Society - History
By: - at August 23, 2013

26 Interesting Facts About Henry Ford

Henry FordIntroduction
American industrialist, Henry Ford (30th July, 1863 – 7th April, 1947) is best known as the founder of the iconic Ford Motor Company (FMC), though he was responsible for much more. Culturally, he revolutionized the transport industry with the development of the Ford Model T automobile that enabled the middle-class to own cars; automobiles had previously only been affordable for the upper classes. In business, he’s credited with pioneering mass production and establishing better working conditions and entitlements for employees.

After establishing the FMC in 1903, he ultimately became one of the richest and well-known individuals in the world. He was a unique and remarkable figure. However, despite his numerous positive contributions to society, there was a darker and often contradictory side to the man behind the worldwide icon.

In 1945, failing health forced the prolific businessman into retirement, leaving his grandson, Henry Ford II in charge of the long-held family business. After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1947, Henry died at the age of 83, leaving behind a remarkable, curious and controversial legacy.


Fact 26)  Henry Ford Began Tinkering With a Watch
When Henry Ford was in his early teens, his father gave him a watch, which Ford ended up dismantling and reassembling to work out how it operated. By the age of 15, Ford was known in his neighborhood as an unofficial watch repairman, working mostly for his friends.

old pocket watch

It was this inquisitiveness and inventiveness that would ultimately lead Ford to the technological achievements he’d accomplish later in life.


Fact 25)  Henry Ford Could Have Been a Farmer
Were it not for the death of his mother in 1876, Henry Ford could easily have become a farmer, rather than pursuing his love of technology. He was born and raised on a family farm, thus his father had always envisioned that Ford would ultimately and inevitable take over when he reached adulthood.

Farmer farming concept

While Ford had always seemed at least okay with the idea of working on the farm, the only real thing he had loved about the place was his mother. When she died, so did any and all intentions to continue with life on the land.


Fact 24)  Henry Ford Worked for Thomas Edison
In 1891, Ford found work as an engineer as part of Thomas Edison’s business, the Edison Illuminating Company. He quickly worked his way up to the position of Chief Engineer. By 1893 he had obtained enough money to focus on personal endeavors relating to gasoline engines, which led to the development of the self-propelled Ford Quadricycle in 1896.

The Ford Quadricycle
The Ford Quadricycle

Edison (who was known to take credit for the achievements of his workers by claiming them as his own) was greatly impressed with Ford’s efforts, which led to Ford developing another vehicle in 1898. A year later, Ford left Edison’s company to pursue his own business.


Fact 23)  The First Car Company Was a Failure
In 1899, upon leaving Edison’s company, Henry Ford obtained funding from William H. Murphy and established the Detroit Automobile Company. While Ford was able to develop a decent automobile in regards to quality, although he initially struggled to produce something that was cost efficient.

First Product of the Detroit Automobile Company in 1900
First Product of the Detroit Automobile Company in 1900

He specifically wanted to make something that had a mass appeal. This failure led to Henry Ford having to dissolve his first company in 1901.


Fact 22)  Henry Ford's First Successful Company Became a Competitor
After Ford’s failure with his initial company, he established another with C. Harold Willis. The two developed a vehicle together. They gained attention for the car after racing it, and the subsequent attention led to investors. With further funding from William H. Murphy, Ford and Willis established the Henry Ford Company in 1901, with Ford serving as the chief engineer.

C. Harold Willis
C. Harold Willis

However, Murphy later hired Henry M. Leland for a consultant position, which Ford took offense to and left. As Ford was no longer associated with the company, the business was renamed the Cadillac Automobile Company.


Fact 21)  A Pioneer for Advertising
Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company, was one of the first corporations to establish a publicity machine that ensured that the company name was known nationwide, through newspaper stories about the company’s various new products. Furthermore, Ford had a network of dealers throughout America, in pretty much each and every city.

Henry Ford's Advertising

The franchises proved especially valuable at spreading the company as they sold vehicles but also popularized the very idea of the then novel concept of recreational driving. As a result of the publicity, Ford achieved incredible sales.


Fact 20)  Pioneered the Production Line
Henry Ford was always exploring various ways to achieve low cost and high efficiency. As a result, in 1913 the Ford Company established the first moving assembly belt. This achieved a remarkable increase in the company’s efficiency. There’s some controversy surrounding the initiative, though. While Ford took credit for it, current-day sourcing indict that the idea was developed and implemented by a number of Ford’s employees, including Peter E. Martin, Clarence Avery, C. Harold Willis and Charles E. Sorensen.

