Henry Ford’s Greatest Achievements and Inventions
Hailed for his technological prowess and vision in the automobile industry, Henry Ford was a pioneer of the first moving assembly-line methods that helped usher America into a fully-fledged industrial powerhouse.
This industrialist and inventor used efficient factory production methods and standardization techniques to produce affordable cars for a growing American middle class. His very popular Ford Model T automobile, which sold over 15 million units in America alone, is testament to just how much of an impact he had on the first half of the 20th century. As at 1918, cars produced by Henry Ford’s company – the Ford Motor Company – made up about 50% of the cars on the market.
What other feats of accomplishment did this technological genius and inventor attain? Below World History Edu explores the life, major achievements and inventions made by Henry Ford.
Henry Ford: Quick Facts
Birthday: July 30, 1863
Place of birth: Greenfield Township, Michigan, U.S.
Died: April 7, 1947
Place of death: Fair Lane, Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.
Parents: Mary and William Ford
Wife: Clara Bryant
Children: Edsel Ford
Best known for: Founding the Ford Motor Company; pioneer of the assembly line and mass production; Ford Model T (1908-1927)
Major Achievements of Henry Ford
Here is a quick look at the 10 major achievements of Henry Ford, one of America’s most celebrated minds of the modern era
Built his first horseless carriage called the “Quadricycle”
In December of 1893, Henry Ford was appointed chief engineer at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company plant. His job required him to keep the electric service in Detroit running 24/7. In his free time, he tried his hands on a number of engineering related endeavors, including, and most importantly, his 1896 gasoline-powered vehicle which had four bicycle wheels. Ford called his creation – a horseless carriage – the “Quadricycle”.
Founder of the Henry Ford Company, which later became the Cadillac Motor Company
Although Ford was not the first to build a self-powered automobile, he was one of the first people to monetize his creation as he sold his first horseless carriage in order fund subsequent ones. Inventors like Elwood Haynes, Charles Edgar and Hiram Percy Maxim avoided selling their vehicles.
Buoyed on by those initial sales, Ford was able to attract a number of investors to form the Detroit Automobile Company in the final few months of the 19th century. That company was what would later become the Henry Ford Company. However, a few years in, his financial backers had grown very frustrated over Ford’s insistence that the model he was working on was not ready for the market.
Ford refused to back down on his goal on making the model ready for customers. Due to that and a few other disagreements over the strategic direction of the company, Ford left the Henry Ford Company in 1902. The company ultimately reorganized as the Cadillac Motor Car Company.
Founded the Ford Motor Company
After years of working on his model, Ford was comfortable with putting out an automobile on the market in 1903. With close to $30,000 in cash from about a dozen associate investors and backers, Ford was able to incorporate the Ford Motor Company in June 1903. Ford’s first vehicle was manufactured at the Mack Avenue Plant in July 1903. Ford and Alexander Y Malcomson together owned about 51% of the stock at the incorporation of the Ford Motor Company.
Today, the Ford Motor Company is one of the largest automakers in the world. Even after more than a century since its inception, the company remains a global titan in the automobile industry, accruing hundreds of billions of revenues every year. The company is also one of the largest family-controlled companies as the Ford Foundation owns majority of the company’s stocks.
He fought and won a case against a very powerful industrial association of automobile manufacturers
Less than two months after his Ford Motor Company was established, Henry Ford had a daunting task of keeping his business afloat as it was on the brink of dying due to legal actions taken by the a very powerful industrial combination.
In a bid to protect its members profit in an industry that was quickly becoming a very lucrative one, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers had turned down Ford’s request for a manufacturing license. The group then tried everything in their power to halt Ford from producing any automobile, stating that the up and coming automaker had no license to do so. The association tried to use its control of a patent granted in 1895 to halt the advances made by new automakers like Ford and a number of rural Midwesterners.
After an initial loss at the court in 1909, Ford came back firing on all cylinders and won against the extremely powerful industrial combination in 1911.
Henry Ford’s Model T absolutely dominated the automobile industry for close to two decades
The Model A was Henry Ford’s first automobile in a series of automobiles that followed through the alphabet. However, of all the cars in those series, it was the Model T that proved the most successful, having being first manufactured in October, 1908. Initially, the Model T was sold for $850; however, in less than two decades later, the Model T was being sold at around $290. The reduction in Model T prices came as a result of Ford’s incessant drive to bring down production cost using more efficient mass-production techniques, including standardization and the use of interchangeable parts.
By 1918, about 50% of the cars on the market were Model Ts – it was generally hailed as the first affordable car in the U.S. Ford prioritization of functionality and accessible and easy after-sales repair made the Model T a household favorite, especially among the middle class.
In addition to selling more than 15 million Model Ts in the U.S., Ford sold about 1 million and 250,000 Model Ts in Canada and the UK respectively. At those figures, the Model T accounted for about half of the world’s car population at the time.
Henry Ford revolutionized the assembly line
At some point, Henry Ford’s Model T was so popular that demand for Ford’s revolutionary automobile almost outstripped supply. Therefore, Ford sought out new and innovative ways to increase factory production. He developed a kind of mass production method that reduced the man hours on the factory floor tremendously. In 1913, his company was the first to develop a moving assembly line for cars. The technique was first deployed at a new plant in Highland Park, Michigan.
By 1914, Ford’s mass production methods allowed the company to 93 man-minutes, down from 12.5 man-hours. The moving assembly line allowed for Ford to implement a three-shift day. That in turn increased the productivity tremendously. By 1920, Ford was producing about one million cars a year, up from about 40,000 a decade prior.
