How The Ford Motor Company Began
Ford is as American as apple pie and baseball. Officially started by Henry Ford and a small group of investors in 1903, Ford Motor Company automobiles and manufacturing innovations changed the American way of life. With these vehicles, travel became easier, allowing people to go farther in a shorter amount of time. Henry Ford’s assembly line revolutionized and changed industry at every level. Let’s take a look at the man whose ideas changed American life while becoming an American icon.
Henry Ford – Early Life
Henry was born July 30, 1863. His family owned a thriving farm in Springwells Township, Michigan. This small town is located roughly seven miles west of Detroit. Henry went to school through sixth grade. At the age of sixteen, he left his family farm to find work in Detroit. He built streetcars for Michigan Car Company Works. After working a variety of jobs as a machinist and other positions in heavy machinery, Henry returned home to repair steam engines for the Westinghouse Company.
In 1888, Henry married Clara Bryant. They made a home together on the 80-acre farm given to the couple by Henry’s father. In 1891, Henry moved his wife back to the city so he could take a position with the Edison Illuminating Company. This position allowed Henry to learn more about electrical engineering. Before too long, Henry was in charge of maintaining steam engines at the main Edison Illuminating Company plant.
His position at Edison Illuminating Company afforded Henry the free time to experiment with the different workings of the engines he maintained through his job. He built his first gasoline-powered engine in 1893 on the kitchen sink of his home, much to Clara’s dismay. The engine ran for a little over a minute, while covering poor, supportive Clara in gasoline.
The home Henry and Clara rented at #58 Bagley Avenue was the birthplace for many of Henry Ford’s earliest engines. He spent a lot of time in the woodshed behind the house perfecting his designs and learning as much about how gasoline engines worked as he could. This is the address Henry was living at when he developed his first gasoline powered vehicle. The Ford Quadricycle came to life in 1896. An amusing note, Henry had to widen the doors to get his new Quadricycle invention out of the woodshed.
It was about this time that Henry had the chance to meet Thomas Edison and share some ideas about his gasoline engine with the fellow inventor. To Henry’s surprise, Edison, who had always been interested in electric engines, told Henry he was on the right track with his gasoline powered engine. This encouragement propelled Ford further into his quest to build a full-blown gasoline engine automobile.
Dreams Cost Money
Henry finished his second automobile in 1898. This is when Henry realized in order to achieve his dream of gasoline-powered vehicles available for purchase by the average Joe, he would need financial support. His friend and mayor of Detroit, William C. Maybury, introduced Ford to some of the wealthiest individuals in the area. One such man was Detroit lumber merchant William H. Murphy. Ford took Mr. Murphy on a 60-mile ride in his gasoline-powered automobile. Murphy became a believer and offered to financially back plans for mass development of the vehicle.
Murphy and several of his wealthy friends joined Henry to form the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. The next year, the first Detroit Automobile Company delivery van took to the streets with much success. Stockholders wanted an increase in both number and variety of vehicles produced. Henry felt that producing the number of automobiles the stockholders wanted would mean a lack of quality work and the price would be too high to really attract buyers. The Detroit Automobile Company was dissolved and Henry went back to the drawing board.
Henry turned his attention to building a race car. He felt that building a winning race car would gain him the attention needed to get his auto manufacturing dream going. The racer, a 2 cylinder, 26 horsepower machine was finished in 1901. Ford raced the car against Alexander Winton and won. He received $1000 and more importantly, the notoriety and reputation as the builder of winning machines.
The backers of the Detroit Automobile Company formed the Henry Ford Company in late 1901. The stockholders of the Henry Ford Company wanted to focus on building a lightweight and affordable vehicle. The only problem was, Henry had caught the racing bug. He focused his attention on building fast racers, to the annoyance of the stockholders. Henry left the company in March of 1902. While he agreed to let the company keep his name, stockholders chose to rename the company the Cadillac Automobile Company.
Henry spent most of 1902 building racers. On October 25, 1902, Ford’s “999” model racer, a car that boasted 80 to 100 horsepower, won the Manufacturers’ Challenge Cup. This big win helped to give legitimacy to the Ford name when it came to building cars. It was around this time that Henry joined Alexander Malcomson to form the Ford and Malcomson Company, Ltd. The focus of this company was to build lightweight affordable automobiles. It was with this company that Henry realized the importance of outsourcing for smaller parts like tires, as well as frames for his vehicles.
Ford Motor Company is Born
Throughout 1902 and part of 1903, the fledgling Ford and Malcomson Company, Ltd struggled to pay their suppliers. A Detroit based lawyer named John W. Anderson bought enough stock in the company to keep it going. In June of 1903, at a meeting of stockholders, it was decided to officially rename the company “Ford Motor Company”. The stockholders transferred their holdings in Ford and Malcomson Company, Ltd in exchange for shares of Ford Motor Company stocks.
Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in 1908. Henry achieved his dream of offering an affordable automobile for the average consumer. The Model T went on to become a huge success. He understood the need for happy workers and a streamlined manufacturing process. Henry modernized the assembly line with the use of large production plants, interchangeable parts, and $5 an hour wages (that’s approximately $100 per hour today) for 8 hour work days.
With a little help from his friends, Henry changed manufacturing practices forever with his innovations in mass production and interchangeable parts. He saw the value in paying employees a fair wage and realized an 8-hour workday allowed for 3 shifts instead of the standard 9-hour, 2 shift work days. Ford’s innovations changed how Americans traveled, made workers’ lives better, and brought us the modern assembly line.