HENRY FORD, the Father of Mass-production

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This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: North East - Part 1

In the travel series View America, North East - Part 1 covers Michigan and Wisconsin. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.

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Henry Ford (1863-1947) founded an automobile empire all by himself. He was born on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan and became a machinist's apprentice in Detroit at the age of 16. Between 1888 and 1899 he worked as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company.

In 1896 he built his first car, the Quadri Cycle, in his home, and in 1903, at age 40, he founded the Ford Motor Company. In 1908 he released the incredibly successful Model T. By 1927 he had built more than fifteen million Model T's!

At first, his company used exactly the same system as all the other manufacturers, whereby a group of workers built the entire car. In 1913 however, he worked out a new system with interchangeable parts, and a standardized assembly line. He was not the first to apply these techniques, but he did develop them and systematically applied them to the entire production. Which is why he is called the Father of American Mass-Production.

Henry Ford 1919 - 1

Ford model T - 1909

Each individual assembly-line job was made "idiot-proof", so that even low-skilled and inexpensive workers could easily perform whatever was needed. This was necessary, given the immigrants' low training. The system immediately tripled productivity, and his return towered high above that of the competition. But inevitably, the work itself became a complete drudge, which is perfectly illustrated in the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie "Modern Times".

His first cars were introduced with a price tag of 850 dollars, which was a considerable sum in those days. But all his inventive techniques allowed him to reduce the price of his Model T to 260 dollars, which rightly made him the Father of the Popularization of the Automobile.

In 1914 Ford produced about 300,000 cars with 13,000 employees, while 299 other companies produced about 280,000 vehicles with 66,350 employees! A rather pleasant side effect was that it also doubled his annual profit from$ 30 million to $ 60 million in 1916, and made him by far the largest car manufacturer in the U.S. By 1925, fully 50% of all American cars were Ford T's!

Next to cars, Ford also produced light trucks. In 1925, he released the first truck with an open bed, and called it a pick-up truck. It was a handy-for-everything that was useful for everybody. The name immediately stuck, and the pick-up truck became a huge success, that still continues to date. The Ford F-150 has actually been the best-selling pick-up truck for more than 25 years !

Ford pick up 1925

Henry Ford 1919 - 2

Ford, the patriarch

Ford was an absolute patriarch, who didn't tolerate even the least contradiction. But his stubborn and arrogant approach made him loose good engineers in droves. His Model T remained unchanged for twenty years, whereas other manufacturers changed their model every year to attract new buyers. They also painted their cars in other colors than the traditional black. Ford responded with his legendary witticism; "My customers can also get any color, as long as it's black"... Which was the case after 1913, though in the initial years he did present different colors.

Through this conservative approach he frittered away more market share every year, and in 1927 he lost his supremacy to arch-rival General Motors. In 1930 he was forced to follow his competitors's trends, and brought out his new Model A, which once again became a huge success.

In 1945, and at the age of 82, the relentless despot Henry Ford withdrew from the management of his empire, and he died two years later. His personal fortune was estimated between 500 and 700 million dollars. Certainly a most remarkable man !

Video : how to drive a Model T

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