Henry Ford was an American industrialist, best known for his pioneering achievements in the automobile industry. From humble beginnings he was able to create a company that would rank as one of the giants of American and World industry long after his death.
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There is no doubt that Henry Ford was a successful business man. The Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford’s legacy, has left its mark on every continent in the world. However, Ford didn’t gain his success solely on his innovation in the automobile industry. He was a friend to the middle class public as well as the workers in his factories. For this he was rewarded with financial success by the same people he looked out for. Moreover, he repeatedly gave back to society through donations, philanthropic foundations, and the creation of organizations that would help to educate and benefit the people. Henry Ford was a man who gained world-wide business success through his innovative ideas, brilliant management skills, and down-to-earth tactics.
Henry Ford was born on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan, on July 30, 1863, and educated in district schools. He became a machinist’s apprentice in Detroit at the age of 16. From 1888 to 1899 he was a mechanical engineer, and later chief engineer, with the Edison Illuminating Company. In 1893, after experimenting for several years in his leisure hours, he completed the construction of his first gasoline engine. His first automobile was completed in 1896. The body was a small crude wooden box, it had a single seat, a steering tiller, bicycle wheels, and an electric bell on the front. In 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company.
At first, like his competitors, he made cars that only the wealthy could afford. But later he came to believe that every man, no matter what his income, should own a car. This resulted in the inexpensive “Model T” in 1908. It brought great financial success to his company. The Model T was in production until 1927 when it was discontinued in favor of a more up-to-date model. While in production the company sold over 15 million cars. In 1913 Ford began using standardized interchangeable parts and assembly-line techniques in his plant. Although Ford neither originated nor was the first to employ such practices, he was chiefly responsible for their general adoption and for the consequent great expansion of American industry and the raising of the American standard of living.
By early 1914 this innovation, although greatly increasing productivity, had resulted in a monthly labor turnover of 40 to 60 percent in his factory, largely because of the unpleasant monotony of assembly-line work and repeated increases in the production quotas assigned to workers. Ford met this difficulty by doubling the daily wage then standard in the industry, raising it from about $2.50 to $5. The net result was increased stability in his labor force and a substantial reduction in operating costs. These factors, coupled with the enormous increase in output made possible by new technological methods, led to an increase in company profits from $30 million in 1914 to $60 million in 1916.
Ford believed that most of the profits should be used to increase the size of the company’s factories. This was an unusual practice at the time. The other stockholders wanted to split the profits among themselves in the form of dividends. Ford didn’t like opposition in his company so he bought out all the other stockholders in 1919. Within the ensuing few years, however, Ford’s preeminence as the largest producer and seller of automobiles in the nation was gradually lost to his competitors, largely because he was slow to adopt the practice of introducing a new model of automobile each year, which had become standard in the industry. During the 1930s Ford adopted the policy of the yearly changeover, but his company was unable to regain the position it had formerly held.
In the period from 1937 to 1941, the Ford company became the only major manufacturer of automobiles in the Detroit area that had not recognized any labor union as the collective bargaining representative of employees. At hearings before the National Labor Relations Board, Henry Ford was found guilty of repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act. The findings against him were upheld on appeal to the federal courts. Ford was constrained to negotiate a standard labor contract after a successful strike by the workers at his main plant at River Rouge, Michigan, in April 1941.
Early in 1941 Ford was granted government contracts whereby he was, at first, to manufacture parts for bombers and, later, the entire airplane. He thereupon launched the construction of a huge plant at Willow Run, Michigan, where production was begun in May 1942. It was said the plant could produce a bomber an hour. Despite certain technical difficulties, by the end of World War II (1945) this plant had manufactured more than 8000 B-24 Liberator Bombers and other military planes.
Ford was active in several other fields besides those of automobile and airplane manufacturing. He was nominated for the office of U.S. senator from Michigan in 1918 but was defeated in the election. In the following year he erected the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit at a cost of $7.5 million. He established the Greenfield Village which is a group of American Historical buildings and landmarks and he created the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn which exhibits man’s progress in many fields. Also, he donated large amounts of money to the philanthropic Ford Foundation which is currently one of the world’s largest. In 1919 he became the publisher of the Dearborn Independent, a weekly journal, which at first published anti-Semitic material. After considerable public protest, Ford directed that publication of such articles be discontinued and that a public apology be made to the Jewish people.
Advancing age obliged Ford to retire from the active direction of his gigantic enterprises in 1945. He died on April 7, 1947, in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford left a personal fortune estimated at $500 to $700 million, bequeathing the largest share of his holdings in the Ford Motor Company to the Ford Foundation. Ford revolutionized American and consequently World industry with his pioneering use of the assembly line production method. He turned a small local car company into one of the world’s largest industrial companies. Henry Ford was a great businessman and a great human being. He proved that success cannot simply be attained with a good product. He accomplished what many aspire to, but few actually achieve. He was able to combine his technological know-how, and innovative ideas with brilliant managerial practices and respect for his workers and customers. Adding in his philanthropic tendencies, it is obvious that Henry Ford is a perfect model of how to be successful in business and in life.