Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, put the world on wheels with his revolutionary Model T. Ford was born in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan, on July 30, 1863, to Mary and William Ford. He was the eldest of six children in a family of four boys and two girls. His father was a native of County Cork, Ireland, who came to America in 1847 and settled on a farm in Wayne County.
Young Henry Ford showed an early interest in mechanics. By the time he was 12, he was spending most of his spare time in a small machine shop he had equipped himself. There, at 15, he constructed his first steam engine.
In July 1891, Ford was hired as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. He became chief engineer on November 6, 1893. Thomas Edison became a lifelong mentor and friend to Henry Ford. In 1888, Henry married Clara Jane Bryant, together they had one child, Edsel Bryant Ford, who was born in 1893.
On August 19, 1899, Ford resigned from the Edison Illuminating Company and, with others, organized the Detroit Automobile Company, which went into bankruptcy about 18 months later. Meanwhile, Henry Ford designed and built several racing cars. In one of them, called Sweepstakes, he defeated Alexander Winton on a track in Grosse Pointe, MI on October 10, 1901. One month later, Henry Ford founded his second automobile venture, the Henry Ford Company. He left that enterprise, which later became the Cadillac Motor Car Company, in early 1902. In another of his racing cars, the 999, he established a world record for the mile, covering the distance in 29.4 seconds on January 12, 1904, on the winter ice of Lake St. Clair.
Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903 with a handful of talented and dedicated employees. In 1908, the first of some 15 million Model T Ford vehicles took to the road. The Model T met the public’s needs perfectly: inexpensive, reliable, easy to repair, and maneuverable on rough and muddy roads. Ford made these cars inexpensively and efficiently using an automated, moving assembly line. The hard, repetitive work of the assembly line resulted in high employee turnover that reduced productivity. Ford responded to that situation in 1914 when he announced that he would pay his workers $5 per day for just eight hours – about twice the going rate. Job seekers applied by the thousands and Ford became a hero to workers who now could afford to buy their own car. In 1923, more than half of America’s cars were Model Ts.
In 1919, Henry, Clara, and Edsel Ford acquired the interest of all minority stockholders for $105,820,894 and became the sole owners of the Company. Edsel, who succeeded his father as president in 1919, occupied that position until his death in 1943, when Henry returned to the post.
In September 1945, when he resigned the presidency for a second time, Henry Ford recommended that his grandson, Henry Ford II, be elected to the position. The board of directors followed his recommendation.
Henry Ford died at his residence, Fair Lane Estate in Dearborn, at 11:40 p.m. on Monday, April 7, 1947, following a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 83 years old.