trimotor—called the “Tin Goose” because of its corrugated metal construction. It used a new alloy called Alclad that combined the corrosion resistance of aluminum with the strength of duralumin. The Trimotor first flew on June 11, 1926, and was the first successful U.S. passenger airliner, accommodating about 12 passengers in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Several variants were also used by the U.S. Army. About 200 Trimotors were built before it was discontinued in 1933, when the Ford Airplane Division shut down because of poor sales due to the Depression.

[edit] Peace Ship

In 1915, Jewish pacifist Rosika Schwimmer had gained the favor of Henry Ford who agreed to fund a peace ship to Europe, where World War I was raging, for himself and about 170 other prominent peace leaders. He talked to President Wilson about the trip but had no government support. His group went to neutral Sweden and the Netherlands to meet with peace activists there. Ford, the target of much ridicule, left the ship as soon as it reached Sweden.

An article G. K. Chesterton wrote for the December 12, 1916 issue of Illustrated London News, shows why Ford's effort was ridiculed. Referring to Ford as "the celebrated American comedian," Chesterton noted that Ford had been quoted claiming, "I believe that the sinking of the Lusitania was deliberately planned to get this country America into war. It was planned by the financiers of war." Chesterton expressed "difficulty in believing that bankers swim under the sea to cut holes in the bottoms of ships," and asked why, if what Ford said was true, Germany took responsibility for the sinking and "defended what it did not do." Mr. Ford's efforts, he concluded, "queer the pitch" of "more plausible and presentable" pacifists.

[edit] Dearborn Independent

In 1918, Ford's closest aide and private secretary, Ernest G. Liebold, purchased an obscure weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. By 1920, it ran numerous antisemitic articles under Ford's name. Ford never wrote any of them, but he knew the contents. The Independent ran for eight years, from 1920 until 1927, during which Liebold was editor. The newspaper published "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," which was discredited as a forgery during the Independent's publishing run by The Times of London. The magazine was mostly advertising for cars, but its political tone was anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-liquor, and anti-Semitic. [8]

Denounced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the articles nevertheless explicitly condemned pogroms and violence against Jews (Volume 4, Chapter 80), preferring to blame incidents of mass violence on the Jews themselves. None of this work was actually written by Ford, who apparently could barely read beyond the fifth grade level.[9] Friends and business associates say they warned Ford about the contents of the Independent, and that Ford probably never read them. [10] However, court testimony in a libel suit, brought by one of the targets of the newspaper, stated that Ford did indeed know about the contents of the Independent in advance of publication. [11]

A libel lawsuit brought by San Francisco lawyer and Jewish farm cooperative organizer Aaron Sapiro in response to anti-Semitic remarks led Ford to close the Independent in December 1927. During the trial, the editor of Ford's "Own Page", William Cameron, testified that Ford never wrote or dictated the editorials, even though they were under his byline. Cameron testified at the libel trial that he never discussed the content of the pages or sent them to Ford for his approval.[12] Everyone agreed, however, that Ford had a general knowledge of the antisemitic thrust and funded their publication.

The ADL mobilized prominent Jews and non-Jews to publicly oppose Ford's message. They formed a coalition of Jewish groups for the same purpose, and raised constant objections in the Detroit press. Before leaving his presidency early in 1921, Woodrow Wilson joined other leading Americans in a statement that rebuked Ford and others for their antisemitic campaign. A boycott against Ford products by Jews also had an impact, and Ford shut down the paper in 1927, recanting his views in a public letter to the ADL. [13]

Distribution of International Jew was halted by Ford, but extremist groups often recycle the material; it still appears on antisemitic and neo-Nazi websites.

[edit] Ford's international business

Ford's philosophy was one of economic independence for the United States. His River Rouge Plant would become the world's largest industrial complex, even able to produce its own steel. Ford's goal was to produce a vehicle from scratch without reliance on foreign trade. He believed in the global expansion of his company. He believed that international trade and cooperation led to international peace, and used the assembly line process and production of the Model T to demonstrate it[14] He opened Ford assembly plants in Britain and Canada in 1911, and soon became the biggest automotive producer in those countries. In 1912, Ford cooperated with Agnelli of Fiat to launch the first Italian automotive assembly plants. The first plants in Germany were built in the 1920s with the encouragement of Herbert Hoover and the Commerce department, which agreed with Ford's theory that international trade was essential to world peace.[15] In the 1920s Ford also opened plants in Australia, India, and France, and by 1929, he had successful dealerships on six continents. Ford experimented with a commercial rubber plantation in the Amazon jungle called Fordlândia; it was one of the few failures. In 1929, Ford accepted Stalin's invitation to build a model plant (NNAZ, today GAZ) at Gorky, a city later renamed Nizhny Novgorod, and he sent American engineers and technicians to help set it up, including future labor leader Walter Reuther.

The technical assistance agreement between Ford Motor Company, VSNH and the Soviet-controlled American Trading Organization (AMTORG) [1] (as purchasing agent) was concluded for nine years and signed in 1929. The Ford Motor Company worked to conduct business in any nation where the United States had peaceful diplomatic relations:

By 1932, Ford was manufacturing one third of all the world’s automobiles.

