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Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He didn’t even invent the assembly line. But more than any other individual, he was commissioned to transform the automobile from an exotic utility invention to one of the milestones in human history.
Innovators change things, take new ideas, sometimes their own, sometimes other people’s, and develop and promote them until they become a fundamental part of everyday life. Innovation requires self-confidence, a taste for risk-taking, leadership skills, and a vision of what the future should be like. Henry Ford had all these characteristics.
Henry Ford’s early years
He was born on his father’s farm in Dearborn, Michigan, on July 30, 1863. In his youth, he demonstrated some of the characteristics that would make him successful, powerful, and famous. He organized other boys to build rudimentary water wheels and steam engines. He learned about full-size steam engines by becoming friends with the men who ran them in factories. He learned to fix clocks and thus learned the rudiments of machine design. In doing so, the young Ford demonstrated an unparalleled talent for mechanics, leadership, and a preference for learning through trial and error.
He was able to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer, but he was fascinated by machines and took risks to pursue that fascination. In 1879 he left the farm to become an apprentice to the Michigan car company, which made railroad cars. Over the next two years, he held several similar jobs, sometimes moving when he thought he could learn more elsewhere.
He returned home in 1882, with a preference to work for himself and not for someone else. In 1888 he married Clara Bryant and in 1891 he moved to Detroit, where he took a job as a night engineer at the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. Ford didn’t know much about electricity but saw work as an opportunity to learn. He was a good student, and by 1896 he had become the company’s chief engineer. But he continued with his other interests.
Ford Motor Company: The first major automobile company
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, until the birth of the Ford Motor Company, in 1903, originally intended for the construction of race cars.
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.” The “Model T”, created later, was easy to operate, maintain and ride on rough roads. It immediately became a huge hit.
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 unprecedented in human history had been developed.
But the workers didn’t like the repetitive work on the new line very much; The business volume was so high that the company had to hire 53,000 people in a year to keep 14,000 jobs filled (an average of 150 people per day), to which Henry responded with his more daring innovation: an increase of more than double the average wage 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 1922, 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, Henry 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. In 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.
Struggling to keep up during the Great Depression of 1929, Ford was forced to cut wages and lay off workers. In 1932, at the age of 69, he introduced his last great automotive innovation in the life, the cheap and light “V8 Engine”. Even this was not enough to stop the decline of his company, which came, in 1936, to third place in the US market, behind General Motors and Chrysler Corporation. When the United Auto Workers union tried to establish itself within the Ford Motor Company, Henry disagreed with such interference and defended himself with intimidation and violence, but was finally forced to sign a union contract in 1941.
At the start of World War II in 1939, Ford, who always hated wars, appealed for the United States not to take sides in the conflict. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ford Motor Company even became one of America’s top military contractors, supplying planes, engines, jeeps, and tanks.
Henry Ford 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 airport hotels in the country.
Some Ford advancements in radio navigation have made flying safer for everyone today. Although none of his aviation companies was profitable, all of them ceased to exist in 1932; the Great Depression of 1929 forced him to focus on his auto business, and aeronautical technology was changing too fast for his assembly line techniques.
Ford laid the foundations of the 20th century. The assembly line, which became the characteristic mode of production of those years, was eventually applied to practically everything from electrical and mechanical appliances to foodstuffs and textiles.
Thanks to this, working conditions in factories improved, jobs and wages increased, contributing to the consolidation of a thriving middle class and to the growth and modernization of cities.
Ford died at the age of eighty-three, in 1947. Today, his innovative ideas and mechanisms for realizing the entrepreneurial function are known as “Fordism. ”
Famous quotes of Henry Ford
“Thinking is the hardest work there is. Perhaps this is the reason why there are so few people who practice it.”.
“No man should be forced to do the work that a machine can do.”
“Failure is a great opportunity to start over with more intelligence.”
“The secret of my success is paying like a prodigal and selling like a bankruptcy.”
“Most people spend more time and energy talking about problems than facing them.”
“Whether you think you can or not, you’re right.”
“If I had asked my clients what they needed, they would have told me a faster horse.”