Henry Ford’s name has always been synonymous with innovation. While he’s best known for bringing automobiles to the masses with his Model T and for streamlining the manufacturing process as a whole, there’s so much more to the man, the myth, the legend, Henry Ford. Here’s a few interesting bits of information that you may not have heard.
He Repaired Watches in His Youth
On his family’s Michigan farm, Ford constantly found new ways to feed his mechanical curiosities. At age 13 his father gave him a pocket watch, which Ford disassembled and put back together in an effort to learn more about the inner workings of the timepiece. He quite literally wanted to know what ‘made it tick’.
He quickly mastered the complexities of the pocket watch. It wasn’t long before neighbors heard of Ford’s developing talent, and he soon became the town’s go-to person for fixing broken timepieces.
He Was Influenced By Thomas Edison
In 1891, the Edison Illuminating Company had gotten word of Henry Ford’s engineering prowess. They then brought him on as a night engineer. There he gradually climbed the ranks, until he became a chief engineer. During his time at the Edison Illuminating Company, Ford and a few friends developed what they called a Quadricycle, or in other terms, a horseless carriage.
The Quadricycle would be a self-propelled vehicle, with four wire wheels and boat-like steering. He presented his design to a small group of Edison Illuminating Company executives, including Thomas Edison. Edison was impressed with Ford’s vision and encouraged him to continue pushing until he ironed out the design flaws, like the lack of a reverse gear, for example.
Edison’s encouraging words helped steer Ford on the path to his eventual success.
He was No Stranger to Failure
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford.
Prior to Ford Motor Company, Ford actually had two other failed business ventures. His first was a company called Detroit Automobile Company. Ford struggled to fill orders, which upset customers. He simply couldn’t build cars quickly enough to satisfy demand.
The second company, the Henry Ford Company, fell apart because the shareholders wanted Ford to only strictly on customer car production, rather than his own racing activities. Eventually, the shareholders forced Ford from the company. You may have heard of that company, though under a different name, The Cadillac Automobile Company.
He Helped Create Our Current Economic System
After perfecting the assembly line, Ford had issues with production of the Model T. He found that while specialized duties proved to be the way of the future, employee turnover became a huge issue. Workers were worn down, they didn’t handle Ford’s one-task-and-one-task-only division of labor very well. It was said that Ford hired a thousand workers for every 100 jobs. Ford increased his workers wages to $5, which was significant at the time, which drastically improved workers’ performance.
The raise increased the quality of life for his workers, who often had minimal education or skills. This expanded the middle class, who now had money to spend on leisure items, like the Model T for example. Ford eventually gave his workers eight hour shifts and a five day work week.
His Stubbornness Nearly Destroyed Ford Motor Company
Ford refused to hand over complete control to his son, Edsel. Edsel tried to get him to expand the model line to include more than just the Model T, but Henry Ford refused. Meanwhile, Chevrolet was diversifying their model line.
Ford then saw a massive decline in sales, which put him behind both Chevrolet and General Motors. This decline forced Ford to fire thousands of workers and shut down Model T production.
The release of the Model A brought Ford back into the game. Ford was able to use the success of the Model A to ride out the first two years of the Great Depression. However, business soon slowed down and Ford struggled. It didn’t take long for him to get back on his feet though; in 1932 Ford began to mass-produce their flat-head V-8 engine, which brought Ford back into financial stability while simultaneously jump-starting the “Hot Rod” movement.