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Henry Ford

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman     Artist: Dick Strandberg


Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863 in Wayne county, Michigan. He was the son of Irish immigrants, William and Mary Ford, who had settled on a farm in Dearborn. In addition to helping his father with the harvest, Ford also attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. However, Ford disliked both school and farm life, and at age 16, he walked to Detroit in search of employment.

Ford was employed as an apprentice in a machine shop, where he learned about the internal combustion engine. After several years of learning his trade, Ford returned to the family farm and worked part-time for the Westinghouse Engine Company. Ford set up a small machine shop on the farm and began tinkering with engines and machines. During this time, Ford fell in love with Clara Bryant, who he married in 1888.

Several years later, Ford and his wife moved back to Detroit when Ford was made chief engineer at the Detroit Edison Company. The position required Ford to be on-call 24 hours a day, but the irregular hours allowed him time to experiment. He had experimented with gasoline-powered vehicles and horse-less carriages for several years before his first vehicle was completed. The "Quadricycle," a vehicle with a buggy frame mounted on four bicycle wheels was completed in 1896. Ford sold the "Quadricycle" to raise capital for more creations.

During the next several years, Ford continued to fine-tune his passenger vehicles. In addition, he built racing cars and even drove them himself. In 1903, Ford produced an automobile he was ready to market, and he formed the Ford Motor Company with capital from Detroit citizens. In 1908, Ford introduced the successful Model T, which was manufactured for 19 years. However, Ford's successes were not without problems. Soon after the incorporation of the Ford Motor Company, Ford was threatened by the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. After years of legal battles, Ford won his case in 1911, which made it possible for more people to become automobile manufacturers.

Ford was able to market the Model T to the general public because of his advanced production technology. The Ford Motor Company's plant in Highland Park, Michigan, Ford introduced the first assembly line in 1913, which drastically reduced production time. As a result, more automobiles were made available at a lower cost. Ford also instituted the $5.00/day minimum wage, which he claimed increased productivity.

However, not everyone was impressed with Ford's business practices, and in 1917, he was sued by his stockholders for diverting profits into company expansion. Although the court ruled in favor of the stockholders, by 1920, Ford was able to buy them out. He built a huge plant in River Rouge, and the company became almost entirely self-sufficient.

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In 1926, Ford began losing sales to General Motors because the Model T was becoming outdated. The Ford plants were shut down for five months, after which Ford introduced the Model A and later the V-8. Both models received moderate success but were outsold by General Motors and Chrysler.

The problems Ford Motor Company encountered can be attributed to Ford's stubborn and authoritarian management style. Although Ford's only child Edsel had been named president in 1919, his father remained in strict control. When General Motors and Chrysler signed contracts with the United Automobile Workers, Ford refused to follow suit. He employed spies and company police to prevent his workers from unionization. Ultimately, Ford was persuaded to sign a contract with the UAW in 1941.

Ford's son Edsel died in 1943, and Ford resumed the presidency. However, he had experienced two strokes by that time, and two years later handed over the presidency to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Ford died at his home on April 7, 1947.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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