Ford's image transfixed Europeans, especially the Germans, arousing the "fear of some, the infatuation of others, and the fascination among all".[16] Germans who discussed "Fordism" often believed that it represented something quintessentially American. They saw the size, tempo, standardization, and philosophy of production demonstrated at the Ford Works as a national service - an "American thing" that represented the culture of United States. Both supporters and critics insisted that Fordism epitomized American capitalist development, and that the auto industry was the key to understanding economic and social relations in the United States. As one German explained, "Automobiles have so completely changed the American's mode of life that today one can hardly imagine being without a car. It is difficult to remember what life was like before Mr. Ford began preaching his doctrine of salvation"[17] For many Germans, Henry Ford himself embodied the essence of successful Americanism.

[edit] Racing

Ford began his career as a race car driver and maintained his interest in the sport from 1901 to 1913. Ford entered stripped-down Model Ts in races, finishing first (although later disqualified) in an "ocean-to-ocean" (across the United States) race in 1909, and setting a one-mile oval speed record at Detroit Fairgrounds in 1911 with driver Frank Kulick. In 1913, Ford attempted to enter a reworked Model T in the Indianapolis 500, but was told rules required the addition of another 1,000 pounds (450 kg) to the car before it could qualify. Ford dropped out of the race, and soon thereafter dropped out of racing permanently, citing dissatisfaction with the sport's rules and the demands on his time by the now-booming production of the Model Ts.

He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996.

[edit] Death

Ford suffered an initial heart attack in 1938, after which he turned over the running of his company to Edsel. Edsel's 1943 death brought Henry Ford out of retirement. In ill health, he ceded the presidency to his grandson Henry Ford II in September 1945, and went into retirement. He died in 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 83 in Fair Lane, his Dearborn estate, and is buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.

[edit] Sidelights

Henry Ford long had an interest in plastics developed from agricultural products, especially soybeans. He cultivated a relationship with George Washington Carver for this purpose. Soybean-based plastics were used in Ford automobiles throughout the 1930s in plastic parts such as car horns, in paint, etc. This project culminated in 1942, when Ford patented an automobile made almost entirely of plastic, attached to a tubular welded frame. It weighed 30% less than a steel car, and was said to be able to withstand blows ten times greater than could steel. Furthermore, it ran on grain alcohol (ethanol) instead of gasoline. The design never caught on. [Lewis 1995]

Ford was instrumental in developing charcoal briquets, under the brand name "Kingsford". Along with his brother in law, E.G. Kingsford used wood scraps from the Ford factory to make the briquets, adding backyard grilling as a pastime.

Ford had a strong interest in collecting "Americana". In the 1920s, Ford began work to turn Sudbury, Massachusetts into a themed historical village. He moved the schoolhouse (supposedly) referred to in the nursery rhyme, "Mary had a little lamb" from Sterling, Massachusetts, and purchased the historical Wayside Inn. This initial plan turned into Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. About the same time, he began collecting materials for his museum, which had a theme of practical technology. It was opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute and, although greatly modernized, remains open today.

Henry Ford is sometimes credited with the invention of the automobile, generally attributed to Karl Benz, and the assembly line, invented by Ransom E. Olds. Ford's employees did develop the first moving assembly line based on conveyor belts.

Ford was the winner of the award of Car Entrepreneur of the Century in 1999.

Henry Ford was especially fond of Thomas Edison, and, on Edison's deathbed, he demanded Edison's son catch his final breath in a test tube. The test tube can still be found today in Henry Ford Museum.[2]

[edit] Ford in culture

The Peace Ship was recently fictionalized by the British novelist Douglas Galbraith in his novel King Henry.[18]

[edit] References

  1. Ford, My Life and Work, 22; Nevins and Hill, Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company (TMC), 54-55.
  2. Ford, My Life and Work, 22-24; Nevins and Hill, Ford TMC, 58.
  3. Ford, My Life and Work, 24; Edward A. Guest, "Henry Ford Talks About His Mother," American Magazine, July 1923, 11-15, 116-120.
  4. Lewis 1976, pp 41-59
  5. Ford, My Life and Work, Chapter IV
  6. Watts, pp 243-48
  7. Samuel Crowther HENRY FORD: Why I Favor Five Days' Work With Six Days' Pay World's Work, October 1926 pp. 613-616
  8. Baldwin (2000)
  9. Asked at the trial to read an editorial Ford refused; he said he only read headlines. He demanded that all business reports be made to him orally at briefings; he never read the accompanying studies.
  10. Watts pp x, 376-387; Lewis (1976) pp 135-59.
  11. Baldwin (2000)
  12. Lewis, (1976) pp. 140-156; Baldwin p 220-221.
  13. Baldwin (2000)
  14. Watts 236-40
  15. Wilkins
  16. Nolan p 31
  17. Nolan, p 31
  18. http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780436206283
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