Henry Ford is one of the most prominent Inventors and Innovators in American history and one of the greats in the automotive industry. He started his career as a machinist in Michigan and would eventually move on to work for Thomas Edison as an engineer.
Ford pioneered much about the modern industry through his work and has forever changed the world. While Ford was an all-around impeccable businessman, he made many notable inventions throughout the years.
After Henry Ford got married, he was hired by the Edison Illuminating Company where he quickly rose through the company's ranks. In two years Henry had become the chief engineer.
This job had grueling hours as he was on call 24/7, but Ford found time to work on his own projects during downtimes. He was working to build a horseless carriage powered by a gasoline engine, or an automobile. Ford wasn't the first to think of this concept, but utilizing his engineering skill he designed a vehicle he named the Quadricycle. This vehicle was a light metal frame that rode on 4 bicycle wheels.
Powering the horseless carriage was a two-cylinder gasoline engine with a whopping 4 horsepower. At the end of the day though, the stats of the vehicle didn't matter – it worked.
The Model A
Following his invention of the Quadricycle, Ford wanted to improve on the original design, but he needed money to do so. Ford built and sold quadricycles to gain funds to work on the development of other vehicles. Over the course of about 7 years, he received backing from many prominent investors of the time and formed the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899.
The Detroit Automobile Company would later become the Ford Motor Company, and the first car Ford produced was the model A.
The Model A was revolutionary and would slowly provide people with a fast easy means of transportation.
The demand for the vehicle skyrocketed and Henry Ford needed a new efficient means of keeping up with production. While Ford didn't invent the idea of an assembly line, he was notably one of the most prominent people to implement it in his factories on a wide scale. He transformed factory workers from Jacks of all trades who could build every part of a car into less-skilled workers who could do one part of the building process very well.
The Model T
As Ford perfected his implementation of the production line in his factories, he also developed a new model of car, the Model T.
Debuted in 1908, the Model T was an immediate success across America. The goal of the Model T was to be more accessible to the general public than the expensive Model A was. As Ford developed this vehicle and improved manufacturing methods, each year he lowered the price of the vehicle to make it as cheap as possible for the general public.
None of this would've been possible without Ford's implementation of mass production.
While Eli Whitney was the first to come up with the process of mass production, Ford was the first to implement it across his entire company and factories.
Ford's mass-production model incorporated the assembly line as mentioned before but also incorporated much more of the production process.
In the 1920s, Ford built a massive industrial complex in Michigan that had a factory for every part of vehicle production, from glass to steel. This gave Ford complete oversight over the production of raw materials used for his vehicles. This also meant that Ford engineers could slowly streamline the entire mass production process.
At the height of production, Ford was churning out one Model T every 24 seconds.
While Ford had great engineering prowess and prominence, he was also a notable businessman. He was the pioneer of an idea called "welfare capitalism" which was meant to improve the quality of life for his workers. In many cases, he was hiring three times as many people each year as there were jobs simply because turnover in his factories were that bad.
This was a sign that the mass production model was unsustainable, so something had to change.
Rather than changing the rigors of how the cars were produced, Ford simply offered to pay the workers more, a $5 per day wage. This may not sound like much, but this would've been the equivalent of $130 per day today, a decent living that would've been about twice as much as the workers were making prior.
This move rocked the industry and demonstrated that being a factory worker could be a viable means of living. Everyone who was anyone in the industry flocked to work for Ford which raised productivity and lowered Ford's net costs for training.
By paying workers more, Ford also had a trick up his sleeve – it meant his workers could afford the cars they were producing. By working to raise industry wages, he also made it so that locals in the area would be able to afford more of his product.
Ford even introduced profit sharing to workers who had been with the company for more than 6 months and passed a thorough and steady series of background checks making sure they lived a good social life.
In 1926, Ford also pioneered the 40-hour workweek, shortening it from 6-8 hour days to 5. This concept was meant to boost worker productivity while they were on the job and give them more time for leisure.
The Trimotor Plane
In World War I, the Ford Motor Company got into the aviation business as many automotive companies did at the time. After the war ended, the company acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company and began designing and producing even more planes.
William Bushnell Stout became an executive at Ford motor company and developed the Ford Trimotor, that Henry Ford helped produce.
This was a design for an aircraft that had 3 individual motors, the most successful model of which was the Ford 4AT Trimotor. Due to this planes size and ability to carry 12 people, the plane became the first successful U.S. based passenger airliner. While it wasn't comfortable, it did get the job done at the time.
Ford's influence on aviation over the years drastically changed the industry helping pioneer many new technologies. Unfortunately, in 1933, the Ford Airplane Division shut down due to the Great Depression.