Henry Ford is an industrialist, inventor, and businessman whose inventions have profoundly shaped the 20th century and will probably spill into more centuries to come. From an early age, Ford showed an apt interest and knack in mechanics and engineering.
His curiosity about how machines work saw him forgo an opportunity to work on his family farm for an apprenticeship as a machinist.
Thanks to his curiosity, Ford was able to invent the Ford line of automobiles, significantly lowering the cost of owning automobiles, and even leaped to try and colonize the airspace (read Elon Musk’s inspiring space ambition).
Like J.P. Morgan, Ford tried to monopolize his line of business by buying off shareholders with stakes in businesses he had an interest in.
Most biographers have painted Ford as very conservative with strict family morals, which he expected all his employees to uphold. He has also been described as a very rigid man who took a relatively long time to adopt change.
Today we delve into Ford’s contribution to the revolution of automobiles, his family, upbringing, net worth, failures, and a few of his powerful quotes. Let’s start with his biofacts;
Henry Ford’s Bio Facts
Full Name: Henry Ford
Birth Date: July 30, 1863 (D. 1947)
Birth Place: Springwells Township, Michigan, USA
Nick Name: Ford
Siblings: Margaret Ford (1867–1868), Jane Ford (1868–1945), William Ford (1871–1917), and Robert Ford (1873–1934).
Children: Edsel Ford
Partner /Spouse: Clara Jane Bryant (1866–1950)
Profession: Businessman, Inventor, and Industrialist
Net Worth: $200 billion
Last Updated: August 2021
Companies Associated With Ford Motor Company
Henry Ford’s Key Facts
- Ford started by repairing watches.
- His Model T generated profits that bankrolled the construction of his new plant.
- He revolutionized mass production with his techniques.
- His first two companies were a flop.
- He was the first industrialist of his time to pay $5, up from $2.34.
- He created the first assembly line.
- He published biased content against Jews.
- Ford has more than 160 patents.
- He was a conservative.
- His company was never audited under his tenure.
- Was against the adoption of technology (see technological revolution Steve Jobs and Bill gates brought)
- Was promoted to chief engineer at age 20.
- His last breath is preserved in a Museum.
- Appealed and won against a selfish Automotive Manufacturers association.
- His Invention held the record as the highest model ever produced for 45 years.
- Competed and lost a senatorial seat.
- He is the only American Hitler talks of favorably.
- Ford accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938.
Henry Ford’s Birthplace and Early Life
Henry Ford is the eldest of five children born to prosperous Dearborn, Michigan farmers who migrated from Ireland and settled on a farm in Wayne County. He was born on July 30, 1863, in Springwells Township, Michigan, located nine miles outside of Detroit.
His interest in mechanics was spurred when his father gifted him with a watch on his 12th birthday.
The young Ford carefully took it apart and reassembled it again. The success with the timepiece saw the young ford build and equip a small shop in his father’s farm, where he spent most of his time. His continued interest had him gain more and more insights into the intricate functioning of watches.
As he grew more accustomed to watches, he felt confident enough to repair more timepieces from neighbors. By the time he turned 15, his fame as an impressive repairman was unrivaled within his home area.
At around this time, 1876, Ford’s mother passed on, leaving Ford lost and devastated. The daily chores of fun-filled days on the farm suddenly became long and gloomy.
Unknown to his father, Ford despised working on the farm and only went to relish the company of his mother.
He could later say, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved.”
Soon after this defining moment in his life, Ford, only age 16 by then, left for Detroit to try his luck as an apprentice for three years.
Apprentice in Detroit
His first stop after arriving in Detroit in 1879 was at James and F. Flower and Brothers. Here, he started as a Machinist’s apprentice, shaping brass valves on a milling machine and earning $2.50 a week. He would later shift to Detroit Dry Dock Company, another plant within the same town where he first interacted with an internal combustion engine.
After completing his apprenticeship, Ford returned to his home in Dearborn County in 1882. He set up a small machine shop and perfected his art as a skillful Westinghouse Steam Engine operator.
The newly acquired skills had him secure a part-time job with Westinghouse to service their steam engines periodically. He also held brief stints working in different automobile-related factories on top of training as a bookkeeper.
To supplement the income from the different stints, he repaired and serviced tractors for farmers and cut and sold timber from his father’s 40-acre farm.
His first success with locomotives came in a small “farm locomotive” that he built from his machine shop. The steam engine-powered tractor used the chassis of their old mowing machine.
During this time, Ford saw no need to experiment with electricity as he couldn’t afford more suited battery storage by then. He also realized that steam wasn’t a viable option for light vehicles as “the boiler was dangerous.”
His efforts paid again in 1885 after he managed to repair an Otto Engine, then successfully build a four-cycle model with a one-inch bore and a three-inch stroke in 1887.
