Henry Ford Biography (1863-1947)

engineer and industrialist

The name Henry Ford is synonymous with the automobile and the automobile is synonymous with Detroit. Yet Henry Ford neither invented the automobile nor built his cars in Detroit.

Henry Ford was born on the family farm in Dearborn, Michigan, a town eight miles west of Detroit, on July 30, 1863. It was in Dearborn that Henry Ford setup his manufacturing complex and built the cars that carried his name, making `Ford' a household word the world over.

Ford was ever the tinkerer; while still a young man, he built his own steam engine, coupled it to an old mowing machine and built his own tractor. While working for the Detroit Edison Company , he built several gasoline-powered carriages in his home workshop, selling them to finance his next " horseless carriage." In 1899, he formed the Detroit Automobile Company, which was later renamed the Henry Ford Company. He left the Henry Ford Company in 1902 (this early namesake company later became the Cadillac Motor Car Company).

In 1903, Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company and began building cars, despite the fact that he was being sued for patent infringement. An industrial combine, called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, which held the patent for gas-powered autos granted in 1895 to George BaldwinSelden (1846-1922), had taken Ford to court on the grounds that he had refused to buy a license to manufacture automobiles from them. Ford eventually wonthe case in court and with it the right to build autos with no regard for theSelden patent. His fight made Ford immensely popular, and his Model T was byfar the world's most popular automobile. In fact, the Ford Motor Company's Model T accounted for one-half of the world's output of cars during its nineteen years of production (1908-1927). The Model T's success with the public wasdue to its dependability and low price, but Henry Ford's success as an industrialist was due to his innovative mass production techniques.

Henry Ford did not invent the principles of mass production--they were in usefor nearly a century before the Model T--but Ford had the vision to apply mass production techniques to the manufacture of automobiles. Before Ford adapted mass production, assembly-line techniques to the building of Model T's, each car took twelve and one-half hours to build. After the inventor's innovations were in place, the time required to build each car was reduced to a little more than an hour and a half, and the cost per unit was lowered as well--from $950 for the first Model T's, to only $290 per auto in 1927. Ford's innovations called for the worker to stand at one place while the automobile was moved down the "assembly line" on a conveyor belt. Simultaneously, the parts the workers needed were brought to the work station on another conveyor. Bodieswere built on one line; the chassis and drive train were built on another, and the two parts were bolted together at final assembly. It was an extremelyefficient method of auto production, and the success of the Model T was in large part due to the low cost associated with Ford's mass production techniques.

Despite his manufacturing prowess, Ford's dictatorial management style and reluctance to alter his product to keep pace with the changing demands of the public signaled the end of the Ford Motor Company's world dominance. By 1936,the Ford Motor Company's share of the automotive market ranked the company inthird place behind General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation. Henry Ford held all of the stock in the company that bore his name and kept strict control of the company until 1945, when he retired in favor of his grandson, HenryFord II. Two years later, on April 7, 1947, this complex and innovative man died at his home in Dearborn. The stock of the company had been put under thecontrol of the Ford Foundation in 1936, and to this day, the Ford family continues its control of the family fortune.

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