Henry Ford has changed the way of life for many people, with his practical and affordable cars. The moving assembly line and mass production techniques that he invented, set the standard for worldwide industrial practice in the first half of the 20th Century.
The story begins in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan, on 30 July 1863, when Henry was the first-born of William and Mary Ford’s six children. Growing up on a prosperous family farm, he was educated in a one-room school, where he showed an early interest in all things mechanical. This interest would develop into true genius and earn him the accolade of ‘one of the greatest industrialists in the world’.
Henry Ford started young. By the age of 12, Henry was spending most of his spare time in a small machine shop, which he had equipped himself. It was here that he constructed his first steam engine, in 1878, aged 15. The next year he left home, bound for the nearby city of Detroit, to work as an apprentice machinist.
His apprenticeship lasted three years, then Henry returned home to Dearborn. During the next few years, Henry divided his time between operating and repairing steam engines, finding occasional work in a Detroit factory and overhauling his father's farm implements. The year 1888, saw a major change in his life, when he married Clara Bryant and began supporting his new family by running a sawmill.
It wasn’t long before he made another change and by 1891, Ford had become an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. Two years later, following his promotion to Chief Engineer, Ford had enough time and money to devote more attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines.
The culmination of his experiments was the building of a self-propelled vehicle – the Quadricycle – in 1896. The first Ford engine spluttered its way into history, on his wooden kitchen table at 58 Bagley Avenue and this was quickly followed by his next design, an engine mounted on a frame, fitted with four bicycle wheels – the first Ford car.
After resigning from Edison in 1898, Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company. Unfortunately, the company was forced into bankruptcy. But never one to be stopped by a setback, he designed and built several racing cars and drove the infamous ‘Sweepstakes’ to victory beating American Champion, Alexander Winton, on 10 October 1901.
The history of the car would be changed forever when the Ford Motor Company was incorporated, in 1903, with Henry Ford holding 25.5% of the stock and acting both as Vice President and Chief Engineer. At first only a few cars a day were produced at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue, Detroit, where two or three men worked on each car built from components made to order by other companies. The first car built by the company, was sold on 23 July 1903, and Henry became President before becoming the Controlling Owner three years later.
Henry Ford realised his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. This vehicle signalled a new era in personal transport – it was easy to operate, maintain and handle on rough roads and was an immediate success.
Things were advancing rapidly. 1919 saw Henry and his son, Edsel, acquire the interest of all minority stockholders for $105,568,858 and become the sole owners of the company. Edsel, who succeeded his father as President that year, continued to occupy the position up until his death in 1943, when Henry Ford returned to the driving seat of the company.
After resigning as president of Ford Motor Company for the second time during September 1945, Henry was succeeded by his grandson, Henry Ford II. In the following year, he was honoured at the American Automotive Golden Jubilee for his major contributions to the motor industry and later that year, the American Petroleum Institute also awarded him its first Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the welfare of humanity.
Henry Ford died at his home, in Fairlane in Dearborn, on 7 April 1947, at 11.40pm. He was 83. At the time of his death, the local Rouge River had flooded causing a local power cut. With kerosene lamps and candles lit, the scene must have been more reminiscent of his birth 83 years earlier.
Henry Ford designed his first moving assembly line in 1913, and revolutionised the manufacturing processes of his Ford Model T.
This assembly line, at the first Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan, became the benchmark for mass production methods around the world.
It was Henry's intention to produce the largest number of cars, to the simplest design, for the lowest possible cost. When car ownership was confined to the privileged few, Henry Ford's aim was to "put the world on wheels" and produce an affordable vehicle for the general public.
In the early days, Ford built cars the same way as everybody else – one at a time. The car sat on the ground throughout the build as mechanics and their support teams sourced parts and returned to the car to assemble it from the chassis upwards. To speed the process up, cars were then assembled on benches which were moved from one team of workers to the next. But this was not fast, as Ford still needed skilled labour teams to assemble the 'hand-built' car. So production levels were still low and the price of the car was higher to cover the costs of mechanics.
What was needed was automation. Henry and his engineers invented machines to make large quantities of the parts needed for the vehicle and devised methods of assembling the parts as fast as they were made. They were ready for the breakthrough.
To achieve Henry Ford’s goal of mass consumption through mass production, productivity needed to increase. At the Detroit factory in Michigan, workers were placed at appointed stations and the chassis was hauled along between them using strong rope. The chassis stopped at each station, where parts were fitted, until it was finally completed.
Henry Ford had built on the basic principles of early pioneers such as Elihu Root, who masterminded an assembly system for Samuel Colt, which divided the manufacturing process in order to simplify it.
He continued experimenting until every practice was refined, and his mass production vision became a reality.
Another initiative was to use interchangeable parts that could be put together easily by unskilled workers. The experiments continued with gravity slides and conveyors. Naturally, even the placement of men and tools was meticulously researched to ensure the production line ran as efficiently as possible.
Each department, in the manufacturing process was broken down into its constituent parts. These sub-assembly lines were set up in each area until, as Henry was heard to remark, "everything in the plant moved." As a result, production speeds increased – sometimes they were up to four times faster.
The ultimate step was the creation of the moving final assembly line. Starting with a bare chassis, it moved along the line and through each workstation until a complete car was driven off under its own power. An essential part of this process was that all feeder lines along the route were synchronised to supply the right parts, at the right time.
This combination of accuracy, continuity and speed introduced mass production to the world. At Highland Park, Model T production reached record levels, with a complete car leaving the line every 10 seconds of every working day. Ford was able to cut prices, double the minimum daily wage to $5, produce a superior product and still make a profit.
At this time, two million Model Ts were being produced by Ford each year and sold at just $260 – a very affordable price for its time.
The Model T started a rural revolution. The $5 day wage and the philosophy behind it, started a social revolution. The moving assembly line started an industrial revolution.
As a global company, it is important for us to have a set of standards by which we can judge ourselves - and others can judge us too.
We call them ‘our vision’, ‘our mission’ and ‘our values’.
Our vision: to become the world's leading company for automotive products and services.
Our mission: we are a globally diverse family, with a proud heritage, that is passionately committed to providing outstanding products and services.
Our values: we do the right thing for our people, our environment and our society, but above all for our customers.
We want our customers to enjoy driving a Ford. So, to help customers who suffer with dust and pollen allergies, our engineers have designed a sophisticated filter that reduces pollen and dust in the car.
It is just one of the many award-winning ways we design our vehicles to help our customers feel totally comfortable.
Ford has received official allergy friendly accreditation for its range of cars including the Fiesta, Focus, and the Mondeo. The accreditation has been provided by the German standards authority TUV following a series of rigorous tests, assuring that all interiors of Ford cars minimise the allergy risk to the lowest possible level. The Ford range of allergy-friendly cars has also received the official approval from the British Allergy Foundation and the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF).
We hope you will never have to experience many of the safety related technological developments in our cars. However, it is reassuring to know that we engineer our vehicles to be some of the safest on the road.
We have long believed in working with people in every country in which we operate. And we will continue to support many initiatives and institutions that enhance and improve opportunities for those who live in those communities.