Few individuals have so impacted the lives of individuals in America and around the world as Henry Ford. Henry grew up in rural Michigan and as an adult remained nostalgic about the rural way of life that he experienced. He loved to tinker, but dislike the hard work involved in farming and academic study. He was as a result poorly educated and left school at 15 nearly illiterare. He seems to have been rather lazy as a boy and that did not change as he grew older. A rather surprising trait in a man who was to become a champion of American industry. Ford was so consistently right about mechanics and manufacturing that he thought he was knew about a wide range of toics that he knew nothing about.
Henry was the eldest of William and Mary Ford's six children. illiam was a farmer. His father William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County Cork, Ireland. The family was originally from Somerset, England. His mother, Mary Ford née Litogot (1839–76), was born in Michigan as the youngest child of Belgian immigrants. Her parents haf died when she was a child and she was adopted by neighbors, the O'Herns.
Henry Ford was born on the family farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan (July 30, 1863). The other Ford children were Margaret Ford (1867–1938); Jane Ford (c. 1868–1945); William Ford (1871–1917) and Robert Ford (1873–1934). Ford from a early point developed a disliking for farm labor. His interest was in mechanics. Henry was an invenerate tinkerer. His father presented him with a pocket watch in his early teens. Ford was fascinated with it. He found ir fascinating to dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends and neighbors many times. He acquired the reputation as the local watch repairman. The young Ford was devastated when his mother died (1876). His father expected him as the eldest to eventually take over the family farm. Henry had no desire tomdo so. He absolutely despised farm work. Later in life wrote, "I never had any particular love for the farm —- it was the mother on the farm I loved." `
Ford as ayoung man walked 4 miles to their Episcopal church every Sunday.
Henry attended a one-room school when he was not needed on the farm. He showed little interest in school, however, and as a result was poorly educated. He left school at 15 nearly illiterare. He seems to have been rather lazy as a boy and that did not change as he grew older. [Brinkley] A rather surprising trait in a man who was to become a champion of American industry.
Ford, after school, leving the family farm went to Detroit a rising industrial city aftr the Civil War. He sought a manufacturing job. He was fired from his first factory job and thn failed in a variety of business efforts. Detroit began as aport fo the fur trade. The British after te Revolution did not want to turn the post to the Aericans. The city during the 19th century grew into a thriving hub of commerce and industry. A fire destroyed the emerging city (1805). After a devastating fire in 1805, Augustus B. Woodward devised a street plan similar to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design for Washington, D.C. Monumental avenues and traffic circles were planned to fan out in radial fashion from Campus Martius Park in the heart of the city. This was intended to ease traffic patterns and trees were planted along the boulevards and parks. The city spread along Jefferson Avenue, with multiple manufacturing firms taking advantage of the transportation resources afforded by the river and a parallel rail line. By the late-19th century when Fod arrived, several Gilded Age mansions were built just east of Detroit's current downtown. Detroit was referred to by some as the Paris of the West for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. It was Ford, the unknown, virtuallu uneducated farm boy that would turn Detroit into a illar of the American industrial jugernaught.
Unlike many other of the great industrialists, success came relatively late. He was 40 years old when he founded the Ford Motor Company (1903). At the time there were many small manucatuers. Cars were not built in large factories, but in samll craft shops. He like other early automobile manufactuers. They believed that publicity would attract interest in their cars. And the best advertisment was see in building cars athr won races. Ford began building and driving racecars. It was thus at racetracks that Ford's name began to be recognized. Of course few customers wanted a souped up racecar. They wanted a reliable motor vehicle. Ford made a number of models, all unemarlavle vecause thay were expensive like those of his competitors. The Ford Motor Company sold its first car, a Model A, to Dr. E. Pfennig, a dentist, for $850 (1903). Ford continually worked to tinker and improve the cars' design. Models B, C, and F. None especially exited consumers.
