Henry Ford grew up on a small farm near Dearborn, Michigan. As Henrygrew up, he spent most of his free time tinkering, and finding out exactlyhow things work. A pastime that developed thinking and logic abilities. But being a farmer’s boy, he had little spare time, for there were alwayschores to be done. By twelve years of age, Henry was doing a man’s work onthe farm and had begun repairing machinery for neighbouring farmers. Hisfather pleased when Henry would repair a harness, reset a tool handle, ormake some hinges for furniture but he was not pleased however, when his sonrepaired things for neighbours, as he often did, without charging them acent.
It was one day when Henry saw a steam engine powering a farmingmachine that he dreamed that one day he would build a smaller engine thatwould power a vehicle and do the job that horse’s once did. Shortly after Henry turned thirteen, his mother died. Henry becamevery discontent with living on the farm but he stayed for another threeyears. When he was sixteen he finished his studies at the district school. Against his father’s will, Henry moved to Detroit, ten miles away.
In Detroit, Henry worked eleven hours a day at James Flower &Brothers’ Machine Shop for only $2. 50 a week. As this was not enough topay for board and room, Henry got an evening job at Magill’s Jewelry Shopfor $2 each week, at first only cleaning and winding the shop’s large stockof clocks. Soon though, he was repairing them also. After three years in Detroit, and ceaseless persuasion from hisfather, Henry moved back to the farm at the age of nineteen.
Farm work wasno more appealing than before. Henry did enjoy the birds and the wildlifein the country, and he liked operating and repairing a steam threshingmachine so he stayed. At a dance on New Year’s Eve in 1885, Henry met adark-haired young woman, Clara Bryant, who lived only a few miles away. In1888 Henry and Clara were married. As a gift, Mr.
Ford gave Henry and hisbride forty acres of wooded land. Henry built a small cottage and theylived off the land. Henry’s father thought Henry was content and hadsettled down for life, but this was not to be so. All of Henry’s sparetime was still spent on engines.
Three years after their marriage, Henrysaw an internal-combustion gas engine in Detroit. He decided that this isthe engine that he would have to use on his car. He had to move back toDetroit. For two years Henry worked nights as a steam engineer for the EdisonIlluminating Company. He worked every night from 6 P. M.
to 6 A. M. andearned $45 a month. After working hours he experimented on his gas engine.
His wages barely paid for living expenses and for tools and materials forhis tinkering. But his wife was cooperative and did not complain butrather, encouraged him. In November, 1983, a son was born to Henry and Clara, they named himEdsel. A few weeks later, just before Christmas, Henry had completed hisengine. A successful testing of the engine excited Henry and he decided tobuild one with two cylinders. Slightly over two and a half years later,Henry had built his first horseless carriage with four bicycle wheels andseat.
His contraption would not fit out of the workshop so he simplyknocked out a portion of the wall. The car tested successfully, but wasvery impractical as someone on a bicycle had to ride ahead to warn thepeople with horses as the car startled them. Henry quit his very promising job at the Edison Illuminating Companyon August 15, 1989. He was to head the new Detroit Automobile Company. Instead of producing any cars though, Henry spent the money on improvinghis design.
The experimental models that he produced cost a great deal ofmoney and a little more than a year later, the Detroit Automobile Companyhad failed. To gain supporters, Henry built a racing car. If he could wina race, he could get backers and form his own company. Henry didsuccessfully win a race in October, 1901 and acquiring backers became nolonger a problem. On November, 1901, the Henry Ford Company was formed. This companyfared no better than the previous.
Ford still wanted to build a low-pricedcar that ordinary people could afford to buy and drive. Ford would notsacrifice his standards for the profit. (Much unlike his portrayal in BraveNew World). Finally in June, 1903, a third company, the Ford MotorCompany, was incorporated. Ford continued working on his “cheap” design.
It was ready shortlyafter the new company’s formation and orders came in faster than they couldbe filled. Ford, Charles Sorensen and a small group of dedicated engineersbegan working on a “universal car. ” By October, 1908, the Model-T had beenconstructed. Again orders began coming in faster than they could befilled.
This presented Ford with his next challenge, to increase theproduction rate of the automobiles. Sorensen and Ford finally came up withthe assembly line idea. Rather than having the men go to the work, thework would come to the man, brought along on pulleys and chains overhead. One problem bothered Ford increasingly, however.
Assembly- line workwas monotonous and uninteresting. The Ford factory had a great turnover ofemployees, and too much time was wasted in training new men. The men werecurrently only being paid the minimum wage of $2 a day. Ford decided (muchto his colleagues’ displeasure and protest) that the men would be paid $5and that the work day would be shortened to that of an eight-hour day.
Some people praised him as a great humanitarian. Others denounced Ford asa madman, a crackpot, and a villain. One may have considered Ford unjustin making his men work on the assembly line, this is not so. Ford had morethan doubled the wages of his men, shortened their work day, and therebytried to give the employees a share of the profits.
Ford eventually resigned as president of his company and gave controlto Edsel. Conflicts rose between Edsel and Henry. All his life, Ford hadbeen in charge, calling the shots. Now, even though Edsel was President inname, none of the decisions went without Henry’s approval. Edsel hadwanted to produce a new model for several years, and finally Henryconsented. In December, 1927, the Model A was unveiled to the public.
Sales soared. This was last real success that Henry Ford saw in hiscompany. The great depression was coming, sales dropped, and labour unionsformed. Originally Ford had “factory police” to monitor the men and keepaway people related to union, but on June 18, 1941, the men went on strikeand Henry was handed a union contract. It spelled out the terms on whichhis men would work, and even set the speed of the assembly line.
Fordrefused to sign. Only after his wife threatened to leave him, did Henrysign. He did not just sign, he gave them better terms. Henry felt a needto dictate.
He had always been in control, and this was time was noexception. War broke out in December, 1941. Ford’s factories wereconverted to plants that constructed war machines. Even in this time, Fordkept his love for nature and the old times. Henry constructed a museum.
He even had his father’s old farmhouse rebuilt. It was in 1942 that hisson Edsel died of cancer. The shock nearly killed old Henry, but ratherthan give up his hold on the Ford Motor Company, he made himself Presidentonce more. He was old now, and in 1945 he relinquished all responsibilityto Edsel’s son, Harry II.
The Ford Company took on new life under youngHenry, but Ford was not around to see it. In 1947 Henry Ford fell ill andtook to his bed. On April 27, alone with his wife and one servant, Henrydied at age eighty-four. After his death, a foundation was formed to administer his vastfortune. The foundation gave substantial support to various projects inthe arts, in medicine and in other important areas of American life.
Fordwas a great man who revolutionized our world. Ford put the world on wheels,and in so doing, he made it a smaller world. BibliographyMontgomery, E. Henry Ford: Automotive Pioneer.
Illinois: GarrardPublishing Company, 1979Paradis, A. Henry Ford. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1968