Henry Ford Essay Research Paper HENRY FORD18631947American

Henry Ford Essay, Research Paper HENRY FORD (1863-1947) American Industrialist Dennis Keating English 103 Professor Tague May 12, 2000 “A bore is a fellow who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.”

Henry Ford Essay, Research Paper



American Industrialist

Dennis Keating

English 103

Professor Tague

May 12, 2000

“A bore is a fellow who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.”

-Henry Ford

Henry Ford’s parents left Ireland during the potato famine and settled in the Detroit area in the 1840s. Henry Ford, born July 30, 1863, was the first of William and Mary Ford’s six children. He grew up on a prosperous family farm in what is today Dearborn, Michigan. Henry enjoyed a childhood typical of the rural nineteenth century, spending days in a one-room school and doing farm chores. At an early age, he showed an interest in mechanical things and a dislike for farm work. He had an intelligent, inquisitive nature and was energized by the huge growth of industry occurring in the Detroit area. He was also an avid experimenter. Once, in order to prove the power of steam, he plugged up the spout of a teakettle full of boiling water and it blew apart! As he grew up his father allowed him to “tinker” with many of the tools on the farm. Ford’s mother called him a “born mechanic” and provided him with darning needles and corset stays to make into tools for his watch repair work.

Probably the most dramatic event in Henry Ford’s life happened in 1876 when he was thirteen years old. While riding with his father in a wagon, they saw a steam engine traveling along the road under its own power! Ford jumped off the wagon and excitedly began to question the driver about this remarkable engine. Used for stationary purposes such as sawing wood, the engine had been mounted on wheels to propel itself. The engineer explained all about the machine and even let Ford fire the engine and run it. Ford later said, “That showed me that I was by instinct an engineer.” The seed was planted that there could be a self-propelled vehicle and that thought would haunt his imagination for years.

Although he yearned to go to Detroit and work in the machine shops, Ford stayed on the farm helping the family until he was seventeen. Then, with his father’s blessing, he moved to Detroit and started working at the Michigan Car Company for $1.10 a day. He was fired shortly thereafter because he angered the older employees by making repairs in a ? hour instead of the usual five hours. By 1882 Ford had left Detroit and used the family farm for his address as he traveled around from job to job. In 1885, at a party, he met Clara Jane Bryant. They married April 11, 1888 and their only child, Edsel, named after his boyhood friend Edsel Ruddiman, was born November 6, 1893.

Ford had never given up his dream of a “horseless carriage.” Whenever he had a spare moment he read about gas engines and experimented in his own workshop. By 1891 he and Clara had moved back to Detroit and Ford began working for Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. His promotion to Chief Engineer in 1893 gave him enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines. In 1893, Ford built a gasoline engine, and within a few years, an automobile, still a novelty item of the rich or do-it-yourself engineers. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of his own self-propelled vehicle-the Quadricycle. 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. Although Ford was not the first to build a self-propelled vehicle with a gasoline engine, he was, however, one of several automotive pioneers who helped this country become a nation of motorists. Ford’s Quadricycle was ready for a try-out in 1896. It frightened the horses and caused many a protest, but it ran.

It was through working at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company that Ford met Thomas Edison. At a convention Ford was introduced to Edison as “the young fellow who’s made a gas car.” After discussing his ideas with the great inventor, Ford was glad to hear that Edison thought his ideas had merit. Edison told him, “Young man, you have it, a self-contained unit carrying its own fuel. Keep at it!” The meeting with Thomas Edison gave Henry Ford fresh inspiration and his spirit was renewed by the famous inventor’s words of encouragement.

By 1899 Ford had produced an operable car that was written up in the Detroit Journal. Ford was described as a “mechanical engineer.” Eventually his work developing automobiles conflicted with his position at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. Even though the company was well pleased with his work and offered him the General Superintendent position, they asked him to make a choice. Could he give up his “hobby” of automobile building and devote himself to the company? Ford made the decision. He wanted to make automobiles.

