Next in line of self made men and women in my series is Henry Ford. It’s appropriate considering the auto industry is currently trying to get a bailout.  I thought it would be interesting to know a bit about the man who started it all.

Not only was he the first to mass produce cars with an assembly line, he also invented the franchise system which put a dealership in every city in North America.  He built his fortune by offering high quality, inexpensive cars while paying high wages.

Henry Ford was born near Detroit on July 30th 1863.  At age 16 he left home and went to Detroit to work as an apprentice machinist.  He was later hired by Westinghouse to service their steam engines. In 1888 he married Clara Ala Bryant and they had one child.

In 1891 he became an engineer with Edison Illuminating Company and two years later started experimenting with gas engines.  On June 4th 1896 he test drove his first gas powered vehicles, the Ford Quadricycle.   The Quadricycle rode on 4 bicycle tires and had a 3 gallon tank.  It could reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour. [1]

Before starting the company we all know today as Ford Motor Company he started two other auto manufactures.  The first didn’t work out and was dissolved in just 16 months.[2]  The second company was started with his partner and some shareholders from the first company.  Ford got into an argument with the partners and was asked to leave in 1902.   He was given a severance package of $900 and the plans to an automobile he had been building. [3] The company was then renamed Cadillac. (Yeah, that Cadillac.)

Ford then invented an 80 horsepower race car and partnered with a local coal dealer to form Ford & Malcomson, Ltd.  Ford began designing low cost automobiles and the pair rented a factory from John and Horace Dodge (Yeah, that Dodge) to manufacture the vehicles.  The company was later reincorporated as Ford Motor Company.  Ford then designed a new race car and set a new land speed record at 91.3 miles per hour.  This brought national recognition to the Ford name.

In 1914 Ford increased the wage of his workers from $2.34 per day to $5 per day. This brought the best and brightest workers to Ford Motor Company and practically eliminated employee turnover. He standardized the 40 hour work week by reducing an 9 hour day down to 8 hours.  He did this so that he could have 3 shifts per day. [4]

The famous Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908 for $825.  It was the first car to have the steering wheel on the left.  By the 1920’s most Americans had learned to drive.  The franchised car dealerships grew rich due to the popularity of the Model T.  The dealerships were eager not only to sell the cars, but the very idea of driving.   In an effort  to lower costs and meet consumer demand Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913.  By 1916 the price of the Model T had dropped to $360.

Sales of the Model T began to drop during the 1920’s because other manufactures began offering payment plans, which Ford refused to do.  In response to his sagging sales Ford designed the Model A and began an annual design change system that car manufactures still use today.  Finally, in 1930 Ford agreed to financing and started the Universal Credit Corporation.  Ford was also vehemently against labor unions.  He threatened to dissolve the company rather than allow a union but his wife told him that she would leave him if he did.[5] So the next day he went and signed an agreement with the United Auto Workers.

Ford was also interested in alternative fuels.  He experimented with corn, cotton, and helped invent charcoal briquettes.  His brother in law,  E. G. Kingsford, (Yeah, that Kingsford) used wood scraps from the Ford factory to make the briquettes.

Henry Ford died at age 83 due to a cerebral hemorrhage and is buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.

Other Self Made Men in the Series:
Warren Buffett
Ingar Kamprad
Sam Walton
Thomas Edison
Oprah Winfrey
Steve Jobs

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