Henry Ford: The Man and His Automotive Legacy

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Henry Ford: The Man Behind the Cars

Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the owner of plants for the production of cars around the world, an inventor, and an author of 161 US patents. He was born in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan. Henry made his first steam engine at 15 and later became a machinist’s apprentice. His marriage was to Clara Bryant. On June 16, 1903, he created the Ford Motor Company with 12 other investors. His slogan was “a car for everyone,” and the Ford factory produced the cheapest cars at the beginning of the automotive era which began with the model T. The Ford company exists to this day. 

The Model T: Revolutionizing the Automotive Industry

Henry Ford is also known for being the first use of industrial conveyors for the mass production of cars, and the first affordable vehicle, the Model T. Henry Ford was the first who put conveyors to use for the assembly of a technically complicated product such as an automobile. Ford’s book “My Life and Work” is a classic tome on the scientific organization of labor. This book has become the origin of the social-scientific concept called Fordism. Henry Ford died at his home in Dearborn due to a cerebral hemorrhage at age 83.

The Tin Lizzie (Ford Model T) by Henry Ford flooded America with millions of inexpensive cars in 1908. The Tin Lizzie was assembled by Piquette Avenue Plant immigrants, a masterpiece of the era when cars were made from bronze. In the early winter of 1906, mysterious events took place at the Piquette Avenue Plant of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. On the third floor, Henry Ford ordered a fenced in workshop. Only a few people got access - Ford himself, vice president John Cousins, the best engineer of the plant, who was Childe Harold Wills, Hungarian expatriates József Galamb and Egen Farkas, and engineers Love, Smith, Degner and Martin. Several motors and frames from the then model Ford Model N were raised onto the workshop, with the samples of steel sheets and bronze preform, melting furnace and machines for metalworking. Work continued until late evening. Model N, the company's fifth model, had become a true bestseller. She was cheap and reliable, strong and unpretentious. For 1906, Ford managed to sell 2194 copies - an incredible success by the standards of the early twentieth century.

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Four hundred eighty five American companies offered their products to consumers. The production technology was simple. Companies bought engines, transmissions, controls and wheels. Then all this was put on a riveted steel frame. A semblance of cloth tops or, in rare cases, with a metal roof was hoisted above. The number of buyers was barely higher than the quantity of companies themselves. The average price of a car in 1900’s was $ 1,000 - which was a huge amount of money. Henry Ford knew that , and that to win in the competition there had to be price reduction. But the company's shareholders were of a different opinion: why give up profit, when it falls into your hands by itself? Fortunately, one of the main shareholders, lumberman and racing car driver Malcolmson, went bankrupt and was forced to sell its stake to Ford. Ford received a casting vote and, without delay, changed the company's pricing policy.

Steel, Espionage, and Innovation: Creating the Model T

The main type of car advertising in those days was race car driving. At first, Ford himself did not disdain to speak personally of his cars. In 1901, Henry won the race in Gross Point in his “Model 999” car, created by renowned race car driver Alexander Winton. It was then that he became acquainted with the people, which further gave him the money for the establishment of the company Ford Motor Company. During one of these races in Florida in 1906, Henry Ford witnessed a French car accident. The car turned over several times but practically did not suffer. Surprised, Ford inspected the car and realized that the steel, from which it was made was lighter and stiffer than usual. He managed to grab a piece of steel sheet with him. This fact can be considered a classic case of industrial espionage. In Dearborn, he showed this steel to his specialists. It turned out, that its rigidity, twice surpassing the best American steel, is due to vanadium additives. No one in Pittsburgh, the steel capital of America, knew how to do it. Ford managed to invite a scientist to America - a metallurgist from Europe, who revealed the technology of cooking to him. All this happened in conditions of high secrecy. Only two or three people from Ford's inner circle knew what was happening.  

The idea was simple, and Henry Ford was not at all a supporter of complex ideas. Unseen steel in America and the refinement of the successful Model N design lead to the creation of a car that has no competitors. That's what the engineers of the company were doing in the secret workshop of the Piquette Avenue Plant. A large number of cars sold allowed them to accumulate extensive information about the weaknesses of the Model N and purposefully engage in its refinement. Hungarian engineers Galamb and Farkas, together with the faithful friend Ford Wills managed to thoroughly shake up the Model N design for the year and simplify and lighten the main components of the car. In September 1907, two prototypes of the future Model T were built. They were so successful, that shortly after the start of the test Ford ordered to proceed with the refurbishment of the Pickett plant for the new model. By the fall of 1908, the production of the Model R Model S and Model N with its expensive modifications was discontinued, and the assembly of the luxury Model K at the price of $ 2500 was moved to another place. On September 27, 1908 the Pickett factory assembled the first ever model Ford Model T 1909 model. All cars that were manufactured after August 31 of this year are officially considered models of the following year. This practice has been adopted by automotive industry as a whole. 

Tin Lizzie: Market Success and Legacy

Experts say, that if someone other than Ford created Tin Lizzie, the car would have lost its significance in history. To have made the Model T, you need to have been born Henry Ford. In America, nicknames were usually referred to real names. At the beginning of the last century, villagers usually called their workhorses the feminine name of Lizzie. The word 'tin' is not in any need of further interpretation. It means tin horse in general. The Irish called stubborn and wayward beauties Lizzie, and that is another possible origin of the name. Very often, the Americans called the Model T “Flivver”, but this legendary machine had about twenty different nicknames. In history she remains Tin Lizzie.

The main components of market success were a solid, reliable frame, transmission made of vanadium steel, a 2.9- liter engine and an affordable price. The rest is trifles. The more buyers that were able to scrape up money for the car, the better for Ford. Cars became very commonplace. Cheap and satisfying. When automotive historians write about Model T, they praise its reliability in every way. However, little is said about its complete lack of comfort, poor design and inconvenient control system. Tin Lizzie entered the famous list of the 50 worst cars of Time Magazine.

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