Henry Ford
July 30, 1863-April 7, 1947

Image found on IncWell.com - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Personal Life
Henry Ford was the oldest of William and Mary Ford’s six children. His parents were Irish immigrants who lived in Springwells Township, Michigan, and he grew up on his family’s farm in Dearborn, Michigan. Each day, he would attend school in a one-room school house and then return home to help with the farm (The Life). He was very close to his mother until she died in child birth when Ford was only twelve. From an early age, Ford hated farm chores such as caring for the animals. However, he loved to fix broken machinery and invent devices that could make farm life easier (Mitchell). In 1879, when Ford was sixteen years old, he dropped out of school to gain hands on experience with mechanics and found work in Detroit, Michigan as an apprentice machinist (The Life). In 1885, Ford met Clara Jane Bryant, and they married in 1888. On November 6, 1893, their only child, Edsel Bryant Ford, was born. Beginning in 1927, Ford suffered several strokes. On April 7, 1947, Henry Ford died of a cerebral hemorrhage (Mitchell).

Henry Ford and his son, Edsel (Vandivert)

All Henry Ford’s life, his greatest goal was to create a car that the working class could afford. Beginning in 1890, Ford worked on building an internal combustion engine that ran off of gasoline. The engine was light weight and small, and Ford believed it would work well for powering a car. However, it required electricity, which Ford did not fully understand. In order to increase his knowledge, Ford took a job tending a steam generator at the Edison Electric Illuminating Company, which provided electricity for homes and street lamps in Detroit. Shortly after, he became chief engineer of the company, and used his spare time to build his own car, a gas-powered vehicle, which he finished on July 4, 1896. The “quadricyle,” although not the first gas-powered car to be invented, brought Ford one step closer to building a car for the masses. On August 15, 1899, Ford quit his job at the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. He then attempted to enter the automobile business after the success of his first car. Between 1899 and 1902 Ford worked at two automobile companies that failed due to final decisions by investors. These companies produced high priced cars that could only be purchased by the extremely wealthy, but Ford wanted to produce a quality vehicle that the working class could afford. In order to gain support in building the car he envisioned Ford began racing cars to increase his publicity and respect. Through racing, he gained the financial backing of Alexander Malcomson. With Malcomson’s support, Ford Motor Company became incorporated on June 16, 1903 (Mitchell).

Ford Motor Company
Beginning his company in 1901, and after needing additional capital and reopening in 1903, Ford introduced a successful cheap car known as the Model A. In total, 1,750 Model A cars were made and each sold for $850. In 1904, the Model C was produced, and 800 cars were sold. The famous Model T was introduced in 1908 and was an immediate success. Henry Ford’s theory was to build simple, cheap cars, thereby allowing everyone to own one. The Model T had only 5,000 parts (including every nut). This legend of a car faced competition in the 1920s because it only came in one color: black. Henry Ford said: “Customers can have it painted any color they want as long as it’s black” (Time). In 1913, the introduction of the moving assembly line was put into use at the Highland Park plant in Michigan. This allowed for more cars to be made each day as employees simply waited for the car pieces to move by their station. By 1919, complete control of the Ford Motor Company was held by the Ford family. During this same year, Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, became president of the company. Henry and Edsel shared different views and opinions, since Henry demanded they only sell black cars (Tycoons). In 1925, Ford picked up the Lincoln Motor Company. Then, in 1927, the Ford Company replaced the Model T with a second car, named the Model A after the original model in 1903. This car offered four color options, and subsequently became extremely popular. By 1931, Ford’s company celebrated the production of its 20 millionth car. After Edsel died in 1943, Henry Ford assumed the role of president again. Two years after, in 1945, Henry resigned after World War II and Edsel’s son, Henry ford II took over his grandfather’s position. After the death of Henry Ford in 1947, the Ford family continued to make cars that were affordable. Throughout the 1950s, Ford Company produced the Thunderbird (1954) and the ill-fated Edsel, which was not as successful (American Business History). In 1964, the famous Mustang hit the market, selling over two million units within the first two years. Ford Company later went on to purchase “Volvo of Sweden and Jaguar, Rover, and Aston Martin of Britain” (American Business History). Through economic hardships, the company supplied the world with their “Ford idea” and cars, as well as paying employees a minimum of $5 per eight hour work day. This rise in wages blew other competitors out of the water with comparison to their $1.50 per work day.

