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Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Spirit of Innovation: Henry Ford(1863-1947)

    Henry Ford, who would later become one of America's best known and well respected innovators, inventors, and manufacturers of the 19th and 20th centuries, was born on July 30, 1863. He was the first of five children. His father was an Irish immigrant, and his mother was a descendant of Belgian immigrants. Both of his parents were farmers.

    Henry Ford went to school for a while, but he dropped out at fifteen to tend to the family farm. It was around this time that he earned a reputation as a watch repairman, dismantling and reassembling the timepieces of his neighbours and friends dozens of times. At sixteen, he left home to work as an apprentice machinist in Detroit, Michigan, for James F. Fowler & Brothers and shortly thereafter with the Detroit Dry Dock Company. After he worked three years, he returned home to work on the family farm, and became a skilled operator of the steam engine, a relatively new invention at the time. His skills with the steam engine landed him a job at Westinghouse, servicing their steam engines. When he was 25, he married Ms. Clara Bryant, with whom he had one child. To support himself, his wife, and his child, he farmed and ran a sawmill. In 1891, Henry Ford became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, and within two years he was promoted to the position of chief engineer.

    He was influenced by an article he read in World of Science about how German Engineer Nicholas Otto had built an internal combustion engine. After finding enough time and money to focus on his experiments with gasoline engines, Ford test drove his new invention, the Ford quadricycle, on June 4, 1896. He used the information from this and other test drives to find ways to perfect the quadricycle.It was around this time that Ford met Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, at a meeting of executives of the Edison Illuminating Company. Encouraged by Edison's approval of his automobile experiments, Ford went to work on a second vehicle, completed in 1898. Boosted by the backing of lumber baron William H. Murphy, Ford resigned his position at Edison. After he left Edison, Ford launched out on his own. He then founded the Detroit Automotive Company in 1899. The company didn't last long. It stalled out and was dissolved in 1901 because of Ford's displeasure with the lower quality and higher pricing of the automobiles. Later in 1901, Ford designed, built, and successfully raced a 26-horsepower automobile. On the heels of his latest triumph, Ford, William H. Murphy, and fellow stockholders formed the Henry Ford Company, naming Ford as the chief engineer. Upon Murphy's hiring of Henry M. Leland as a consultant, Ford left the company in 1902. The company was later renamed the "Cadillac Automotive Company." Shortly thereafter, with the backing of Alexander Y. Malcolmson, Ford produced the 80+ horsepower racer "999" that Barney Oldfield raced to victory that October.

    Ford and Malcolmsen later formed a partnership, naming their company 'Ford and Malcolmsen, Limited.' This company's function was to manufacture automobiles. They leased a factory and contracted with a machine shop owned by the Dodge brothers to supply over $160K in parts for an inexpensive automobile Ford was designing. In 1903, Ford & Malcolmsen re-incorporated as the 'Ford Motor Company.' Shortly thereafter, Ford experimented by driving his newly finished car out on the ice of Lake Saint Clair. He drove one mile in 39.4 seconds at a speed of 91.3 miles per hour. Buoyed by the success, Oldfield took the car around the country, thereby making the Ford brand well known throughout the United States.

    On October 1, 1908, Henry Ford introduced what would be his most famous invention, the Model T, which had the steering wheel on the left side. The engine and transmission were enclosed, the four cylinders were cast in solid block, and the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. At $825 per car, it was one of the cheapest cars on the market. By the 1920's, most Americans had learned to drive on the Model T. It was around this time that Ford decided to merge his latest business success with racing by entering stripped-down Model T's in races, winning an 'ocean-to-ocean' race in 1909 and setting a one-mile oval speed record at the Detroit Fairgrounds in 1911 with driver Frank Kulick. Later that year, he opened Ford Assembly plants in Britain and in Canada, and they became the biggest automotive producers in those countries, Boosted by the success of the new plants, in 1912, Ford cooperated with Agneli of Fiat to launch the first Italian automotive assembly plant. Sales of the Model T were sky-rocketing. For several years, Model T sales posted 100% gains over the sales of the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, Ford introduced moving assembly belts into his plants in 1913, enabling an upswing in production. Ford dropped out of racing that year after attempting to enter a re-worked Model T in the Indianapolis 500 and being told that he needed to add an extra 1,000 pounds to the car in order to qualify.

    On January 5, 1914, Ford stunned many business observers by offering his workers a $5 per day wage, which was more than double the rate of most workers. This move proved very profitable because instead of the constant turnover of workers, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing with them their money and their expertise. The result was raised productivity and lower training costs. The company's use of the vertical integration proved to be successful when built a big factory that used raw materials and shipped out automobiles. Sales for the Model T surpassed 250K in 1914, and by 1916, as prices fell to $360 per car, sales reached 470K.

