Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 to William and Mary Ford. He was the first of six children. He grew up in a rich farming household in Dearborn, Michigan. He enjoyed a typical childhood, spending his days in a one-room schoolhouse and doing farm chores. Ever since he was young, he showed an interest for the mechanical aspect of things, and how they worked and functioned. He used to take things apart and put them back together to get an idea of the inner workings of basic mechanical tools (Nevins, 47 - 50).
In 1879, at a young age of 16, he left his home to travel to the near by city of Detroit to work as an apprentice for a machinist. He occasionally returned home to work on the farm. He remained an apprentice for three years and then returned to Dearborn. During the next few years, Henry divided his time between operating and repairing steam engines, finding occasional work in Detroit factories, and working on his fathers broken down farm equipment, as well as lending an unwilling hand with other farm work. Henry got married to Clara Bryant in 1888 Henry supported himself and his wife by running a sawmill (Collier, 145 - 152).
In 1891, Henry became an engineer with the Edison Illumination Company. This was an important event in his life because it signified that he had made a conscious career move into industrial pursuits. He was promoted to Chief Engineer in 1893. This gave him enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines (Lacey 13 - 14).
The high point of this research came with the completion of his own self-propelled vehicle, the Quadricycle. This bike had four wire wheels and was steered with a tiller, like a boat. It had two forward speeds, and no reverse. Although this was not the first self-propelled vehicle, it set Henry Ford as one of the major pioneers whom helped this nation become one of motorists (Head 22 - 24).
Ford decided that he wanted to become an automobile manufacturer. After two unsuccessful tries, Ford motor company was finally incorporated in 1903 with Henry Ford as the Vice President and Chief Engineer. When the company first started it was only producing a few cars a day at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. A group of two or three men would work on one car from components made to order by other companies (Lewis 99 - 100)
Ford realized his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonable priced, reliable and efficient with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. This vehicle iniated a new era in personal transportation. It was easy to operate, maintain, and could handle rough roads. It was also very reasonably priced at 850 dollars. The cars sold fast and for the first time, the middle class could afford a car. By 1920, about 4 million Model T's were sold (Lewis, 103 - 105).
The model T revolutionized America in many different ways. For example, while the Model T was in production, the assembly line was used on a large scale. The assembly line was a powered chain that brought the chassis of the car to each of its parts. The parts were then attached to the chassis of the car and moved on to the next station. It usually took fourteen hours to build one Model T, and with the assembly line it only took six. Henry built a huge factory based on the assembly line. The assembly line added more jobs and significantly lowered the cost of production (Nevins, 65 - 67).
Since the assembly line, Ford was able to produce many more cars than usual, therefore increasing profits. Since the profits were increased, Henry was able to raise the workers' salaries from $2.50 an hour to $5.00 an hour. He also cut the workday to only eight hours a day, making the workers very happy. People from all over the nation tried to get a job working at the Ford Motor Company because the wages were so good. Also since the assembly line increased profits, Henry was able to sell Model T's for a cheaper price. In 1915, the price of the Model T's went down to $490 (Lacey, 27 -29).
Fords assembly lines didn't always manufacture cars. In early 1941 the Ford was granted government contracts whereby he was to manufacture parts for bombers and later, the entire airplane. He then launched the construction of a huge plant at Willow Run, Michigan. By the end of the War, the plant had manufactured more than 8000 planes (Collier, 160).
In the period of 1937 to 1941, the Ford Company became the only major manufacturers of automobiles in the Detroit area that had not recognized any labor unions as the collective bargaining representative of employees. The company was later found guilty of repeated violation of the national Labor Relations Act (Nevins, 69 -70).
Henry Ford was active in many other fields besides those of automobile and airplane manufacturing. In 1915, he had world peace on his mind. He chartered a peace ship, which carried him and a number of like-minded individuals to Europe, where they attempted without success to persuade the close-minded to end WWI (Lacey, 33).
While still working at his company, Henry was also nominated for the U.S. Senate for the state of Michigan in 1918, though he was defeated. In 1919 Ford laid out 7.5 million of his own money to erect the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit (Head, 27 - 28).
As Ford was getting older, he retired from the active direction of his gigantic enterprise in 1945. Two years later, on April 7 1947, Ford died in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford left behind a personal fortune estimated between 500 and 700 million (Lacey, 20-21).
In conclusion, Henry Ford was a very important part of our society. He was responsible for many inventions, including the Model T. His biggest contribution was revolutionizing and perfecting the assembly line.