Model T (Ford Model)

Ford’s Political Views
Henry Ford was a pacifist and in 1915, he financed an effort to help end World War I. He joined a peace activists group whose goal was to convince the countries to resolve their problems without violence. Despite Ford’s anti-war views, the Ford Motor Company produced trucks, ambulances, cars and airplane engines to aid the war efforts. By 1945, the Ford plants had built 278,000 jeeps, 8,800 bombers, and 57,000 airplane engines (Time). In 1918, Ford ran as a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate but was unsuccessful. That same year, Henry Ford purchased a newspaper called The Dearborn Independent (Mitchell). He bought the newspaper to publicize his political views as well as “publish a ninety-issue series of anti-Semitic articles blaming the Jews for the ills of the world, including a reprint of the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (Tycoons). He was then sued for libel by a Jewish Chicago lawyer and wrote an apology in 1927. That same year, Henry Ford closed his newspaper.

Commitment to Helping Others
Henry Ford’s motto was “Help the Other Fellow”. However, he believed that people should not simply be handed aid because this decreased productivity and self-reliance. In 1915, he created the Henry Ford Hospital, which charged low fees to all patients so that everyone could receive proper care. Although Ford’s education ended at sixth grade, he believed that education was important. In 1916, he created the Henry Ford Trade School and the Edison Institute school system, where students could attend without paying tuition. In order to preserve history, in 1929 Ford created the Edison Institute of Technology, which would later be known as The Henry Ford. Also, in 1936 the Ford Foundation began with the purpose of funding charitable, international scientific and educational projects.


July 30, 1863: Born in Greenfield Township, Michigan

1879: Leaves school and family to work in machine shops

1888: Marries Clara Bryant

1891: Begins working for Edison Illuminating Company

1893: Son, Edsel Bryant Ford, is born

1896: Finishes his first automobile, called the Quadricycle

1899: Quits Edison Illuminating Company, works at two different automobile companies that go bankrupt

1903: Ford Motor Company becomes incorporated, begin marketing Model A

1904: Ford Motor Company begins producing Model C

1908: Ford Motor Company begins producing the famous Model T

1913: Introduces first automobile assembly line

1914: Improves working conditions and pay for Ford Motor Company’s workers
Start of World War I

1918: Runs for U.S. Senate but is not elected
End of World War I

1919: Son, Edsel B. Ford, takes over as president of Ford Motor Company

1921: Ford Motor Company produces 55% of cars

1927: Model T replaced with a second Model A

1943: Son dies

1947: Henry Ford dies, age 83

We chose Henry Ford for our engineering project because he revolutionized transportation in the United States by producing a car that the average person could afford. Since he first saw a motorized vehicle when he was thirteen years old, Ford’s greatest goal in life was to create a car that anyone could afford, and devoted his life to achieving this goal. Through hands on experience building and repairing machines, he gained knowledge of physics and electricity that enabled him to develop his car. As a result of Ford’s development of an affordable car, cars have become an essential part of the American lifestyle. On average, there are 2.28 vehicles per American household. Without this invention, many students would not be able to attend Moses Brown while living in their current home due to the time it would take to travel to Moses Brown without a car. In addition, we would not be able to easily visit far away places or have foods that must be transported from across the country. Thus, Henry Ford’s invention of an affordable car is an integral part of the life of almost everyone in America.

Helpful Links
Ford Motor Company: http://www.ford.com/

Henry Ford Museum: http://www.thehenryford.org/museum/index.aspx

Time Magazine Article: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989769-1,00.html

Books About Henry Ford
A history of The Henry Ford: Telling America's Story. Dearborn, MI: The Henry Ford, 2009.

Bak, Richard. Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, his Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003. NY: Viking, 2003.

Casey, Robert. The Model T: A Centennial History. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Head, Jeanine and William S. Pretzer. Henry Ford: A Pictorial Biography. Dearborn, MI: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Villiage, 1998.

Nevins, Allen and Frank Ernest Hill. Ford: The Times, the Man, the Company. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954.

Watts, Steven. The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

“Ford.” Great People of the 20th Century. New York: Time, 1996. 110-13. Print.

“Ford, Henry.” Tycoons and Entrepreneurs. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1998. 49-51. Print.

Ford Model T. Photograph. Get Online Car. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.

Geisst, Charles R. Encyclopedia of American Business History. Vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, 2006. 167-68. Print.

Henry Ford, Age 2 1/2. 1865. Photograph. A Michigan Family Attraction: The Henry Ford. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.

Mitchell, Don, and Lee A. Iacocca. Driven: a Photobiography of Henry Ford. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010. Print.

“The Life of Henry Ford.” A Michigan Family Attraction : The Henry Ford. The Henry Ford. Web. 23 Sept. 2011.

Quadricycle. Photograph. Uncommon Descendent. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.

Vandivert, William. Henry Ford And Edsel Ford. 1942. Photograph. Life. Life Magazine. Web. 25 Sept. 2011.