In 1899 Ford left Edison to help run the Detroit Automobile Company. Cars were still built essentially one at a time. Ford hoped to incorporate ideas from other industries — standardized parts as Eli Whitney had used with gun manufacturing, or assembly line methods George Eastman tried in photo processing — to make the process more efficient. This idea struck others in his field as nutty, so before long, Ford quite Detroit Automobile Company and began to build his own racing cars. After two unsuccessful attempts to establish a company to manufacture automobiles, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated in 1903 with Henry Ford as vice-president and chief engineer. The infant company produced only a few cars a day at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. Groups of two or three men worked on each car from components made to order by other companies. In the winter of 1906, Ford had secretly partitioned a twelve-by fifteen-foot room in his plant, on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. With a few colleagues, he devoted two years to the design and planning of the Model T. Early on, they made an extensive study of materials, the most valuable aspect of which began in an offhand way. During a car race in Florida, Ford examined the wreckage of a French car and noticed that many of its parts were of lighter-than-ordinary steel. The team on Piquette Avenue ascertained that the French steel was a vanadium alloy, but that no one in America knew how to make it. The finest steel alloys then used in American automaking provided 60,000 pounds of tensile strength. Ford learned that vanadium steel, which was much lighter, provided 170,000 pounds of tensile strength. As part of the pre-production for the new model, Ford imported a metallurgist and bankrolled a steel mill. As a result, the only cars in the world to utilize vanadium steel in the next five years would be French luxury cars and the Ford Model T. A Model T might break down every so often, but it would not break.

The car that finally emerged from Ford’s secret design section at the factory would change America forever. For $825, a Model T customer could take home a car that was light, at about 1,200 pounds; relatively powerful, with a four-cylinder, twenty horsepower engine, and fairly easy to drive, with a two-speed, foot-controlled “planetary” transmission. Simple, sturdy, and versatile, the little car would excite the public imagination. It certainly fired up its inventor: when Henry Ford brought the prototype out of the factory for its first test-drive, he was too excited to drive. An assistant had to take the wheel.

“Well, I guess we’ve got started,” Ford observed at the time. The car went to the first customers on October 1, 1908. In its first year, over ten thousand were sold, a new record for an automobile model. Sales of the “Tin Lizzie,” or “flivver,” as the T was known, were boosted by promotional activities ranging from a black-tie “Ford Clinic” in New York, where a team of mechanics showcased the car, to Model T rodeos out west, in which cowboys riding in Fords tried to rope calves. In 1909, mining magnate Robert Guggenheim sponsored an auto race from New York to Seattle in which the only survivors were two Model T Fords. “I believe Mr. Ford has the solution of the popular automobile,” Guggenheim concluded.

In the early years, Model Ts were produced at Piquette Avenue in much the same way that all other cars were built. Growing demand for the new Ford overwhelmed the old method, though. Ford realized that he not only had to build a new factory, but a new system within that factory.

Ford still met resistance to his ideas for mass production of a car the average worker could afford. Ford gradually adapted the production line until in 1913, his plant incorporated the first moving assembly line. In 1913 Ford began using standardized interchangeable parts and assembly-line techniques in his plant. Although Ford neither originated nor was the first to employ such practices, he was chiefly responsible for their general adoption and for the consequent great expansion of American industry and the raising of the American standard of living. By early 1914 this innovation, although greatly increasing productivity, had resulted in a monthly labor turnover of 40 to 60 percent in his factory, largely because of the unpleasant monotony of assembly-line work and repeated increases in the production quotas assigned to workers. Ford met this difficulty by doubling the daily wage then standard in the industry, raising it from about $2.50 to $5. The net result was increased stability in his labor force and a substantial reduction in operating costs. These factors, coupled with the enormous increase in output made possible by new technological methods, led to an increase in company profits from $30 million in 1914 to $60 million in 1916. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. To meet the growing demand for the Model T, the company opened a large factory at Highland Park, Michigan, in 1910.

