Sunday, August 3, 2008

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was not the inventor of the automobile (actually, no one single person was - see The History of the Automobile for the whole story), but his innovations in assembly-line techniques and the introduction of standardized interchangeable parts produced the first mass-production vehicle manufacturing plant, paving the way for the cheap automobiles that turned the United States into a nation of motorists.
The Early Years: Ford was born the first of six children July 30, 1863 to prosperous farmers in Dearborn, Michigan. Not liking his farming life and his studies in school, Ford set off at the young age of sixteen to the nearby town of Detroit to work three years as a machinist’s apprentice. After his experience he went back to his home in Dearborn working only part time for Westinghouse Engine Company and spending his spare time working in a small machine shop that he put together on the family’s land.
Ford’s marriage to Clara Bryant in 1888 required him to get a better paying job. In 1891 he started as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company and was promptly promoted to Chief Engineer. The job required Ford to be on call 24 hours a day. In his on-call time he began to experiment with internal combustion engines and created the Quadricycle, the first "horseless carriage", powered by gasoline and riding on four bicycle wheels. This invention led to the founding of Ford Motor Company.
Ford Motor Company: Ford made several attempts to establish his company. In 1903 with $28,000, eleven men, and Ford as Vice President and Chief Engineer, Ford Motor Company was incorporated. They produced only three cars a day and had up to three men working on each. In 1908 the company produced the famous Model T, a reliable and affordable vehicle for the mass market. Ford drove and raced this vehicle at every opportunity to prove how reliable it was. By 1918, half of all cars in the U.S. were a Model T.
Assembly Line Innovation: In response to growing demand, Ford built a new factory using standardized interchangeable parts and a conveyor-belt based assembly line. The factory was able to build a car in just 93 minutes, producing around 1 million vehicles a year (one every 24 seconds). With this advancement in production, Ford was able to market to the general public. The factory had everything it needed to construct the vehicles including a steel mill, glass factory, and the first automobile assembly line.
Management Style: Ford had a complex, conflicting and strongly opinionated personality. Most of the company's struggles were linked to his stubborn management style. He refused to unionize with the United Automobile Workers, and to prevent his employees from doing so he hired spies and company police to check in on his workers. When work on the assembly line proved overly monotonous and sent employee turnover rates to over 50%, he doubled the going wage to $5, buying back their loyalty and upping productivity.
Other Innovations and Inventions: Ford was responsible for cutting the workday from nine hours to eight hours, so that the factory could convert to a three-shift workday and operate 24 hours a day. He also continued his engineering innovations, patenting a transmission mechanism in 1911 and a plastic-bodied car in 1942. He also invented the first one-piece engine, the V-8. Ford fought and won a patent battle with George B. Selden, who was being paid royalties by all American car manufacturers for his patent on a "road engine".

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