Henry Ford

The methods Ford used to make and sell cars revolutionized American manufacturing and marketing. Consumer mobility provided by his cars and the increase of leisure time provided by his farm machinery helped create suburban sprawl and spawned roadside eateries, motels, and other consumer-oriented enterprises.

Henry Ford’s early life was spent on the family farm in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford became obsessed with machinery and ways to use it to improve people’s lives. At the age of twenty-four, he married Clara Bryant, who became a major force in his business successes by acting as a sounding board and consultant, and the couple moved to Detroit to pursue his goals.Ford, Henry

Henry Ford.

(Library of Congress)

The bicycle had become extremely popular during the late nineteenth century. Ford was disappointed that his motorized bicycle was not the first and became determined to make the fastest and most streamlined gasoline-powered version. Ford’s quadricycle, his first “Automotive industryautomobile,” hit the Detroit streets in 1896. Soon after, and with substantial backing, Ford started a car company that produced a domestic road model in 1903, and the successful Ford Motor CompanyFord Motor Company was born. The Ford Model TFord Model T, the most successful car in automotive history, was introduced to an enthralled public in 1908.

Intended to appeal to the masses rather than the wealthy, most Ford automobiles were sturdy, affordable, and of simple design. Ford created and produced cars for average people and provided the first nationally known Installment plansinstallment payment plan to make cars even more affordable, while increasing his company’s sales and name recognition.

Ford cars were soon in huge demand, which could be satisfied only by Mass productionmass production and speedy delivery to dealers. To ensure that his company always had parts in stock, Ford bought raw materials, such as iron ore, copper, and sand (used to make glass for car windows), and made parts for assembling cars on-site. This practice obviated dependence on suppliers and made Ford Motor Company largely self-sufficient. Ford revolutionized industrial standards by perfecting integrated Assembly-line productionassembly-line production. Previously, a product was stationary while the factory worker moved around it attaching parts; in Ford’s factories, the product moved along a line of workers who remained stationary. When the tedium of this practice caused a large workforce turnover, Ford raised worker income to a minimum of five dollars a day and lessened work hours from nine to eight–at the time, these were shockingly good wages and hours in American industry. As a result, the cost of living for all Detroit citizens increased dramatically; Ford assisted his employees by providing company stores stocked with excellent quality goods and foods at prices well below those of public stores. He also assisted his employees in acquiring good housing near his factories, facilitating the rise of Detroit suburbs.

In addition to cars, Ford also designed and built farm machinery and airplanes that were widely used by both private and military operations. Ford’s personal and business style affected American business in the realms of workforce and labor policies and had a far-reaching impact on governmental regulation of industry.

Further Reading

  • Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
  • Ford, Henry. My Life and Work. 1922. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1973.
  • Marquis, Samuel S. Henry Ford: An Interpretation. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2007.

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Ford Model T

Ford Motor Company

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American Industrial Revolution