Automobile Engineer; Inventor of the Model T
Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan. From 1879 to 1882 he worked at machine shops in Detroit, where he was exposed to the internalcombustion engine for the first time. In the 1880s he worked as an engineer and in his spare time pursued his dream of building an automobile.
Ford built his first gasolinepowered engine in 1893 and his first “horseless carriage” (as automobiles were called) in 1896. In the seven years that followed he built several racing cars that broke speed records. During this period he continually disappointed financiers who invested in his innovations: they wanted an automobile to market to the consumer, but Ford insisted that each new automobile he built needed incremental improvements before it would be ready for consumer use.
Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, with the goal of making automobiles safe and affordable for the general public. In 1908 Ford realized his goal: he introduced the Model T, of which more than 15 million were sold during 19 years of its production. The Model T, a 20horsepower vehicle with two forward gears and one reverse` was built to be sturdy and easy to drive and maintain. The early models were started by crank, but in 1912 Ford offered electric starting as an option.
By 1913 Ford had introduced standardized interchangeable parts and the assembly line, with highly specialized divisions of labor, into his factories. In production the automobile moved down an assembly line along which each worker carried out one specific task, adding a component or solidifying the construction in some way. These practices, rare in industry at that time, lowered costs and improved output. In 1914 Ford increased his employees’ wages to $5 per day; double the industry standard, and shortened their workday from nine to eight hours. These benefits curtailed employeeturnover rates and made Ford a national celebrity.
By 1927 Ford had begun utilizing a crossstate manufacturing assembly line. He owned all the means of production of the Model T, including coal mines, foundries, stamping mills, glassworks, and automobile factories.
When the Model T’s popularity started to wane, Ford introduced the Model A in 1927, but by 1932, the Ford Motor Company was being outsold by General Motors and Chrysler.
Ford died in Dearborn on April 7, 1947, and his vast holdings went to the Ford Foundation, a nonprofit organization he had set up to retain family control over the company.
Henry Ford’s Legacy
Ford was a key player in initiating the movement of people in the United States from rural to urban surroundings and in creating the cardominated culture of the modern world. His introduction of the assembly line helped to revolutionize industrial practices in the United States.
The success of the Model T made the automobile a commonly owned means of transportation. It was affordable to the general public and enjoyed wide sales. It also led other manufacturers to focus on the middleclass market, which resulted in General Motors’s Chevrolet and Chrysler’s Plymouth.
The spreading popularity of automobiles changed the face of agriculture and increased the size of cities. The horsedrawn carriage quickly disappeared, and land that had formerly been used to grow hay was available for other uses. Cars also made people more mobile, allowing them to travel to new places and settle in distant cities, where they were exposed to new ideas and learned new skills.
Automobiles led to demand for paved roads and highway systems. They also helped to shape many modern U.S. cities, which have stretched out in vast urban sprawls in recent decades.
The success of the automobile industry has also led to a rapid consumption of fossilfuel resources and an increase in pollution. Oil reserves have been exploited to keep up with the demands of transportation, and automobile emissions represent a large proportion of the air pollution that damages the environment and human health.
Henry Ford’s use of the assembly line, interchangeable parts, and division of labor spread quickly to other industries and helped to increase productivity and efficiency of the U.S. manufacturing processes: Today; the assembly line is still used even though modern management techniques try to emphasize a team approach to manufacturing, especially in the auto industry.
Henry Ford – 1863-1947