The central role that the Model T had come to play in America’s cultural, social and economic life elevated Henry Ford into a full-fledged folk hero. But Ford wasn’t satisfied. Fancying himself a political pundit and all-around sage, he allowed himself to be drawn into national and even world affairs. Before the United States entered World War I, he despaired with many others over the horrors of the fighting; late in 1915, he chartered a “Peace Ship” and sailed with a private delegation of radicals for France in a native attempt to end the war. In 1918, he lost a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. The following year, he purchased a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which was to become the vehicle for his notorious anti-Semitism. The newspaper railed against the International Jew, and reported scurrilous conspiracy theories such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In 1915, James Couzens resigned from the Ford Motor Company, recognizing that it Henry’s company, and that no one else’s opinion would ever matter as much. In 1916, Ford antagonized the other shareholders by declaring a paltry dividend, even in the face of record profits. In response, the shareholders sued, and in 1919 the Michigan Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that it was unreasonable to withhold fair dividends under the circumstances. The Ford Motor Company was forced to distribute $19 million in dividend payments. In his own response to the escalating feud, Henry threatened publicly to leave the company and form a new one. He even made plans and discussed the next car he would produce.

Fearing that the worth of Ford stock would plummet, the minority shareholders suddenly became eager to sell; agents working surreptitiously for Henry Ford quietly bought up lot after lot of shares. The sellers did not receive all that the shares were worth, because of the rumors, but they each emerged with a fortune. James Couzens, the most wily of the lot, received the highest price per share, and turned to a career in the U.S. Senate (he won his race, unlike the old boss) with $30 million in the bank. Ford gained complete control of the company at a cost of $125 million — $106 million of the stock, plus $19 million for the court-ordered dividend — a fantastic outlay that he financed with a $75 million loan from two eastern banks. On July 11, 1919, when he signed the last stock transfer agreement, the fifty-five-year-old mogul was so enthused that he danced a jig. The stock was divided up and placed in the names of Henry, Clara, and Edsel Ford.

In 1921, the Model T Ford held 60 percent of the new-car market. Plants around the world turned out flivvers as though they were subway tokens, and Henry Ford’s only problem, as he often stated it, was figuring out how to make enough of them. As a concession to diversification, he purchased the Lincoln Motor Car Company in 1921. Company plans seemed to be in place for a long, predictable future and Ford was free to embark on a great new project: the design and construction of the world’s largest and most efficient automobile factory at River Rouge, near Detroit. Arrayed over 2,000 acres, it would include 90 miles of railroad track and enough space for 75,000 employees to produce finished cars from raw material in the span of just forty-one hours. River Rouge had its own power plant, iron forges, and fabricating facilities. No detail was overlooked: wastepaper would be recycled into cardboard at the factory’s own paper mill. River Rouge was built to produce Model T Fords for decades to come, by the time it was capable of full production later in the decade, a factory a tenth its size could have handled the demand for Model Ts.

On June 4, 1924, the ten millionth Model T Ford left the Highland Park factory, which would remain the main facility for T production. While the flivver outsold its nearest competitor by a six-to-one margin that year, its unbridled run was nearing an unforeseen conclusion. After years of conceding the low end of the market to Ford, another automaker was setting its sights on that very sector.

At the beginning of the decade, General Motors was an awkward conglomerate of car companies and parts suppliers, managed more for the sake of its whipsaw stock-price than for efficiencies in automaking. In the middle of the decade, though, a revitalized GM, under the brilliant leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., began to offer inexpensive Chevrolets with amenities that the Model T lacked. Instead of the sturdy but antiquated planetary transmission, it had a smooth three-speed. The market began to shift; price and value ceased to be paramount factors. Styling and excitement suddenly counted to the customer. Even though the Model T cost a mere $290 in the mid-twenties, dealers clamored for a new Ford that would strike the fancy of the more demanding and sophisticated consumers. But Henry Ford refused even to consider replacing his beloved Model T. Once, while he was away on vacation, employees built an updated Model T and surprised him with it on his return. Ford responded by kicking in the windshield and stomping on the roof. “We got the message,” one of the employees said later, “As far as he was concerned, the Model T was god and we were to put away false images.” Only one person persisted in warning him of the impending crisis: his son, Edsel, who had been installed as president of the Ford Motor Company during the dividend trial and its aftermath in 1919. It was the first of many arguments that Edsel would lose, as the once adoring relationship between the two deteriorated into distrust and disrespect on Henry’s part and woeful disillusionment on Edsel’s.