Assemble Line at Ford Motor Company in 1913
Assemble Line at Ford Motor Company in 1913

On a usual note, were it not for the invention of the assembly line most cars today might be black. In the early 1900s, half of all vehicles in the U.S. were Fords. All of Ford’s cars were black, due to the fact that the specific paint used involved a shorter drying period. However, with the development of the assembly line and the increased output, other colors became available.


Fact 19)  Henry Ford had a Mission for Peace
Ford regarded himself as a pacifist. Personally, he regarded war as a tremendous waste. In 1915, Ford embarked on a peace mission to Europe, aboard his ocean liner Oscar II, otherwise known as “The Peace Ship”. Dipping into his own fortune, Ford and a number of prominent peace activists of the era departed the U.S., headed for Europe on their unique mission for peace.

mission for world peace

Ford aspired to generate enough publicity for the notion of world peace that he would inspire an end to World War I. Ford’s endeavor was generally ridiculed by the media, often referring to the voyage as the “Ship of Fools”. Furthermore, the trip was marred by illness and, ironically, infighting among the various peace activists. Ultimately, Ford turned the ship back to the U.S.


Fact 18)  Potential Political Career
In 1918, the then President Woodrow Wilson urged Ford to enter politics and stand as a Democrat for the U.S Senate. Ford opted instead to run as a candidate for peace and a vocal advocate for the League of Nations, whose objective was to ensure world peace following World War I.

american politics

Ford was beaten by the Republican candidate, but only by a slim margin.


Fact 17)  Henry Ford Embarked in Brilliant, but Questionable Business Practices
In 1918, in what would prove to be a genius move, Ford handed the presidency of the FMC to his son, Edsel Ford. However, Henry still had the final say over each decision made. Meanwhile, Henry established the business Henry Ford and Son, for which he employed his most skilled workers from the FMC. This was all just a scam, though.

stock market

Henry’s objective was to gain complete control of the FMC, by scaring stockholders into selling their shares, thinking that the FMC would no longer be profitable without the leadership of Henry. His plan succeeded, with Henry soon obtaining complete control of his company.


Fact 16)  Henry Ford Did Not Believe in Accountants
Henry Ford never believed in using accountants, as he felt that they weren't productive enough and figured that they would ultimately end up costing him more money than they were worth.

accounting

Strange that his company was so successful without something that today's corporate environment almost mandates companies to have an accounting department.  


Fact 15)  Pioneered Welfare Capitalism
Ford pioneered the idea of welfare capitalism, which was intended to improve the quality of life of his employees. In 1914, Ford established the $5 day wage (approximately $110 by today’s standards), which at the time was more than double the average wage. The strategy proved beneficial for both Ford and his employees. Many of the best mechanics in the Detroit pursued careers with the company, which in turn increased productivity and reduced the cost and need for training. Subsequently, other auto businesses in Detroit were essentially forced to raise their own wages.

Ford Motor Company Plant in Cleveland, OH
Ford Motor Company Plant in Cleveland, OH

Officially, Ford’s objective was to ensure that his workers could afford the cars they were making. While his motivations at least appeared to be noble, his motives were somewhat self-serving as there had been significant turnover within the company with numerous departments having to hire 3 different people for a single position over the course of a year. With the introduction of the $5 day, turnover dropped significantly.


Fact 14)  Invaded Workers’ Privacy
Ford offered a profit-sharing scheme to employees who had been a part of the company for over six months. However, this came at a significant cost to the employees in question. Ford established as “Social Department”, which set out a strict code of conduct that employees were to live their lives by – outside of the workplace.

bad habits

The department looked down on those that chose to gamble or drink in their free time, and even employed around 50 investigators to ensure employees were living ostensibly wholesome lives. Ultimately, bad publicity forced Ford to tone down some of the more extreme intrusions that the department had routinely made.


Fact 13)  Henry Ford Hated Unions
Unions and the American FlagDespite Ford’s public image as a businessman who cared about his workers’ rights and welfare, he loathed labor unions. He felt that the objective of the unions was to hinder the company’s productivity to ensure long-term employment for his employees. He also believed that the union aspired to create a constant economic crisis in the business world and thereby keep themselves relevant.