In 1888, Ford started life as a married man after marrying Clara Bryant. The increased responsibilities had him toil and moil more to fend for his expanded family.
In 1890, two years after his marriage, he started working on a two-cylinder engine to power his first car in 1892.
Engineer for Edison Illuminating Company
In July 1891, Ford gained his first gainful employment in Detroit, working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. He quickly rose through the ranks and got a promotion two years later to assume the responsibility of Chief Engineer on November 6, 1893
His new job had no regular hours and required him to be on call around the clock. His new responsibility was to maintain the electric service.
The redefined roles as a chief engineer allowed him flexible time to dedicate much more time to his ambitious plan of building a gasoline-powered engine.
A feat he comfortably achieved in 1893 before readjusting his ambition to building a horseless carriage.
The horseless carriage materialized in 1896 with the so-called “Quadricycle.” The vehicle was gasoline-powered, had an internal combustion chamber, and rode on four wheels.
The astounding invention served as the foundation of his other invention launched in later years through the Ford Motor Company.
More importantly was the lifelong friendship he struck with Thomas Edison, founder of Edison’s Illuminating company. The two met during one of the company’s executive meetings where Ford was introduced to Edison.
So impressed with Ford’s inventions was Edison that they established a rapport and went on to be lifelong friends, with Edison serving as a mentor to Ford. The encouragement saw Ford embark on his second vehicle, which he completed in 1898.
Unlike other inventors of his time that held on to their self-powered vehicles, Ford sold his creations to finance his other inventions. One such invention was his carburetor, which won him an award in 1898 and was patented.
Detroit Automobile Company
Soon after the success of his second invention, Ford resigned from Edison Illuminating and started his own company Detroit Automobile Company, on August 5, 1899, with the financial backing of William Murphy.
However, his newly found company was dissolved and liquidated in January 1901, less than a year after it was found. According to Ford, despite the high production cost, the vehicles had a significantly inferior quality.
Following the company’s dissolution, Ford embarked on another invention which premiered as the 26-horsepower racer automobile in 1901. Ford comfortably won the 10-mile race held in Grosse Pointe.
Henry Ford Company
Wooed with the success of his new invention, Murphy again marshaled other investors to bankroll Ford in his second company.
The company was launched as Henry Ford Company on November 30, 1901. Ford was unanimously endorsed as the chief engineer while the financiers remained as key stakeholders.
However, the financiers’ hopes of having a passenger carrier were dashed when Ford, instead of pursuing inventions to put a passenger carrier on the road, worked to improve his inventions.
To steer him off his inventions, Murphy, to the chagrin of Ford, enlisted the services of Henry Leland to work with Ford as a consultant.
A frustrated Ford left the company that bore his name, which was later rechristened the Cadillac Automobile. With no company, Ford and Tom Cooper started working on yet another invention that would later be christened the 999.
The 80+ horsepower racer was powered to cross the finish line first by Barney Oldfield, earning a spot on the podium. The victory caught the attention of investors again, one of whom was a former Detroit-based coal dealer, Alexander Malcomson.
Ford & Malcomson Ltd
The acquaintance struck a partnership to form “Ford & Malcomson Ltd,” Ford’s third and last company. With $28,000 in hand and $21,000 promised from friends, relatives, and acquaintances to Malcomson, the company set shop in Detroit.
The company leased factory space in Detroit, signed a $160,000 agreement with a company that sold automobile parts (owned by Dodge brothers), and recruited 11-men with Ford serving as Vice president and Chief Engineer.
With the help of the men, Ford was able to assemble 3-cars per day. However, sales were not coming through as first as they had hoped, and soon the Dodge brothers came to collect for the first shipment.
Cornered and with no funds, Malcomson convinced the Dodge brothers to forfeit the debt in return for a stake in the company. He also managed to bring more investors on board to pool more resources for their company (this is what venture capitalist Mark Cuban does).
This led to the rechristening of the company one more time to form Ford Motor Company which was incorporated on June 16, 1903. Owing to Ford’s volatility, Ford remained as vice president and chief engineer while Gray assumed the role of company president.
Ford Motor Company
A month after Ford Motor Company was founded, the first-ever Ford car was assembled. The car ran on two cylinders and was powered by eight-horsepower. The model was one of many in the Ford company sequel of cars.
At the assembly, two to three men worked per vehicle in the Ford Motor Company situated on Mack Avenue in Detroit. From the start, Ford sought to produce affordable automobiles that were both reliable and efficient.
The Ensuing Legal Hurdle
A week after the launch of Model A, and exactly five weeks from the date of incorporation, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers sued Ford Motor Company.
In the lawsuit, the association alleged patent infringement by Ford Motor Company, which it claimed was not authorized to assemble or manufacture gasoline-powered automobiles.
