Henry Ford has changed the way of life for many people, with his practical and affordable cars. The moving assembly line and mass production techniques that he invented, set the standard for worldwide industrial practice in the first half of the 20th Century.
The story begins in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan, on 30 July 1863, when Henry was the first-born of William and Mary Ford’s six children. Growing up on a prosperous family farm, he was educated in a one-room school, where he showed an early interest in all things mechanical. This interest would develop into true genius and earn him the accolade of ‘one of the greatest industrialists in the world’.
Learning the trade
Henry Ford started young. By the age of 12, Henry was spending most of his spare time in a small machine shop, which he had equipped himself. It was here that he constructed his first steam engine, in 1878, aged 15. The next year he left home, bound for the nearby city of Detroit, to work as an apprentice machinist.
His apprenticeship lasted three years, then Henry returned home to Dearborn. During the next few years, Henry divided his time between operating and repairing steam engines, finding occasional work in a Detroit factory and overhauling his father's farm implements. The year 1888, saw a major change in his life, when he married Clara Bryant and began supporting his new family by running a sawmill.
It wasn’t long before he made another change and by 1891, Ford had become an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. Two years later, following his promotion to Chief Engineer, Ford had enough time and money to devote more attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines.
His first vehicle
The culmination of his experiments was the building of a self-propelled vehicle – the Quadricycle – in 1896. The first Ford engine spluttered its way into history, on his wooden kitchen table at 58 Bagley Avenue and this was quickly followed by his next design, an engine mounted on a frame, fitted with four bicycle wheels – the first Ford car.
Going it alone
After resigning from Edison in 1898, Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company. Unfortunately, the company was forced into bankruptcy. But never one to be stopped by a setback, he designed and built several racing cars and drove the infamous ‘Sweepstakes’ to victory beating American Champion, Alexander Winton, on 10 October 1901.