This man was no bodies’ fool

The 1st April gives us a chance to do all sorts of foolish things – well until noon time anyway – but on this day in 1913 Henry Ford was not fooling around. It was on that day that he started an assembly line to make motors.

He later wrote: ‘A Ford car contains about 5,000 parts. Some of these parts are fairly bulky and others are almost the size of watch parts. In our first assembling we simply started to put a car together at a spot on the floor and the workmen brought to it the parts as they were needed in exactly the same way as one builds a house. The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work. Along about April 1 1913 we first tried the experiment of an assembly line. We tried it on assembling the fly-wheel magneto.’

Henry Ford was born on Thursday 30th July 1863, on his family’s farm in Wayne County, near Dearborn, Michigan. He was 13 when his father gave him a pocket watch.  The young Henry promptly took it apart and reassembled! Friends and neighbours were impressed, and asked that he would fix their timepieces as well!

Not satisfied with farm work, Henry left home at the age of 16 to take an apprenticeship as a machinist at a shipbuilding firm in Detroit. In the years that followed, he learned how to skilfully operate and service steam engines.  He also studied bookkeeping!

In 1888 he married Clara Ala Bryant and briefly returned to farming to support his wife and son, Edsel. However, three years later he was hired as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company and, in 1893, his natural talents earned him a promotion to chief engineer.

All the while he was developing his plans for a horseless carriage and, in 1896, he constructed his first model – the Ford Quadricycle. In that same year, he attended a meeting with Edison executives and found himself presenting his automobile plans to Thomas Edison. The lighting genius encouraged Ford to build a second, better model.

In 1903, after a few trials building cars and companies, in 1903, Henry Ford established the Ford Motor Company; introduced the Model T in October of 1908.  For several years the company posted 100 percent gains per year! Henry also enhanced his renown for his revolutionary vision with the manufacture of an inexpensive automobile made by skilled workers who earn steady wages.

It was in 1914 that he sponsored the development of the moving assembly line technique of mass production. Simultaneously, he introduced the $5-per-day wage (a considerable sum at the time) as a method of keeping the best workers loyal to his company. By 1918 the simple to drive and cheap to repair Model T’s accounted for around half of all cars in America!.

Henry was also an ardent pacifist and opposed World War I, even funding a peace ship to Europe. Later, in 1936, Henry and his family established the Ford Foundation to provide ongoing grants for research, education and development. Henry Ford died of a cerebral haemorrhage on Monday 7th April 1947, at the age of 83, near his Dearborn estate.

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