Who is Henry Ford?
Henry Ford was an American inventor and business magnate and founder of the Ford Motor Company. He invented several vehicles, most notably the Model T car, and changed the automotive industry forever by introducing the mobile assembly line to automobile production. His industrial innovations were so economically impactful that the term “Fordism” refers to the mass production and consumption that it made possible, which then more broadly characterizes the speed and nature of the post-war capitalist economy.
- Henry Ford was an American entrepreneur and inventor.
- The son of Irish immigrants, Ford grew up on a ranch in Michigan but had an early penchant for mechanics and invention, which spurred his career as an innovator.
- Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company and invented the famous Model T car.
- Ford introduced several innovations to the auto industry, including the mobile assembly line production method, which had a major impact on vehicle manufacturing and the American economy more broadly.
- Ford also invented the five-day, 40-hour work week, applying it to his workforce in 1926.
A powerful business figure, Ford himself was also quite influential, publishing several books during his lifetime that presented his views on industry, society, and innovation. Unfortunately, this impact also has a dark side. In 1922, he took ownership of The Dearborn Independenthis local newspaper, and over the years wrote and published a series of antisemitic articles entitled “The International Jew,” in which he scapegoated the Jews and claimed that they conspired to run the world. Ford later released an official apology regarding the series after being sued for defamation.
Early life and career
Born in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan (now part of southwest Detroit) in 1863, Henry Ford was the eldest of six children. His father, an Irish immigrant, settled in America in 1847 on a farm in Wayne County. He showed an interest in mechanics and machines from a young age, spending most of his time in self-built machine shops. By the age of 15, he had built a steam engine.
His career began with an internship in Detroit in 1879, followed by the task of repairing a steam engine in southern Michigan. For a while, he ran a small wood business selling wood from his father’s land, but in 1891 had a job as an engineer at Detroit’s Edison Illuminating Company, founded by Thomas Edison (who later became Ford’s mentor and lifelong friend). In November 1893, he was appointed their chief engineer.
In 1888, Henry Ford married Clara Jane Bryant, whose father was also a farmer from Wayne County. In 1893, their first and only son, Edsel Bryant Ford, was born.
Finding Motor Vehicles
Ford’s first invention related to vehicles was the single-cylinder gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine he made in 1893. The engine would later power his first vehicle, completed in 1896. Quadricycle, a kind of horseless carriage, consists of four bicycle wheels and a four horsepower engine and can only go forward, not backward.
In 1899, Ford left the Edison Illuminating Company became a co-founder of the Detroit Automobile Company, but left within a year; the company went bankrupt about 18 months after its founding.
In 1901, Ford founded the Henry Ford Company (which later became the Cadillac Motor Car Company) and left again after about a year. Meanwhile, Ford had been working on a series of race cars, which turned out to be quite successful at winning races and even setting speed records.
Ford Motor Company
June 1903 saw the founding of the Ford Motor Company, which sold its first car in July, make a profit in the first year, and expand internationally during the following years.
The famous Model T was introduced in 1908, and by 1927, 15 million of them had been sold, setting an all-time car sales record. Known as “Tin Lizzie,” The Model T is reliable, inexpensive, and easy to maintain, aspects that contribute to its main mass-market appeal. In 1913, the introduction of the mobile assembly line production method and its introduction to the Model T factory revolutionized the automobile industry and manufacturing more broadly.
Although the mobile assembly line was amazing for the Model T, making it possible to manufacture it in as little as 90 minutes, the workers hated it. New production methods have made work tedious and repetitive, but are also severely time constrained due to the requirement that workers complete their tasks before vehicles can move along the production line. Many workers go to find work with competitors.
This high turnover led Ford to introduce the “5 Day” in 1914. At the time, $5 was double what a factory worker could expect in a day. Ford also reduced shift lengths to eight hours, an hour less than the previous standard. While beneficial to workers, the changes also allowed Ford to run three shifts per day, making plant operations much more efficient.
In 1926, Henry Ford introduced the five-day work week, closing his factories on Saturdays and Sundays. After the initial uproar, this change turned out to be highly competitive in the contemporary labor market, eventually giving companies a significant hiring advantage as well as increasing employee retention and quality of life (partly by making Ford cars affordable to their own employees and offering employees more free time).
Henry Ford was succeeded as president of the Ford Motor Company in 1919 by his son, Edsel. He remains one of the sole owners of the business, along with his wife, Clara, and Edsel, after buying his investors the same day he succeeded as president of the company. However, in 1943, following the death of his son, Henry Ford was once again president of the Ford Motor Company until his grandson, Henry Ford II, took over in 1945.