    Henry Ford strongly opposed the United States' involvement in World War I, calling it a terrible waste. A group of pacifists curried favour with Ford and convinced him to fund a peace ship to Europe, Ford, his minister, and 170 pacifists travelled to Europe. To no avail, Ford had tried to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to give government aid to the mission. Subjected to much ridicule, he abandoned the mission upon docking in Sweden. Though he had opposed America's involvement in the war, to help in the war effort in Europe, Ford plants in Britain produced tractors to help increase the food supply. Upon the United States formally entering World War I in April, 1917, the company started producing weapons, anti-submarine boats, and liberty engines. By 1918, half of all American cars were Model T's. Also in 1918, President Wilson encouraged Ford to run for the Senate as a peace and pro-League of Nations candidate. Ford accepted, and lost by 4,500 votes out of 400K cast.

    In December, 1918, Ford turned over the Presidency of Ford Motor Company to his son, Edsel Ford. Henry still maintained authority over decisions, and sometimes he opposed his son's decisions. Henry Ford started another company, 'Henry Ford & Son,' and took his best workers over to see the new company, generating some publicity. The goal of taking workers to the new company was to scare remaining stockholders of the Ford Motor Company into selling their stakes to him before their values were lost. This tactic worked, and Henry and Edsel Ford purchased all remaining stock from the investors, thus giving the Ford family sole proprietorship of the company. The 1920's began with Ford opening plants in Australia, France, Germany, and India with the help and encouragement of Herbert Hoover and the US Commerce Department, who concurred with Ford that free trade was essential to world peace.

    After the end of World War I, Ford resumed auto manufacturing until 1925, when Ford acquired the Stout Metal Company, allowing him the opportunity to transition from manufacturing cars to manufacturing aeroplanes, a budding market in the "Roaring 20's." The new airline manufacturer was called the 'Ford Aeroplane Division.' Ford's most successful aeroplane to come from this was the Ford 4AT Tri-motor, also known as the "Tin Goose" because of its corrugated metal construction. The plane used a new alloy called 'aclad' that combined aluminum corrosion resistance with the strength of duralumin. The Tri-motor's trial run took place on June 11, 1926, and became the first successful United States passenger airliner, accommodating 12 passengers in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Before the Ford Aeroplane Division's dissolution in 1933 because of poor sales as a result of the 'Great Depression,' the company had produced about 200 Tri-motors. Around this time, sales of the Model T had stalled out.

    Ford was convinced it was time to produce a new model car. The result was the very successful Model A, introduced in December, 1927. It was in production until 1921, selling about 4 million cars. In 1928, Ford was awarded the Franklin Institute's ''Elliott Cresson Medal'' for his achievements. In 1929, Soviet Chancellor Joseph Stalin invited Ford to build a model plant at Gorky, Russia. Ford accepted, and he sent American engineers and technicians to the Soviet Union to help in building the plant.

    By 1932, Ford was manufacturing 1/3 of all the world's automobiles. Ford's image transfixed the Europeans, especially the Germans, who believed that "Fordism" represented something uniquely American. They believed that the size, tempo, standardization, and philosophy demonstrated by Ford as an international service, and something that positively reflected on the American way. When World War II broke out in 1941, the Ford Company lined up behind the war effort and focused exclusively upon mass production for it. One of the world's most successful aeroplanes to come from this was the B-24 Liberator Bomber.

  On May 26, 1943, at age 49, Edsel Ford died after a long bout with cancer. Upon his death, an ailing 79-year-old Henry Ford re-assumed the Presidency of the Ford Motor Company. By this time, Ford had suffered numerous cardiovascular illnesses and was mentally inconsistent, suspicious, and generally presumed to be unfit for such a job. In September, 1945, Ford, for the last time, ceded the Presidency to his grandson, Henry Ford II, and retired. The elder Ford died on April 7, 1947, aged 83, from a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Dearborn, Michigan. His funeral was held at Detroit's Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, and he was buried at the Ford Family Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.

    In 1965, the United States Postal Service honoured Ford with a prominent American series 12 cent postage stamp. In 1999, Ford was posthumously awarded the title of 'Car Entrepreneur of the Year.' According to Gallup Polling's 1999 end-of-the-century survey, Ford was among 18 people who were named "Widely Admired People of the 20th Century." He was indeed a deeply respected man.

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