Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and the man who developed modern factory assembly lines for the mass production of his cars, was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm west of Detroit, Michigan. His father, William Ford, was born in Ireland, and his mother was born in Michigan, her parents having emigrated from Belgium.
As a teenager Ford became fascinated by mechanics, and by the time he was 15 he was well known for his ability to fix watches. His father had expected him to take over the family farm, but he left home to become an apprentice machinist, later returning to the farm, to which he brought some of his new-found skills using a Westinghouse portable steam engine.
He then started working for Westinghouse. In 1891 Ford began as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company and two years later was appointed their chief engineer. In 1896 he developed the Quadricycle, a self-propelled vehicle that he test-drove.
In 1903 Ford and 11 others incorporated the Ford Motor Company, which led to the test-driving and then the production of the Model T Ford. It first appeared on October 1, 1908, and had the entire engine and transmission enclosed, as well as having the steering wheel on the left. They were offered for sale at $825, with the price dropping each year.
Anxious to get skilled workers and retain them, he paid a wage of $5 per day from January 5, 1914, doubling the pay of many of his workers (who had previously received $2.34 per day). Previously, staff turnover was such that he had employed 300 men to fill 100 positions. He also reduced the working day from nine hours to eight, gaining himself great loyalty from his staff.
The moving assembly belts in his factories had been introduced in the previous year, and Ford's factories in Detroit and then gradually elsewhere were producing cars so quickly and efficiently that sales passed 250,000 in 1914. Four years later it was reported that half of all cars in the United States were Model T Fords.
Although the initial cars were available in several colors, they were soon all black in color, with the black paint being the quickest to dry, thereby again reducing costs. Ford was later to write that a customer could "have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." By 1927 some 15,007,034 Model T Ford cars had been produced.
At the request of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, in 1918 Ford contested the Senate seat for Michigan as a Democrat. He supported interventionism and proclaimed himself a strong supporter of the Ford Motor Company.
Soon afterward he turned over the presidency of the Ford Motor Company to Edsel Ford, his son. However, he continued to take part in the running of the company, intervening from time to time.
Ford had high moral values and frowned on heavy drinking and gambling by his workforce. He also was opposed to trade unions operating in his factories. This regularly led to battles between his private security guards and union organizers and their supporters.
With Ford's factories at River Rouge, Detroit, forming the world's largest industrial complex, he also started selling cars overseas and established assembly plants in the 1920s in Germany, Australia, India, and France. By 1929 there were dealerships on all six continents and even a factory constructed in the city of Gorky (modern-day Nizhny Novgorod) in the Soviet Union in 1929.
The depression of the 1930s hurt the Ford Motor Company badly, but the Ford family managed to keep it going. He had a stroke in 1938, when he once again turned the running of the company over to Edsel, and died on April 7, 1947. One of his most famous sayings was "History is bunk."