Next Life and Confession
In 1946, Henry Ford was recognized by several major industry organizations for his achievements, including the award of the first Gold Medal from the American Petroleum Institute.
During his lifetime, Ford co-authored several books with collaborator Samuel Crowther: My Life and Work (1922), Today and tomorrow (1926), Moving forward (1930), and Edison, As I Know Him (1930). Moving forward discuss his thoughts on industrialism and society.
Ford died at the age of 83 in Dearborn, Michigan on April 7, 1947, of a brain hemorrhage. His body was buried in the Episcopal Church of St. Martha in Detroit.
Legacy and Controversy
“Fordism” and the moving assembly line
Ford did not invent assembly lines, but borrowed conveyor belts and production processes from industries such as meat packing, he revolutionized it. Instead of workers needing to move around factories and vehicles as they build them, the vehicles are created as they actually move along the production line.
The introduction of rising wages, free time, and access to an affordable Model T are often cited as influential in the creation of America’s middle class. Ford famously raised wages for its employees, paying them enough so they could afford its cars and also creating workspaces that were more likely to keep workers longer. The term “Fordism” speaks of the impact of Ford’s industrial innovations and refers to the contemporary postwar pace of mass production and consumption in the postwar era. It is no coincidence that Aldous Huxley chose the name Ford to signify some kind of religious figure in his 1932 science fiction novel, Brave New World. References to “Ford,” “fordliness,” and “Our Ford” throughout accent Huxley’s dystopian depiction of mass culture.
Attitudes in war, and antisemitism
During World War I, Ford was an active pacifist, funding a ship in 1915 called the Oscar II that traveled to neutral European countries in an attempt to mediate and promote peace. However, Ford’s pacifism has a troubling expression in terms of his larger worldview. In 1918, he bought a local newspaper, The Dearborn Independentand in 1920, began publishing a series of antisemitic articles, which would continue for the next several years and carried in 91 paper editions in total.
Newspaper campaigns portrayed Jews as scapegoats for World War I, as well as anything and everything he took issue with, from modern music to economic upheaval. Although Ford’s views appear to be situated in the context of his contemporary and xenophobic atmosphere in late 19th and early 20th century America, he endeavored to publish and participate in antisemitic discourse. He compiled a series of articles into a four-volume set entitled “The International Jew” and printed and distributed half a million copies, some by subscription.
Ford also reprinted “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in The Dearborn Independent. The piece was a bogus document claiming to reveal a Jewish world domination conspiracy, but Ford printed it as if it were a factual article. The reach and influence of the newspaper is enormous for what should be a small-town publication, given Ford’s reputation and the fact that its dealer network across the country carries the paper. He was even considered a candidate for president of America in the 1920s.
In 1924, Ford was sued for libel by an American Jewish activist, Aaron Sapiro, regarding an article Ford had published in The Dearborn Independent. Shortly before the trial, Ford closed the paper and settled an out-of-court case with Sapiro, paying him a cash payment and releasing a formal apology written by a mediator and president of the American Jewish Committee, Louis Marshall.
What Is Henry Ford Most Known For?
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company and invented the Model T car. He also introduced the mobile production line method to automobile manufacturing.
Did Henry Ford Invent the Car?
Henry Ford wasn’t the first to invent the car, but he did invent one of the most famous vehicles of all time, the Model T.
Did Henry Ford Invent the Assembly Line?
Henry Ford did not invent the concept of the assembly line (which is credited to Adam Smith in Nation’s Wealth), but he did introduce it to the auto manufacturing industry, borrowing the idea of a conveyor belt from the meatpacking industry to make it a moving production line.
Was Henry Ford Antisemitic?
Yes. Henry Ford was vocally antisemitic and over the years published a series of articles in his newspapers The Dearborn Independent who blamed the Jews for whatever was at stake. In his newspaper, he also reprinted the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion,” a bogus document claiming to expose an international Jewish conspiracy, presenting it as an authentic revelation.
Did Henry Ford Invent the 40 Hour Work Week?
Yes. Henry Ford introduced the 40-hour work week to his factory staff in May 1926 and to his office staff in August 1926.
By introducing the mobile assembly line, Henry Ford was instrumental in changing the way we manufacture not only cars but all kinds of goods. His innovations in the structure of work also contributed to the rise of America’s post-World War II middle class, changing the economic landscape of the country.