Ford deployed moving assembly line technique of production that allows for items to move at a predetermined pace from one workstation to another until the final product is fully assembled. It’s been said that Ford divided the manufacturing process of the Model T into 45 steps.
Increased the daily wage of his employees
Henry Ford’s goal was to move cars from a luxurious item into a basic necessity. He was fully aware that his employees would play a crucial role in that goal of his. Therefore, he sought to pay his employees way above the industry rates, with some competitors in the industry tagging him as a socialist. Unperturbed by those remarks, Ford went ahead to introduce to the $5 daily wage, almost double the industry rate. The wage increase gave Ford the results that he was looking for as productivity levels went through the roof. Suddenly the Ford Motor Company had become the employer that every American dreamed of working for.
Ford was ingenious in his employee management approach as he realized that a well-paid worker was a potential customer of Ford cars. This in turn, boosted sales of Ford cars.
Ford made cars affordable for everyone
With large scale production of cars, the Ford Company was able to make their Model T very affordable, especially to the American middle class. Buoyed on by those cost-cutting measures, which were part of a broader and more improved scientific management technique, the cars were produced in a manner that made them easy to drive and to repair. It’s been estimated that over 15 million Model T cars were produced. At those figures, the Model T held a 50% market share of the American automobile industry by 1918.
Ford made cars easily accessible to people not only in the upper echelons of the society. The Model T was a big game changer as the nation transitioned from an agricultural based economy into an industrial economy.
One of the first industrialists to champion the five-day, 40-hour work week
Another massive accomplishment of Henry Ford came in the form of his strong liking of the five-day, 40-hour work week. Taking cognizance of the fact that his increased pursuit of speed and greater efficiency had the downside of making work on the factory floor dull and repetitive, Henry Ford decided to reduce the hours in a shift from nine hours to eight hours. This was big game-changer in the industry as workers at the time worked an average of 48 hours a week.
Ford reasoned that negative side effects of monotony and repetitive nature of the tasks on the factory could be alleviated to some extent by reducing the shifts from nine hours a day to eight hours.
Ford had a massive influence on the American economy
Barring the fact that his pursuit for greater efficiency and speed resulted in some bit of confrontation between management and labor, Henry Ford was undoubtedly had an unparalleled influence on the American automobile industry. He was a leading pioneer of standardized mass factory production as well as consumption. Those two points were absolutely crucial in turning around the fortunes of manufacturers in America.
With automobiles becoming a basic necessity, suddenly, rural areas were now more accessible. It also resulted in a mass migration of people from those areas into an ever expanding American cities in search for manufacturing jobs.
Similarly farmlands that were cut off from urban areas suddenly became connected. The massive urbanization spurred more investments in the nation’s highway system as suburbs and housing developments increased.
Basically Ford’s industrial concept – Fordism – is credited with inspiring a never-before-seen growth of American industry in terms of size and wealth. Moreover, his management theories changed the social fabric of the nation to a large extent.
To put into perspective how much of an impact Ford had, as at 1879, two out of eight Americans lived in cities. However, as at the time of Henry Ford’s death in 1947, that number had soared to five. It has been said that Henry Ford was disappointed after he realized that his cars and efficient production techniques were just some of the major reasons for the massive urbanization growth. He even took some measures to roll it back.
More Henry Ford Facts
- Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863, coinciding with an era when the nation was being torn to shreds due to the bloody American Civil War (1861-1865).
- One of eight children, Henry Ford spent his early childhood years in Greenfield Township in present-day Wayne County, Michigan.
- Like many of the children that he grew up with, Henry Ford attended local district schools where he performed extremely well.
- Going against his father’s wishes for him to become a farmer, Ford pursued his interest in engineering. In his mid-teens, he fanned the flame of his passion by taking up apprenticeship training as a machinist in Detroit. It was in Detroit that he first had a hands-on experience with the internal-combustion engine.
- In his early 20s, he built himself a small tractor to help him on his father’s farm. He then built a steam engine to power the tractor.
- Ford married Clara Bryant in 1888. Like Ford, Clara grew up on a farm in Michigan. The marriage produced one child – daughter Edsel Bryant (born on November 6, 1893).
- Henry Ford’s company – the Ford Motor Company – opened its first international sales branch in Paris, France, in 1908. By mid-1914, Ford’s Model Ts had sold more than half a million units.
- By the late 1920s, the Ford Motor Company had about 20 overseas assembly plants across the world, including in Europe, Canada, Asia, South Africa, Australia, and Latin America.
- Henry Ford saved his longtime friend and mentor Thomas Edison’s last breath in a test tube. The test tube can be found in the Henry Ford Museum.
- He narrowly lost a U.S. Senate election in 1918.
- Henry Ford also manufactured a number of racing cars, including the “999” racer that was driven by Barney Oldfield. Many of those race cars set new speed records.
Other major accomplishments
- Ford’s Model T was the most prized automobile in the series. At over 15 million car sales, Model T was the most sold car model for about 45 years. The model was the undisputed king in the automobile industry, coming in at number one on the list of most influential cars of the 20th century in 1999 Car of the Century competition.
- Just a year after production of the Model T ceased (in 1927), Henry was honored with the Elliot Cresson Medal by the Franklin Institute.
- In 1946, he received a call up into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
- In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
- Time magazine named Henry Ford as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.