In their view, the patent granted in 1895 gave them and their associates ultimate autonomy and monopoly to be the sole manufacturers of all gasoline-powered automobiles.
The lawsuit pitted the puny Ford Motor Company against a Multi-million industry controlled by a cartel determined to reserve profit from the industry for a select few.
The case dragged on for 6-years before returning with a verdict that upheld the Association’s claim in 1909.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, Ford appealed the case upholding his assertion that all inventions were a matter of evolution and were bound to be overtaken by time. The court of appeal overturned the lower court’s ruling in 1911, granting Ford instant hero status.
The constant improvements to achieve greater efficiency on the sequels of Model A finally gave birth to Model T. The model debuted on October 1, 1908.
Unlike most models of the time, the vehicle’s steering wheel was to the left and was relatively affordable to more people, with its cost being reduced yearly.
The vehicle was easy to drive and even easier to repair. The vehicle used two semi-elliptic springs for suspension, four-cylinders that were cast in a solid block and had the entire engine and transmission encased.
The model became so popular that by 1918, now christened “Tin Lizzie,” almost half of the vehicles on American roads were Model T.
Over the following years, the volume of Model T produced rose steadily to a record 15,007,034 pieces. This volume was reached 19 years from when the model was first launched and was held for the next 45 years. The model
As more and more people demanded the Model T, it got to the point that Ford could not match the supply of the vehicle with the market demand.
Ford pulled yet another stunner in the automobile industry to increase the retention of qualified workmanship and draw even more experienced engineers from competitors.
In 1914, Instead of the usual $2.34 compensation for nine hours a day, Ford was paying $5 for 8 hours a day. He also later introduced more incentives in which he allowed his workers to have weekends off. He felt that the workers ought to earn decent pay to enjoy the very goods they were producing.
For weekends, he felt, the workers deserved time to bond with their families and enjoy their hard-earned cash.
As demand increased, Ford Motor Company had more orders than it could process. This forced Ford back to the drawing body to find ways to shorten the production process and also to produce more.
As a result, Ford developed ingenious ways that would revolutionize the American automotive industry years later. The best practices included the moving assembly line, standardized interchangeable parts, and large production plants.
The success of Model T and Edsel as President
In 1917, the Dodge brothers, minority stakeholders, and the former suppliers of the chassis to Ford Motor Company took Ford to court. The brothers sued Ford, claiming that he had exponentially and recklessly expanded diverting profits meant for sharing by shareholders.
After carefully listening to Ford’s defense, the court ruled in favor of the Dodge brothers. But similar to the Selden case filed by the automobile association of manufacturers, Ford appealed.
Unlike in his first case, the court ruling was upheld, and the Dodge brothers were awarded $19,275,385 dividends, $1,536,749 interest. This was on top of $106,000,000 in stock which Ford offered them in exchange for their stake in the Ford Motor Company.
With all outside stakeholders gone, Ford named his son President Edsel in December 1918.
However, he firmly remained in control with veto powers on all decisions that affected the company. In 1919, he reorganized the company to start a new company that would be cheaper, durable, and more versatile than the Model T.
Acquisition of Lincoln Motor Company
Ford and his son acquired Lincoln Motor Company that Henry Leland and his son had founded. The duo stayed behind to manage the operations but was later expelled. The new acquisition specialized in the manufacture of premium vehicles.
Its acquisition was meant to bolster Ford Motor Company’s competitive edge in producing the luxury vehicle to compete against General Motors’ Chevrolet. Through the company, Ford manufactured Model K in 1931 to replace Leland’s 1920 Model L produced. Ford never released a single model L.
Model A and River Rouge Plant
After much pressure, Ford finally agreed to produce the successor to model T. Ford, therefore, ceased all operations in his moths for 18 months to design and manufacture a new model.
During this time, he also built a new plant at River Rouge, Michigan.
The plant was self-sufficient to minimize the downtimes and mismatch in product and part delivery to Ford Motor Company.
The move to start a self-sufficient company was partly due to Ford’s experience during World War 1. During that time, some of his suppliers couldn’t deliver in time or as fast as he wanted or had to shut, bringing about production delays.
The new plant fulfilled a dream he had always fancied of having an integrated plant complete with production, assembly, and transportation.
To have full vertical integration, he bought 700,000 acres of timberland at $125,000, bought glassworks, a fleet of Great Lake Freighters, built a sawmill, bought a controlling stock of 16 coal mines and a railroad.
By the time Model, A was launching in December 1927, ore arriving in the morning from the Mines would be churned out as a complete Ford automobile within 28 hours after delivery. The design would later be redesigned to the flathead V8 and dominate the Ford automobiles for 20 more years.
