February 5, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Henry Ford

Henry Ford grew up on his father's farm along the River Rogue outside Detroit. William Ford had fled the potato famine in Ireland in 1847 and Henry came along in 1863, his first son. Henry toiled at his chores but it wasn't long before he realized he was more interested in the tools he was working with than the soil he was working.

Ford finished school at 16 and left for the city. His first job at Michigan Car Works lasted only six days but he soon hired on as a machinist's apprentice. At night he repaired watches for a jeweler. When his apprenticeship ended Ford returned to Dearborn and set up a sawmill on 80 acres of land borrowed from his father.

Ford married in 1888 and set about farming and repairing steam engines. Three years later he returned to Detroit and began work with the Edison Illuminating Company furnishing electricity to the city. He was soon chief engineer.

In 1893 Ford visited the Chicago World's Fair and familiarized himself with the wondrous exhibits of internal combustion gas engines and horseless carriages. When he returned Ford resumed his mechanical tinkering - only this time with gas engines instead of steam.

Newspapers started carrying tales of strange "horseless wagons" in the French countryside. In 1895 three of the "horseless wagons" arrived in New York and Ford travelled east to see them. Later that year the Chicago Times-Herald announced a $5000 race for the new contraptions. Only four cars were ready on the big day and only two got away from the starting line - a Duryea and a Benz. The Benz won. Ford left the race in awe - and with some new intake valves for his experiments.

By the spring of 1896 Ford had built his own horseless carriage. William H. Murphy, a prominent Detroit businessman, heard of Henry Ford's motor car and saw it as a chance to get into the exciting new business of racing cars. They formed the Detroit Automobile Company with Henry Ford abandoning his lucrative job at Edison Illuminating to work full-time as chief engineer.

Sixty-eight thousand dollars later there were no cars in production. Ford left and went to work on his own racer. In 1901 Ford challenged Alexander Winton and his world champion "Bullet" at Grosse Pointe race track outside Detroit. Three cars lined up for the ten-mile race but only Ford and Winton left the line. Winton led Ford for 8 miles but sputtered badly as the Ford racer puttered past. Newspapers the next day anointed Ford as "top rank of American chauffeurs."

Racing was the way to sell cars in the early 1900s. Motor cars were the exclusive province of sportsmen and the very wealthy. In November of 1901 the Henry Ford Company was organized to manufacture automobiles but the venture was short-lived. Four months later Ford was making racers on his own again. He developed the "999" and hired bicycle champion Barney Oldfield to drive. This time the Ford car led wire-to-wire in the 10-mile Manufacturers Challenge Cup Race at Grosse Pointe, winning by more than a mile.

In 1903 Ford and eleven others pooled $28,000 to start the Ford Motor Company. Their early Model A sold for $950 as its makers touted the new car as "Boss of the Road." Its' two cylinders powered it to 30 mph. At the end of the first year Ford had sold over 1700 Model A motor cars. Some stockholders cashed in on the quick profits and Ford became majority owner.

Other models were designed and some appeared on the streets until October 1908 the Model T was introduced with the boast, "We can devote all our time and money to taking care of the orders for the car that people have actually been waiting for - a family car at an honest price." The Model T featured a new and 'get-at-able" engine for owners who mostly repaired their own cars.

Ford's secret was simple design, the latest machinery, and standardized parts. Most importantly he made the entire automobile in his own factories. He introduced the assembly line in 1914 with cars rolling by on a floor conveyor. By 1915 Ford had put a million Model T cars on the road and was building a new one from scratch every 90 minutes.

Every advance in manufacturing brought the price lower. Ford constructed a mammoth industrial complex on thousands of acres along the River Rogue the likes of which had never before been seen. By 1925 Ford had built 14 million Model T cars and was producing 10,000 new cars a day. But Ford realized that increased competition would soon mean the end of the legendary Model T.

He completely shut down the River Rogue plant and the world waited for his next move. His retooled factory geared up for a new Model A with gear shift, four-wheel brakes, and foot throttle. Attendance records were shattered everywhere the car was introduced. There were five million Model A cars in service by 1932.

Outside the auto business Ford assembled a massive collection of everyday objects he assembled as "the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used." He often sent buyers out to purchase entire estates for his Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Ford died at his Dearborn home in 1947 at the age of 83, a true king of industry.

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