Everyone knows, and some most likely own, a Ford Motor’s car. The cars we drive today, whether they are a Toyota or Mercedes, were inspired by an American innovator named Henry Ford. He pioneered the internal combustion engine and perfected the body of the first car, the Model T. He wanted to make money but also wanted what was once a luxury item to be available to everyone. Not only did he reinvent the way we commute, but he transformed the middle class, the living wage, and the working conditions of his own workers. His legacy reaches far beyond the car.
Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 in Dearborn, Michigan. His parents owned a farm but, according to Michigan State University, Henry was more into all things mechanical than he was when it came to helping with farm work. When Henry turned 16 years old, he went to Detroit to become an apprentice mechanic.
In 1891, he became an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company and also worked at Westinghouse Engine Company, as recorded by the Library of Congress. With both jobs, he was able to afford to tinker with an internal combustion engine. This would eventually lead to his first horseless carriage in 1896. In order to improve the model, he eventually sold it to afford more experiments.
In 1903, he incorporated Ford Motor Company and proclaimed that he would “build a car for the great multitudes.” He accomplished this by 1908 and called the first car a Model T. It sold for $850. The Model T would eventually drop in price to $260. Fifteen million of them were sold in America. The Motor Age was born, with cars evolving from a luxury item to an item any ordinary man would need.
His plant was the first to incorporate the assembly line in 1913, which cut costs and made the car more affordable. Henry Ford also increased the pay of his workers from $2.50 an hour to $5.00 an hour. However, those who wanted the increase would have to go through exhaustive home, hygiene, and work audits. He later donated to many charities and established the Ford Foundation which gives grants to research, education, and development.
To learn more, visit:
- Eastern Illinois University: Henry Ford and his automobiles
- PBS: Henry Ford
- National Museum of American History: The lesser known side of Henry Ford
Since Henry Ford was a greatly popular and well-known figure, he has been known for his multitude of quotes on education, development, and business:
“I will build a motorcar for the great multitude…constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise…so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
You can read more quotes by Henry Ford at The Henry Ford website.
“Methods of self-help are numerous, and great numbers of people have made the stimulating discovery that they need not depend on employers to find work for them, they can find work for themselves. I have more definitely in mind those who have not yet made that discovery, and I should like to express certain convictions I have tested.”
University of Michigan: Henry Ford Quotes
“…and out of the delusion that life is a battle that may be lost by a false move grows, I have noticed, a great love for regularity. Men fall into a half-alive habit. Seldom does the cobbler take up with a new-fangled way of soling shoes and seldom does the artisan willingly take up with new methods in his trade. Habit conduces to a certain inertia, and any disturbance of it affects the mind like trouble. It will be recalled that when a study was made of shop methods so that workmen might be taught to produce with less useless motion and fatigue, it was most opposed by the workmen themselves. Though they suspected that it was simply a game to get more out of them.”
Gutenberg Press: My life and work
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Harvard University: Success failure project
Even though Henry Ford is no longer with us, his genius and inventions live on and continue to permeate our everyday lives. He envisioned a product that would assist ordinary people and still be affordable. The American way of life changed because of him, according to the Henry Ford Heritage Association. His life was lived through many dramatic changes, such as the Civil War, World War II, going from candlelight to electric light, and with his creation, from horse carriage to the automobile.
He created the American consumer ethic and is credited with creating the American middle class. He made automobiles affordable to everyone due to his implementing the assembly line, where workers stood in one place as parts rolled by to be worked on. He introduced a living wage which allowed his workers to purchase the products they were building. He also gave working opportunities to women, the blind, and physically disabled veterans.
Due to many people owning and driving the new Model T, gas stations began to replace the horse feed stations. Motels and restaurants also began to pop up along roads as more people took long car trips across states and the country.
If you would like to read more about Henry Ford and how he has impacted America and the world, have a look at the links below:
- Learning to Give: Henry Ford
- GPB News: Henry and Clara Ford’s little-known legacy
- Explore Georgia: Celebrating the Ford legacy in Georgia
- Indiana University-Purdue University: Sustaining Henry Ford’s philanthropic legacy
There is much information about Henry Ford, his life, and the people he inspired. Visit the links below to learn more about this great American innovator:
America’s Library discusses the Henry Ford museum: Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
American Historama also has information about the innovator: Henry Ford and his Model T.
The Fact File offers a list of information: Henry Ford facts.
NPR has an easy to read timeline on Henry Ford’s successes: A timeline of Ford Motor company.
The Saturday Evening Post discusses Ford and the minimum wage: Ford doubles minimum wage.
The World History Project is also a useful source of information: Ford Motor company.