The expansion of Ford Motor extended to 33 countries and over 6-continents (check the invention by Mark Zuckerberg that has reached 100’s of countries). The acquisition of land producing raw materials stretched from Kentucky, Michigan, and all the way to Brazil. All of these acquisitions and expansions were from proceeds from the sale of Model T.
Henry Ford’s Business Failures
Stout Airplane Company
The company is touted as the first successful U.S. passenger airliner to produce a 12-seater capacity plane. Its flagship project was the Ford 4AT Trimotor that released several aircraft variations, some of which were used by the U.S. Army.
With the great depression, however, the sales flagged, and the company shut and merged with the vehicle production unit.
Dearborn Independent and Antisemitism
Ford purchased the Newspaper indirectly through his secretary and aide, Ernest Liebold.
The paper was distributed through major Ford distribution lines and included most racial and religious prejudices. The publications had Ford’s authorization under his editor-in-chief, Liebold.
However, as the prejudice took root, his sales started to decline, and soon Ford had to offer a public apology.
Ford regretted the harm, havoc, and anxiety the paper had created in the apology, especially against the Jews.
The apology was accepted through letters sent to him, especially by those very jews. Most of them even went ahead to praise him as an industrious inventor and businessman.
Henry Ford’s Family
Ford was born to William Ford (1826–1905) and Mary Litogot (1839–1876). He married
Clara Jane Bryant (1866–1950) on April 11, 1888. The two had one son Edsel Ford (1893–1943).
Ford’s siblings include Margaret Ford (1867–1868), Jane Ford (1868–1945), William Ford (1871–1917), and Robert Ford (1873–1934).
Through his son, Edsel Ford, Ford had four grandchildren, including Henry Ford II (1917–1987), Benson Ford (1919–1978), Josephine Clay Ford (1923–2005), and William Clay Ford (1925–2014).
Henry Ford’s Real Estate Holdings
Fair Lane Home
Ford lived in a 1300 acre property that was named after the birthplace of his adoptive grandfather.
The estate along the River Rouge plant had a greenhouse, a children’s playhouse, a boathouse, riding stables, a limestone house, and was powered by a dedicated electrical plant.
Parts of the home are currently open to the public and are under the purview of the National Historic Landmark.
Henry Ford’s Salary and Net Worth
By the time he succumbed to cerebral hemorrhage in 1947, Ford’s net worth was equivalent to $200 billion today (proceed to the richest man’s bio, Jeff Bezos’). This is much more than the world’s richest man. Currently, the empire left to his grandchildren is worth $45 or more.
Henry Ford’s YouTube Videos
The Ford documentary is beautifully narrated, detailing most of the major points in Ford’s life. The narrator points out how significant the wealthy man almost single-handedly transformed the socio-economic landscape of America.
The narrator takes us back to the early times when Ford’s father made it possible for Ford to pursue a career he had a passion for. But it wasn’t easy for him to get here.
His inventions, including mass productions and vertical integration, continue to impact how factories interact.
And then flash-forwards it to the multi-billion empire ford created that traverses continents and knows no race or language.
The video explains how the man behind Ford dreamed and actualized his dream based on an excerpt of a biography. The narrator talks of how the universe seems to have conspired in favor of Ford.
For one, Ford was born and raised 8 miles away from a rapidly industrializing Detroit thanks to the booming business of steam engines. The narrator also points to how widely tractors were in use, providing Ford with a chance to continuously hone his skills through repairs.
Other than this, his understanding father was more than willing to let him abscond his role to till the land in favor of a white-collar job. He even made arrangements for him to get some apprenticeship in Detroit.
Henry Ford’s Quotes
- “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
- “Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.”
- “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
- “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.”
- “Vision without execution is just hallucination.”
- “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
- “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason, so few engage in it.”
- “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.”
- “To do more for the world than the world does for you – that is a success.”
- “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”
- “You can’t learn in school what the world is going to do next year.”
- “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
- “There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.”
- “Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice.”
- “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”
- “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time.”
- “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
- “The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Was Henry Ford born into a rich family?
Answer: Henry Ford’s family was of average means and relied on their farm to make ends meet. He generated wealth wholly through his inventions and an undying drive to have more people consume his goods.
Question: What was Henry Ford Known for?
Answer: Ford is best known for his Model T vehicle, which was produced in 1908. The Model held the record as the single most manufactured vehicle for a record of 45 years. He is also credited with revolutionizing the automotive mass-production industry.
Question: How did Henry Ford become rich?
Answer: After a consecutive failure in his first two companies, Ford finally managed to secure financing through an acquaintance and was able to build his famous Model T. The model was so popular that it sold so many pieces generating profits large enough to bankroll the acquisition of associated companies and leave enough for his grandkids and great-grandkids.