Former boxer, Harry Bennett was employed by Ford to quash any and all union activity within Ford through brutality. Despite the concerns of numerous Ford officials (including Henry’s son, Edsel, the then Ford president), Ford insisted that violence was the only answer to union activity.

Henry Ford was determined to never sign a collective bargaining agreement with any union. When a sit-down strike took place in April of 1941, Ford was prepared to dissolve the company rather than give in to the union. However, his wife threatened to leave him if he did so, as she didn't want to have to deal with the aftermath of such an extreme and self-destructive move.

Ultimately, Henry gave in to his wife’s threats. In June 1941, the FMC signed a collective bargaining agreement with union officials. Of Detroit’s car manufacturers, the FMC was the last to officially acknowledge the United Auto Workers union (UAW).


Fact 12)  Henry Ford Owned an Airplane Company
During World War I, Ford got into the aviation business, producing Liberty engines. When the war ended, the FMC resumed producing cars. In 1925, Ford bought the Stout Metal Airplane Company.

Early Series Ford Trimotor
Early Series Ford Trimotor

Although Ford had some success – specifically with the Ford 4AT Trimotor, otherwise known as the “Tin Goose”, in reference to the aircraft’s corrugated metal design – the company folded in 1933, due largely to the Great depression. Nevertheless, Ford received an award from the Smithsonian Institution, which credited him with changing the business of aviation.


Fact 11)  A Conspiracy Theorist
conspiracyFord opposed America’s involvement in World War II. He felt that the global business world could produce enough prosperity to bring an end to World War II, which therefore led him to believe that war in general was the consequence of opportunistic financiers who pursued profit at the cost of human life.

In 1939, when a U.S. merchant ship was torpedoed by German submarines, Ford publicly claimed that it was the result of a conspiracy involving the financiers of the war. Specifically, Ford blamed the Jewish community, who he also believed were responsible for World War I.


Fact 10)  Henry Ford and Anti-Semitism
antisemitism star of davidFrom 1919 to 1927s, Ford published ‘The Dearborn Independent’, otherwise known as ‘The Ford International Weekly’, a weekly newspaper that every single Ford franchise was obligated to carry and distribute to customers. The paper held strong anti-Semitic views. Due to the dissemination of the paper through Ford dealers, the paper attained a large circulation.

The newspaper is best remembered for the publication of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ which purported to detail the Jewish conspiracy to obtain world domination. It was subsequently exposed as a forgery by ‘The Times’ of London. In Germany, Ford's anti-Semitic articles from The Dearborn Independent were released in four volumes, collectively known as ‘The International Jew, the World's Foremost Problem’ or simply the ‘International Jew’.

As Ford was a pacifist, his anti-Semitic views were prefaced with a strong condemnation of physical violence towards the Jewish community – however, he also blamed the Jewish community for any violence incurred as having provoked the violence themselves. None of the articles were actually penned by Ford, though he consented to his name being listed as the author.

Due to a lawsuit and boycott of his products by the Jewish community and other groups, Henry Ford was forced to discontinue with the paper in 1927. In 1937, the FMC issued a statement disassociated itself with the publication of the ‘International Jew’ in Nazi Germany. In 1942, legal action halted the mass production of the publication. The book is officially banned in current-day Germany, though it is readily available on Nazi internet sites.

The documentary ‘Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story’ (2010) details how Ford wrote in 1920 that the core problem with the game of baseball was “too much Jew”.

In 1921, out-going U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and a number of other high-profile Americans issued a statement condemning Ford for their anti-Semitic views.

It’s been reported that when Ford was in his 80's, he saw a film that documented the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II and he was horrified by the numerous and various crimes against humanity.


Fact 9)  Henry Ford Honored by Hitler
On Ford’s 75th birthday in 1938, just prior to the start of World War II, Ford was honored by Nazi Germany with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal a foreign civilian could receive for their support for the Nazi cause.

Adolf Hitler With Himmler to His Right
Adolf Hitler With Himmler to His Right

In 1924, Heinrich Himmler the man often regarded as the mastermind behind the Holocaust, praised Ford as an important, valuable and witty public figures on a global scale, fighting for the Nazi ideals. Furthermore, Ford was the only American mentioned favorably in Adolf Hitler’s semi-autobiographical ‘Mein Kampf’, in which Hitler also marveled at Ford’s success, in an industry that Hitler regarded as being controlled by Jews. In 1931, Hitler publicly called Ford an “inspiration”.