The Chevrolet continued to take sales from the dour Model T. By 1926, T sales had plummeted, and the realities of the marketplace finally convinced Henry Ford that the end was at hand. On May 25, 1927, Ford abruptly announced the end of production for the Model T, and soon after closed the Highland Park factory for six months. The shutdown was not for retooling: there was no new model in the works. In history’s worst case of product planning, Henry sent the workers home so that he could start to design his next model. Fortunately, Edsel had been quietly marshaling sketches from the company’s designers, and he was ready and able to work with his father on producing plans for the new car, called the Model A. It was a success from its launch in December 1927, and placed the company on sound footing again. By the time it went into production, the River Rouge had become the main Ford manufacturing facility.

When the last Model T rolled off the assembly line, it was not the end of an era; it was still the very dawn of the one that the little car had inaugurated. Cars — more than half of them Model Ts — pervaded American culture. They jammed the streets of the great eastern cities and roamed newly laid roads in southern California. Adapted to haul everything from mail to machine-guns to coffins to schoolchildren, automobiles represented an opportunity for change in practically everything. They also became a crucial factor in recasting a growing economy. Henry Ford had created a car for the multitudes and that car had created the basis of the car culture embraced by every subsequent generation.

The Ford Motor Company, having survived its own crisis in the twenties, was one of only forty-four U.S. automakers left in 1929, out of the hundreds that had entered the fray since the beginning of the century. That year, Ford, General Motors, and the newly formed Chrysler Corporation — known then and now as the Big Three — accounted for 80 percent of the market.

He continued to innovate, but competitors (growing more powerful though fewer in number) began to cut into Ford’s market share. Within the ensuing few years, however, Ford’s preeminence as the largest producer and seller of automobiles in the nation was gradually lost to his competitors, largely because he was slow to adopt the practice of introducing a new model of automobile each year, which had become standard in the industry. During the 1930s Ford adopted the policy of the yearly changeover, but his company was unable to regain the position it had formerly held.

In the period from 1937 to 1941, the Ford Company became the only major manufacturer of automobiles in the Detroit area that had not recognized any labor union as the collective bargaining representative of employees. At hearings before the National Labor Relations Board Ford was found guilty of repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act. The findings against him were upheld on appeal to the federal courts. Ford was constrained to negotiate a standard labor contract after a successful strike by the workers at his main plant at River Rouge, Michigan, in April 1941. Early in 1941 Ford was granted government contracts whereby he was, at first, to manufacture parts for bombers and, later, the entire airplane. He thereupon launched the construction of a huge plant at Willow Run, Michigan, where production was begun in May 1942. Despite certain technical difficulties, by the end of World War II (1945) this plant had manufactured more than 8000 planes.

Advancing age obliged Ford to retire from the active direction of his gigantic enterprises in 1945. He died on April 7, 1947, in Dearborn. Ford left a personal fortune estimated at $500 to $700 million, bequeathing the largest share of his holdings in the Ford Motor Company to the Ford Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Editorial tributes were favorable to Henry Ford. He was praised as a patriot, philanthropist, philosopher, reformer, economist, and teacher and depicted as a symbol of individualism and productive genius. Today Ford’s genius can be seen at the historic sites dedicated to him: Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, Florida; Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane, in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford and his family spent a good deal of time and money on charitable work. They set up an historical museum in Greenfield Village, Michigan, and most notably set up the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is a resource for innovative people and institutions worldwide. Their goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement

This has been their purpose for almost half a century. The Ford Foundation feels that there is a real fundamental challenge facing every society today: to create political, economic and social systems that promote peace, human welfare and the sustainability of the environment on which life depends. They believe that the best way to meet this challenge is to encourage initiatives by those living and working closest to where problems are located; to promote collaboration among the nonprofit, government and business sectors, and to assure participation by men and women from diverse communities and at all levels of society. In their experience, such activities help build common understanding, enhance excellence, enable people to improve their lives and reinforce their commitment to society.

The Ford Foundation is one source of support for these activities. They work mainly by making grants or loans that build knowledge and strengthen organizations and networks. Since their financial resources are modest in comparison to societal needs, they focus on a limited number of problem areas and program strategies within our broad goals.

