Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, is one of the most important businessmen in history. His ideas and vision enabled him to revolutionize the automotive industry and pioneer the use of chain production.
He became one of the richest men in the United States and throughout his life, he registered 161 patents. He was an entrepreneur with a global vision, even though his education was quite precarious.
Henry Ford was born in July 1863 on a farm to a poor family in a rural town west of Dearborn – Michigan.
From a very young age, Ford felt a great attraction for machines.
During the summer of 1873, Henry saw a self-propelled machine for the first time; a stationary steam engine that could be used for agricultural activities. The operator, Fred Reden, had mounted it on top of wheels to which he had connected by a chain. Henry was fascinated with the machine and Reden, for the next year taught the young man how to start and operate the engine. Ford later said that it was this experience that taught him that he was instinctively an engineer.
A few years later, the teenage Ford learned to fix watches, and at age 15 he built a great reputation in his area, repairing dozens of watches for his neighbors.
In the year 1876, the death of Ford’s mother was a devastating blow for him, but it would be one of the reasons why the boy decided to move away from agricultural activities. His father hoped that Henry would eventually take over the family farm, but he hated that job.
In the following years, the young Henry Ford obtained various machine-related jobs. He saw every job as an opportunity to learn, and when he felt like he could learn more elsewhere, he didn’t hesitate to look for a new job.
Ford’s first major car company
After his time as an apprentice in the industrial sector, Ford decided to launch his first business project.
With the help of a team of friends, he made automotive experiments that culminated in 1896 with the realization of his first self-propelled vehicle, the “Quadricycle”. It had four wire wheels that looked like a bicycle, it steered with a ship’s rudder and only used two wheels for reverse.
A second car arrived in 1898 and Henry convinced a group of businessmen to support him in the most important undertaking of his life: a company to manufacture and sell it. But he knew little about business management, and that led to the failure of his first two companies.
Ford Motor Company
In 1903, armed with great determination and with the experience gained in his 2 previous projects, Henry started the Ford Motor Company, a company founded together with 11 other investors and with an initial investment of US $ 28,000.
The first car of the new company, called “Model A”, was followed by a variety of improved models that could be sold at low prices. Ford then had a vision that would revolutionize the industry: that of a car “for the great crowd.” Under this premise, the construction of the “Model T” began, which would be launched on the market on October 1, 1908, and featured a large number of innovations; for example, it had the steering wheel on the left, this being something that the great majority of the other companies soon copied.
The entire engine and transmission were enclosed, the four cylinders were embedded in a solid block, and the suspension was powered by two semi-elliptical springs. The car was very easy to drive and, more importantly, very cheap and easy to repair.
In 1910 the company moved to a huge new plant in Highland Park, Michigan, north of Detroit; There the Ford Motor Company began a relentless campaign to increase production and reduce costs, and by the end of 1913 an automobile assembly line was unprecedented in human history had been developed.
But the workers didn’t like the repetitive work on the new line very much; the volume of the business was so high that the company was involved in a serious problem of high employee turnover, to which Henry responded with a daring decision: an increase of more than double the average salary of a factory worker for the time.
The salary went from about two dollars a day to five dollars. With a stroke of the pen, the workforce stabilized, at the same time that the sales of the “Model T” increased, since it allowed its employees to buy them on time. By 1918, half of the cars in the United States were the “Model T”.
In 1919, tired of the “meddling” of the other investors in his company, Ford bought all of his shares and became the sole owner of the world’s largest auto company.
However, success had convinced him of the superiority of his own intuition, which led him to believe that the “Model T” was the car most people wanted, so he ignored the growing popularity of cars. more expensive, but more elegant and comfortable like the Chevrolet, and he did not listen to his executives when they told him it was time for a new model.
In the late 1920s, even Henry himself couldn’t ignore the declining sales figures. In 1927, he reluctantly shut down the “Model T” assembly lines and began designing a new car.
All steps in the manufacturing process from refining raw materials to final assembly took place in the large Rouge Plant. Over time, this would become the largest factory in the world, because not only cars were produced, but also the steel, glass, tires, and other components that were used in them.
In 1932, at the age of 69, Ford introduced his last great automotive innovation in life: the cheap and light “V8 Engine”. An engine that, although initially, it seemed impossible to manufacture, thanks to Ford’s persistence, was finally materialized by its engineers.
Henry Ford also made important contributions to the aviation industry. The “Ford Airport” in Dearborn was one of the best in the world when it opened in 1925, and the nearby “Dearborn Inn” was one of the first hotel airports in the country.
Some Ford advancements in radio navigation have made flying safer for everyone today; although none of his aviation companies were profitable and all of them ceased to exist in 1932. The Great Depression of 1929 forced him to focus on his automobile business, and aeronautical technology was changing too fast for his assembly line techniques.
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, nor did he invent the assembly line, but he was a visionary who redefined the automotive industry. These are some of his contributions to the business world:
- He was the promoter of the mass or chain production mode, known as Fordism.
- He was a pioneer of the welfare state through the consumer society. It sought to improve the standard of living of its workers and reduce their turnover.
- He promoted administrative models in which the bureaucracy was separated from the industrial function within the company.
- He challenged the status quo of the world of work at the time, implementing the 40-hour workweek and significantly increasing the salary of his workers.
Although many of these Ford innovations were criticized and questioned at the time, they would later become the benchmark for other entrepreneurs of the time.
In contrast to his tremendous business success, Ford had a dark side, using his power and money to spread anti-Semitic messages that inspired far-right movements such as Nazism in Germany. In addition, he is accused of having supported and financed Adolf Hitler to get his ideas into action.
In conclusion, Henry Ford was a visionary, revolutionary and powerful man who, with his lights and shadows, marked a before and after in his passage through this world. His contribution to the business world opened the way to a new era, massifying industrial production and building a legacy that would transcend through time.
Ford died on April 7, 1947, at the age of 83, but his name would be written in history forever.