Henry Ford: Biography, Inventions

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t, Michigan area. He was the oldest ofsix children born to William and Mary Litogot O’Hern Ford, and the grandson of Irishimmigrants who had arrived in America in 1847. The entire family were farmers andFord was raised to take over the family farm when he grew up. He had an intelligent, inquisitive nature and was energized by the huge growth ofindustry occurring in the Detroit area. He was also an avid experimenter. Once, in orderto prove the power of steam, he plugged up the spout of a tea kettle full of boiling waterand it blew apart! As he grew up his father allowed him to “tinker” with many of the toolson the farm. Ford’s mother called him a “born mechanic” and provided him with darningneedles and corset stays to make into tools for his watch repair work. Probably the most dramatic event in Henry Ford’s life happened in 1876 when hewas thirteen years old. While riding with his father in a wagon, they saw a steam enginetraveling along the road under its own power. Ford jumped off the wagon and excitedlybegan to question the driver about this remarkable engine. Used for stationary purposessuch as sawing wood, the engine had been mounted on wheels to propel itself. Theengineer explained all about the machine and even let Ford fire the engine and run it.

Ford later said, “That showed me that I was by instinct an engineer.” The seed wasplanted that there could be a self-propelled vehicle and that thought would haunt hisimagination for years. Although he yearned to go to Detroit and work in the machine shops, Ford stayedon the farm helping the family until he was seventeen. Then, with his father’s blessing, hemoved to Detroit and started working at the Michigan Car Company for $1.10 a day. Hewas fired shortly thereafter because he angered the older employees by making repairs ina hour instead of the usual five hours. By 1882 Ford had left Detroit and used the family farm for his address as hetraveled around from job to job. In 1885, at a party, he met Clara Jane Bryant. Theymarried April 11, 1888 and their only child, Edsel, named after his childhood friend,Edsel Ruddiman, was born November 6, 1893. Ford had never given up his dream of a “horseless carriage.” Whenever he had aspare moment he read about gas engines and experimented in his own workshop. By1891 he and Clara had moved back to Detroit and Ford began working for Detroit EdisonIlluminating Company. Ford’s Quadricycle was ready for a try-out in 1896. It frightenedthe horses and caused many a protest, but it ran. It was through working at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company that Ford metThomas Edison. At a convention Ford was introduced to Edison as “the young fellowwho’s made a gas car.” After discussing his ideas with the great inventor, Ford was gladto hear that Edison thought his ideas had something going for him. Edison told him,”Young man, you have it, a self-contained unit carrying its own fuel. Keep at it!” Themeeting with Thomas Edison gave Henry Ford fresh inspiration and his spirit wasreestablished by the famous inventor’s words of encouragement. By 1899 Ford had produced an operable car that was written up in the DetroitJournals. Ford was described as a “mechanical engineer.” Eventually his workdeveloping automobiles conflicted with his position at the Detroit Edison IlluminatingCompany. Even though the company was very pleased with his work and offered him theGeneral Superintendent position, they asked him to make a choice. Could he give up his”hobby” of automobile building and devote himself to the company? Ford made thedecision. He wanted to make automobiles. After some false starts, on June 16, 1903, with ten investors plus Ford’s patents,knowledge and engine, Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company. The Model Twas the ninth model made. It was first marketed in October 1908 and the companydominated sales for the next eighteen years. Because of his development of the assemblyline used to mass produce automobiles, Ford sold more than one half of the cars in theindustry in 1918-1919 and 1921-1925. The Model T, or Tin Lizzie, was a hard working,sturdy, commonplace car. Ford’s dream had come true. “I will build a motor car for the great multitudeconstructed of the bestmaterials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modernengineering can deviseso low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours ofpleasure in God’s great open spaces.” Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had become best friends. They admired andrespected each other. In 1916 Henry Ford purchased Mangoes, the home next door to hisfriend Edison’s Seminole Lodge, so that he and Clara could vacation there while theEdisons were down. The two families enjoyed their time “away from it all” in the tropicalplace of Fort Myers, Florida. Camping trips into the Everglades, with Harvey Firestoneand his family, plus naturalist John Burroughs, became a special treat. Henry Ford died April 7, 1947. Editorial tributes were favorable to Henry Ford.

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He was praised as a patriot, philanthropist, philosopher, reformer, economist, and teacherand depicted as symbol of individualism and productive genius Today Ford’s genius can be seen at the historic sites dedicated to him: Edison andFord Winter Estates, Fort Myers, Florida; Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Villageand the Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane, in Dearborn, Michigan.

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