Henry Ford is best known for the the Model "T" Ford and his inovative assessmbly lines which enabled the mass production of the automobile. It was not Ford that invented the automobile or the assembly line. Ford's genbius was to put the two together and in the process transformed America more than any other ndustrialist. It was Ford who first set up an assembly line to mass profuce automobiles. From 1909 to 1927, the Ford Motor Company built more than 15 million Model T cars. The Model "T" brought the automobile within the price range of the average American worker. Not understood at the time was the enormous consequence of this development. This changed the face of America and cities as was a key step in creating the American car-culture. Cities began to devlop around the automobile which became the very center of the country's econonomy and had profound consequences for the American life style, affecting work, leisure, sexuality, archetecture, music, movies, and much more. Both the automobile and mass-consumerism played a key role in making modern America. It also led to a massive expansion of the automobile industry and American industry in general. Besides the economib and social ramifications, the industrial jugernaught that Ford and the Model-T helped create would be a central factor in defeating the totalitarian powers that arose after World War I.
Ford inagurated the assembly line in 1913. Earlier teams worked together on a car. Then they moved and the car stood still. Finally he conceived of the car moving hile the workers stood still. His inspiration was meat pasvking plants. The feeicencenies involved were enormous. They allowed him to reduce the cost of the automobile, bringing one into the range of wrking men. This occurred at the time that when European wirkers were often hard put to afford a bicycle.
The problem with the assembly line was that workers did like it. Ford had troublke keeping workers. Ford as a result intoduved the "Five Dollar Day" in 1914. He reduced the work day to 8 hours. These were key steps in the modern consumer economy. Will Roger's pointed out during the Depresion that America was the only country to go to the poor house in an automobile. Ford was noted at first for offering a living wage to his workers and later for fighting unionization by hiring thugs to attack union leaders. Ford $5 wage attracted many immigrant workers. Ford insisted that they learn English in a company school. There was a "melting pot ceremony". Graduates glad in ethnic clothing would move into a melting pot and come out dressed as Americans. Ford also had inspectors check company housing to make sure that workers were leading vrtous lives, keeoing clean hoses, seding the children to school, and opening savings accounts.
Ford is a biographers dream in that he was a quirky oddball. Despite his central role in American industry, there were many unappealing aspects to his character. Ford not only used extra-legal violence to fight unionization, but was a vicious anti-Semite. He despised Jews, bankers, and unions. And wrote hate-filled pamflets linking all three.
Given Ford's blatant anti-Semitism, it is rather interesting that he came to the aid of famed child violin prodigy Grish Coluboff. It was automobile industrialist Henry Ford, of all people, who let Grisha use a Strad from his personal collection, later delivering it to Grisha in an armored car with armed guards for Grisha to use as long as he needed the instrument. All the drama does rather smack of a public relations department. There is a wonderful picture of Henry Ford presenting Grisha with the Strad. This is of course surprising because because Ford and with his hate-filled mouth piece, The Dearborn Independent, was one of the most vicious anti-Semites in American history. The NAZIs actually reprinted some of Ford's books as part of their anti-Jewish campaign. One wonders if this was Ford's idea or that of his public relations department. Ford at the time was locked in a bitter and increasingly violent struggle with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and badly in need of good publicity. As it sometimes the case of many ardent haters, they sometimes find one "good" individual from the target group. Or perhaps it was that Grisha was a child. Whatever the reason, he did loan him the Strad. After Ford's death, his son recalled it saying Ford's collection of violins couldn't be broken up.
Less offensive was Ford's commitment to Pacifism. After World War I broke out, he put together a peace ship and sailed to Europe. The European leaders refused to meet with him. While the mission failed, many gave hm credit for at least trying. When America entered the war, he won government contracts. He offered to return the profits, but never did so. After the War, he claimed that the War was caused by gready bankers and industrialists which he thought were mostly Jews. (In fact Jews at the time were excluded from most boardrooms and banks.) This was one of many examples in which Ford would write about matters he had no knowledge of. His financial support for pacifism was combined with financial support for Hitler from an early point. Ford Motors also had operations in both thecSoviet Union and Germany as well as Britain and France. His isolationism aided the NAZIs and Japanese militarists by promoting isolationism and making it diificult for President Roosevelt to confront their aggressive moves.
