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Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Ford, Henry (1863-1947), American industrialist, best known for his

pioneering achievements in the automobile industry.

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 automobile, and in 1903 he founded the Ford Motor


Automobile Production

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.

In 1908 the Ford company initiated production of the celebrated Model T.

Until 1927, when the Model T was discontinued in favor of a more up-to-date

model, the company produced and sold about 15 million cars. 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.

Labor Problems

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 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


Wartime Production

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. Despite certain technical

difficulties, by the end of World War II (1945) this plant had manufactured

more than 8000 planes.

Other Activities

Ford was active in several other fields besides those of automobile and

airplane manufacturing. In 1915 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 belligerent governments to end World War I.

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. 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. 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, a nonprofit organization.




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