Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 on his parent’s farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan a small town near Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford’s father, William Ford was from Ireland and his mother Mary Ford was born in Michigan, the daughter of Belgian immigrants who died while she was still young, Mary was adopted and raised by neighbors, the O’Herns.
Henry Ford showed an aptitude for mechanical engineering at a very young age. At the age of 13, his father gave him a pocket watch, which young Henry promptly dismantled and then reassembled. His neighbors were so impressed that they started bringing him their own watches to fix.
By the age of 15 Henry had disassembled and reassembled watches of friends and neighbors dozens of times, which earned him the respect of many and the reputation as a watch repair man.
At the age of 16, Henry’s mother died. Henry had despised farm work, but had stayed on the farm mainly due to his mother being there. Later in his life he wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved.”
Three years after his mother’s passing, in 1879, Henry left the farm to go to work for James F Flowers & Bro.’s as an apprentice machinist and then later with the Detroit Dry Dock Company. He returned to his father’s farm 3 years later to help out, where he learned to run the Westinghouse portable steam engine and became adept at servicing and fixing the steam engine, himself. So much so, that he was later hired by Westinghouse to service their machines. During this time he also studied bookkeeping at Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business College in Detroit.
In 1888 ford married Clara Bryant and returned to the farm and running a saw mill in order to support his family, until 1891 when he was hired on by Edison Illuminating Company as an engineer. It didn’t take long before his skills were recognized by Edison Illuminating Company, and in 1893 they promoted him to chief engineer. It was at this time that his wife and he had a son whom they named Edsel Ford.
As Chief Engineer for Edison Illuminating Company, Henry was able to devote his time and resources on his experiments with gasoline engines and in 1896 Henry Ford built his first gas powered vehicle which he dubbed the “Ford Quadricycle”. Around the same time, Henry was introduced to Thomas Edison while attending a meeting of Edison Illuminating Company executives. Henry shared his Quadricycle design with Edison who was very impressed by Henry’s self-propelled vehicle. Edison encouraged Ford to continue his development of the “horseless carriage”, whereupon Ford designed and built his second vehicle in 1898.
A year after Ford built his second automobile, His genius and ingenuity came to the attention of William H. Murphy, a Detroit lumber baron. Murphy was so impressed by Ford’s ideas that he agreed to back Ford, allowing him to leave Edison Illuminating Company and open his own Automobile manufacturing plant on August 5, 1899, which was named “Detroit Automobile Company”. The company, however, was not very successful due to the high prices and low quality of the automobiles produced and the company was summarily dissolved in January 1901.
In October of 1901, with the help of C. Harold Wills, Ford was able to successfully build a 26-horsepower vehicle, which he showcased in a race that year. Due to the success of this latest automobile, Murphy, along with several other businessmen who held stock in the Detroit Automobile Company formed the “Henry Ford Company” in November of 1901 and made Ford the Chief Engineer of the company.
In 1902, Murphy brought in Henry M. Leland as a consultant which caused Ford to leave the “Henry Ford Company”. With Ford gone from the company, Murphy renamed the company to “Cadillac Automobile Company”.
Later that same year, Ford teamed up with Tom Cooper (who was a well-known racing cyclist at the time) and produced an 80-horsepower automobile which was later named the “999” in honor of the fastest locomotive at the time which won a race in October of 1902.
Henry Ford then found backing through an old friend of his, Alexander Y. Malcomson, who was a Detroit Area Coal Dealer. The two of them partnered up and formed the “Ford & Malcomson, Ltd.” company to manufacture automobiles. Ford and Malcomson leased a factory and begin work on an inexpensive automobile, contracting John and Horace E. Dodge to supply the parts for their newly manufactured automobiles.
With sales slow, Ford and Malcomson were unable to meet the payment to the Dodge brothers for the supplied parts and found it necessary to bring in more investors and to offer the Dodge brothers a share in their company. On June 16, 1903, Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. was reincorporated as the Ford Motor Company. At this time, Ford demonstrated his “999” on the ice of Lake St. Claire, setting new land speed record 91.3 miles per hour, which got the attention of race car driver Barney Oldfield. Oldfield raced the car in competitions across the country and soon the Ford Automobile became a recognized name in the United States.
In October of 1908, the Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T Ford. Ford moved the steering wheel to the left side of the vehicle, which became the standard for other automobiles, and enclosed the entire transmission and engine. The car was so easy to drive and was so inexpensive at only $825, that it soon became very popular with the public.
Sales continued to skyrocket, posting 100% gains for several years and in 1913 Ford introduced moving assembly belts in his factories, which dramatically increased production so much that by 1914 sales had passed the quarter million mark and by 1916 as the price dropped to only $360, sales increased to almost half a million units sold. By 1918, almost half of all cars sold in the United States were Model T Fords.
In December of 1918, Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son, Edsel Ford. Henry then opened a new company, Henry Ford and Son and made a show of moving all of his best personal to his new company in an effort to scare stockholders of Ford Motor Company into selling their stakes to him, before they lost too much value. This ruse worked and Henry and Edsel Ford ended up buying up all the stock, making them the sole owners of Ford Motor Company.
Edsel successfully ran the Ford Motor Company until May of 1943, when he died of cancer. The elderly Henry Ford resumed presidency of the company after his son’s death, until September of 1945 when he ceded the presidency to his grandson, Henry Ford II, retiring to Fairlane, his Dearborn estate, where he died a couple years later, in 1947 at the age of 83. A public viewing was held where more than 5000 people an hour filed past his casket, to pay him respects. Ford was finally laid to rest in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.