Fact 8)  Henry Ford Believed in Reincarnation
According to Ford’s pastor, Episcopal minister Samuel S. Marquis, Ford believed or at least had at some point believed in the idea of reincarnation.


Fact 7)  Henry Ford Published a Book Against Cigarettes
Although Henry Ford wasn't exactly a teetotaler, he was health oriented in his lifestyle. As a result, he once published a book against cigarettes, documenting the dangers of the habit, backed up by research of the time and opinions of health experts called ‘The Case Against the Little White Slaver’ (1914).

quit smoking

This was way ahead of his time considering it was believed to be completely acceptable behavior to smoke. Physicians at times would even recommend it to their patients. 


Fact 6)  Henry Ford had Environmentally Friendly Ambitions
Always eager to explore new ideas, Ford had a long-held interest in the possibility of developing plastics from agricultural products, in particular soybeans. As a result, a number of soybean-based plastics were utilized in Ford vehicles during the 1930s for various features.

environmental concern ecology green thinking

Furthermore, Ford’s ambition to develop an environmentally friendly car led to the production of the concept car, the Soybean car, otherwise known as the Hemp body car, in 1941. Although it had a number of positive elements – it weighed 30% less than cars made of steel, had the ability to withstand impact better than steel vehicles and ran on ethanol derived from hemp – the machine never caught the public’s attention.


Fact 5)  His Significance in Technological Pioneering
Ford pioneered the use of engineered woods, as he felt that the best wood could be made rather than grown. He also experimented with the use of corn as a fuel.

technological planning

Ford also played a significant part in the development of charcoal briquettes, which were originally marketed as “Kingsford”, when his brother in-law E.G Kingsford, utilized wood scraps from Ford’s factory to produce the charcoal.


Fact 4)  Henry Ford Believed in Preserving Americana
Ford had a great appreciation for anything and everything “Americana”, so much so that he attempted to produce an Americana-themed village, though he never managed to realize the dream venture.

made in america

In 1929, Ford achieved somewhat achieved his ambition when he opened an indoor and outdoor museum of American technology that displayed a variety of famous pieces of machinery, homes and exhibits. It was originally known as the Edison Institute then later changed its name to The Henry Ford, though it is commonly known as the Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village.


Fact 3)  Henry Ford Never Officially had Executive Title
During his time with his company, Ford never actually had an official executive title. For over 20 years, he served simply with de facto control of the business and the company’s board simply never dared defy his wishes.


Fact 2)  Henry Ford's Last Years Were Abysmal
Despite Ford’s remarkable accomplishments in his early years, his last years weren't so constructive. In fact, he almost ran the business into the ground. In 1943, Henry’s son, Edsel the then president of Ford Motor Company, died from cancer. Henry assumed the presidency of the company. However, this was after numerous health issues, including numerous strokes and a heart attack. As a result, the long-time conspiracy theorist was now even more paranoid and made highly questionable decisions.

ford logo

During the early to mid 1940s, the FMC lost over $10 million each month (approximately $132,670,000 by today’s standards). The company was doing so badly that the President at the time Franklin Roosevelt, considered having the government take over the company, to ensure the production of weapons for World War II.


Fact 1)  Henry Ford Hated Car Racing
Ford was involved in car racing between 1901 and 1913, as both a developer and driver, before he opted to hire drivers. He was even an early supporter of the Indianapolis 500. However, despite his involvement and significant history in the industry, Ford actually hated car racing. For him, it was merely a necessity as a way to promote his cars and his company, by showcasing what they could do.

Car Racing Celebrity Tommy Milton in 1921
Car Racing Celebrity Tommy Milton in 1921

Overall, Ford felt that despite the popularity of car racing the activity was inadequate for displaying a vehicle’s capabilities. Despite his fairly open contempt for the very idea of car racing, in 1996 Ford was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.


Conclusion
Henry Ford was a truly remarkable and innovative person. There is no doubt that his genius has made such a significant impact and revolutionized the world. His accomplishments will always remain one of history's biggest game changers in production and innovations.


 

 

 

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