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Who was Henry Ford?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Henry Ford (1863-1947), was born in Michigan, the son of a farmer. He started work in a machine shop in Detroit, became a steam-engineer with the Edison Company and in 1893 studied a small petrol engine on exhibition at the World's Fair in Chicago. He decided to apply a petrol engine to a 'horseless carriage', and by 1896 he had built in his shed at home his first motorcar, a 2-cylinder- 4 hp machine which had four bicycle wheels and a tiller for steering . In 1899 he started the Detroit Automobile Company with some backers, but soon launched out on his own to build and drive a successful racing car. This led to the founding of the Henry Ford Company and production, from 1908, of the famous Model T Ford, a car that was cheaper and more reliable than any of its rivals.

In 1909 he built 10,600 cars; in 1914, 248,300; so successful was his assembly-line production that by 1925 he was producing 10,000 cars a day, and when he abandoned the Model T in 1927 he had made 15,000,000 of them. He then shut down his vast plant to retool for the new Model A, and he did so again in 1932 for the V8. During the Second World War Ford built the huge Willow Run aircraft factory, which turned out a Liberator bomber every hour; he had by then expanded his motorcar business into a world-wide organization with factories in many countries. He also built Fords on farm tractors and civil aircraft.

Henry Ford was a brilliant engineer and businessman, who pioneered mass-production and a new industrial outlook. His method was to cut the price of the car, step up sales, and improve production efficiency to increase output still further; thus he built the world's greatest one-man industrial organization, made an astronomical fortune and left a huge trust fund, the Ford Foundation, to promote social welfare.

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