Ford purchased a small newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. He made it into a weekly magazine which eventually had a circulation of 0.8 million. He used it to promote anti-semitism and other pet ideas. He didn't like cosmetics, popular dances, and short skirts. A collection of anti-Semetic articles appearng in the magazine wa republished as a book--The International Jew. The bok was reublished by the NAZIs in Germany. He was taken to court for libel, but laimed he had nothing to do with the articles. Ford never advocated violence against Jews. His publications, however, provided justification for such violence.
Ford had a love of American folk traditions and crafts. He grew up in rural Michigan and as an adult remained nostalgic about the rural way of life that he experienced. Which is kind of intereting because he intendly diliked farming. e loved to tinker, but disliked the hard work involved in farming, Annd he disliked school. Ford in particular he promoted folk dancing like square dancing. Interestingly, the assessmbly-line mass profuction methods that he perfected was a major factor in undermining craft production methods. Ford created Greenfield Village as a historical center to protect American historical sites as a yay of permanently preserving America's early-19rg century foundation. It is a collection of some 100 historic buildings on a 200-acre (80-hectare) site near Dearborn in southeastern Michigan. Ford began the project during the Depression (1933). He panstakingly relocated or reconstructed buildings there from throughout the United States. The village includes the birthplaces, homes, or workplaces of famous Americans, including his own. Also founs there are buildings associated with William Holmes McGuffey, Noah Webster, Luther Burbank, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and many others. Other prminent wxhibiruins Thomas A. Edison’s laboratory from Menlo Park, New Jersey;a Stephen Foster memorial; a courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law; a steam-powered paddleboat and several locomotives; and representative English and early American homes, public buildings, and craft shops. The adjoining Henry Ford Museum houses a fascinating collection of Americana. A modern ad for Greeniels Village reads, "Experience firsthand the sights, sounds and sensations of America’s fascinating formation, where over 80 acres brim with resourcefulness and ingenuity. Here, 300 years of American perseverance serve as a living reminder that anything is possible. Step foot in the lab where Thomas Edison had his lightbulb moment or the workshop where the Wright brothers taught us to reach for the sky. Take a ride in a real Model T, or a walk through four working farms. Rub shoulders with world-class artisans, and explore the place where America’s can-do spirit inspires you to go out and get it done."
The most ironic aspect of Henry Ford's life was the impact that his mass-prpuced automobiles had on American life. The automobile was a major factor in forging modern America. It was For's assmblyline mass production methods that made this possible. Yet Ford remained throughout hois life enamored with crafts and folk culture which the automobile had a major role in destroying.
Ford marriaded Clara Bryant (1888). Henry's father as a edding present gave him a large piece of land on which Henry built a small house, a sawmill, and a shop he could use for to tinkering.
The Ford's only had one son, Edsel, who was born November 6, 1893. He was Edsel named after a childhood friend Edsel Ruddiman. I have no information on his childhood at this time or the clothes he wore as a boy. Edsel married Elenor and they had four children: Henry II, Benson, Josephine, and William Clay. Ford retired in 19?? and Edsel became president of the Ford Motor Company for a quarter of a century. Edsel grew up in and around the Ford Motor Company that his father devoted himself to. There was the controversy of his World War I draft notice and an exemption, the change from the Model T to the Model A, and the creation of the Ford Foundation. Edsel's role in Ford is rather lost today, but it was in fact significant. [Dominguez] Needless to say, he had nothing to do with the disatrous Edsel car named after him.
Edsel ran Ford after his father retired. Edsel died unexpectedly, however, during 1943 in the midst of World War II. His father briefly resumed the presidency, but because of his age and health was not up to the task. He had suffered two strokes by this time. as a result, 2 years later in 1945, Ford handed over the presidency to his grandson and Edsel's son, Henry Ford II. Ford died at home April 7, 1947.
Brinkley, Douglas. Wheeles for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress (Viking, 2003), 858p.
Dominguez, Henry L. Edsel: The Story of Henry Ford's Forgotten Son (SAE), 425p.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main biography page]
[Return to the Main biography D-F page]
[Return to the Main industrial revolution page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]