Founded in 1936, the Foundation operated as a local philanthropy in the state of Michigan until 1950, when it expanded to become a national and international foundation. Since inception it has been an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization. It has provided more than $9.3 billion in grants and loans. These funds derive from an investment portfolio that began with gifts and bequests of Ford Motor Company stock by Henry and Edsel Ford. The Foundation no longer owns Ford Motor Company stock and its diversified portfolio is managed to provide a perpetual source of support for the Foundation’s programs and operations.

The Trustees of the Foundation set policy and delegate authority to the president and senior staff for the Foundation?s grants making and operations. Program officers in New York, and in offices in Africa and the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Russia, explore opportunities to pursue the Foundation’s goals, formulate strategies and recommend proposals for funding.


1863 Born July 30 in Greenfield Township, Michigan.

1879 Leaves family farm for Detroit to work in machine shops.

1888 Marries Clara Bryant of Greenfield Township and moves to 80-acre farm in what is today Dearborn.

1891 Secures position as engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company; returns to Detroit. 1893 Edsel Bryant Ford, only child of Henry and Clara Ford, born.

1896 Completes his first automobile, the Quadricycle, and drives it through the streets of Detroit. 1899 Ends eight years of employment with the Edison Illuminating Company to devote full attention to the many manufacture of automobiles. Made chief engineer and partner in the newly formed Detroit Automobile Company which produced only a few cars.

1901 Henry Ford Company organized with Ford as engineer. Ford resigns over dispute with bankers in 1902 and the company becomes the Cadillac Motor Car Co.

1903 Ford Motor Company is officially incorporated. Ford’s first Model A appears on the market in Detroit.

1908 Ford begins manufacturing the famous Model T.

1910 Begins operations at factory in Highland Park, Michigan.

1913 Introduces first moving automobile assembly line at Highland Park.

1914 Announces his plan to share the Ford Motor Company’s profits with workers, paying them $5.00 for an eight hour day.

1915 The Oscar II, Ford’s “Peace Ship,” sets sail for Norway on a pacifist expedition to end World War I.

1917 Begins construction of industrial facility on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan.

1918 Loses his bid for the U.S. Senate.

1919 Edsel B . Ford, son of Henry Ford, is named president of Ford Motor Company

1921 Ford Motor Company dominates auto production with 55 percent of industry’s total output. 1926 Focuses on air transportation and develops the Tri-Motor airplane.

1927 Transfers final assembly line from Highland Park plant to the Rouge. Production of the Model T ends, and the Model A is introduced.

1929 Dedicates his Edison Institute of Technology and Greenfield Village with a celebration of 50 years of the electric light.

1932 Builds first V-8 Ford car.

1933 Successfully resists first efforts to unionize workers at Ford plants.

1937 “Battle of the Overpass” occurs between Ford security staff and United Auto Workers union organizers. As a result, the court orders Ford not to interfere with union activity.

1941 Ford Motor Company signs a contract with UAW.

1943 Edsel B. Ford dies at age 49.

1947 Henry Ford dies at age 83, at Fair Lane, his Dearborn home.

1) Collier, Peter and David Horowitz. The Fords. New York: Summit Books, 1987.

2) Head, Jeanine and Wllliam S . Pretzer. Henry Ford: A Pictorial Biography. Dearborn:

3) Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Vlllage, 1990.

4) Lacey, Robert. Ford: The Men and the Machine. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.

5) Lewis, David. The Public lmage of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976.

6) Nevins, Allen. Ford: the Times, the Man, the Company. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

7) Nevins, Allen and Frank Ernest Hill. Ford: Expansion and Challenge 1915-1932. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957.

8) Nevins, Allen and Frank Ernest Hill. Ford: Decline and Rebirth 1933-1962. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963.


1) Collier, Peter and David Horowitz. The Fords. New York: Summit Books, 1987.

2) Head, Jeanine and Wllliam S . Pretzer. Henry Ford: A Pictorial Biography. Dearborn:

3) Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Vlllage, 1990.

4) Lacey, Robert. Ford: The Men and the Machine. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.

5) Lewis, David. The Public lmage of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976.

6) Nevins, Allen. Ford: the Times, the Man, the Company. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

7) Nevins, Allen and Frank Ernest Hill. Ford: Expansion and Challenge 1915-1932. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957.

8) Nevins, Allen and Frank Ernest Hill. Ford: Decline and Rebirth 1933-1962. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963.