Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumbHenry Ford sits amongst those luminous inventors and innovators of the last part of the 19th century. Around him are Thomas Edison, known for the light bulb, direct current, the phonograph, movie technology, and Alexander Graham Bell, known for the telephone. These men were the giants. They brought light, entertainment, and communication to the lives of a nation. But Henry Ford’s contribution was much more profound — he gave the nation mobility! No longer were the common man living in American cities, towns, and villages would be restricted to their locales if they could afford the few hundred dollars for a used Model T.


The major contribution of Henry Ford was the design of an innovative manufacturing production techniques — the assembly line. Automobiles prior to Henry Ford were produced the same way that luxurious means of transportation had been made for decades, if not centuries. A single craftsman or a small group of skilled craftsmen worked on a single vehicle through its construction. This was the technique used on coaches, railroad cars, and automobile with notable nameplates such as Pullman (railroad coaches). But this craftsman-based approach made each unit expensive to create and, therefore, expensive to buy. The common man was excluded from this new transportation opportunity. Henry Ford’s Model T was created on an assembly line where each worker did only one part of the manufacturing process; this made automobiles inexpensive and available to a wider audience!

The revolution of the automobile had a profound effect upon American society. Not only did it provide mobility beyond a farmer’s local village, but he could now use a tractor to tend his fields. Americans and foreign immigrants were put to work building roads to replace the carriage tracks had previously existed. And the nation was on the move. Eventually, a national web of highways tried together the nation like no railroad had been able to do. This was formalized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s signed legislation that created the Interstate Highway System.

Not all the changes produced by the automobile were positive. These vehicles were adapted as transports and ambulances during World War I. But cars were also used to transport illegal alcohol during Prohibition. Gangsters used the car to carry their terror and death around large cities in our country. Also, the automobile is said to have contributed to the breakdown of morals in young people, providing them with a mobile “passion pits” in which to loose themselves in the moment.


Today, we suffer with air pollution from vehicle exhaust. But on the bright side, new technologies have been developed in recent years to provide mobility with clean air. That is progress.

Now, let’s get started with our exploration of Henry Ford, the Ford Motor Company, and the low-cost automobile… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4472 Words ]


Quotations Related to Henry Ford:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/h/henry_ford.html ]


“A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.”
— Henry Ford

“An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous.”
— Henry Ford

“Any colour – so long as it’s black.”
— Henry Ford

“A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”
— Henry Ford

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
— Henry Ford

“Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.”
— Henry Ford

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
— Henry Ford

“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.”
— Henry Ford


Henry Ford: The Assembly Line Process Announced…


Henry_ford_1919Henry Ford
(July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry. As owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the richest and best-known people in the world. He is credited with "Fordism": mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system that put dealerships throughout most of North America and in major cities on six continents. Ford left most of his vast wealth to the Ford Foundation but arranged for his family to control the company permanently.

He was known worldwide especially in the 1920s as promoter of pacifism and antisemitism.

An assembly line is a manufacturing process (sometimes called progressive assembly) in which parts (usually interchangeable parts) are added to a product in a sequential manner using optimally planned logistics to create a finished product much faster than with handcrafting-type methods. The division of labor was initially discussed by Adam Smith, regarding the manufacture of pins, in his book The Wealth of Nations (published in 1776). The assembly line developed by Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1915 made assembly lines famous in the following decade through the social ramifications of mass production, such as the affordability of the Ford Model T and the introduction of high wages for Ford workers. Henry Ford was the first to master the moving assembly line and was able to improve other aspects of industry by doing so (such as reducing labor hours required to produce a single vehicle, and increased production numbers and parts). However, the various preconditions for the development at Ford stretched far back into the 19th century, from the gradual realization of the dream of interchangeability, to the concept of reinventing workflow and job descriptions using analytical methods (the most famous example being scientific management).

Ford was the first company to build large factories around the assembly line concept. Mass production via assembly lines is widely considered to be the catalyst which initiated the modern consumer culture by making possible low unit cost for manufactured goods. It is often said that Ford’s production system was ingenious because it turned Ford’s own workers into new customers. Put another way, Ford innovated its way to a lower price point and by doing so turned a huge potential market into a reality. Not only did this mean that Ford enjoyed much larger demand, but the resulting larger demand also allowed further economies of scale to be exploited, further depressing unit price, which tapped yet another portion of the demand curve. This bootstrapping quality of growth made Ford famous and set an example for other industries.

Fordism, named after Henry Ford, is a modern economic and social system based on industrial mass production. The concept is used in various social theories about production and related socio-economic phenomena. It has varying but related meanings in different fields, as well as for Marxist and non-Marxist scholars. In a Fordist system the worker is paid relatively high wages in order to buy in large quantity the products turned out in mass production.


Henry Ford, Model T, and the Assembly Line…  (6:32)




Ford Model T

1919_Ford_Model_T_Highboy_CoupeThe Ford Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie, Flivver, T‑Model Ford, or T) is an automobile that was produced by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company from September 1908 to May 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American; some of this was because of Ford’s innovations, including assembly line production instead of individual hand crafting. The Ford Model T was named the world’s most influential car of the 20th century in an international poll.

The Model T set 1908 as the historic year that the automobile became popular. The first production Model T was produced on August 12, 1908 and left the factory on September 27, 1908, at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan. On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the 15 millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.

There were several cars produced or prototyped by Henry Ford from the founding of the company in 1903 until the Model T came along. Although he started with the Model A, there were not 19 production models (A through T); some were only prototypes. The production model immediately before the Model T was the Model S, an upgraded version of the company’s largest success to that point, the Model N. The follow-up was the Ford Model A and not the Model U. Company publicity said this was because the new car was such a departure from the old that Henry wanted to start all over again with the letter A. The Model T was the first automobile mass produced on moving assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts, marketed to the middle class. Henry Ford said of the vehicle:

"I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

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Ford Model A

1931_Ford_Model_A_Deluxe_TudorThe Ford Model A of 1928–1931 (also colloquially called the A-Model Ford or the A, and A-bone among rodders and customizers) was the second huge success for the Ford Motor Company, after its predecessor, the Model T. First produced on October 20, 1927, but not sold until December 2, it replaced the venerable Model T, which had been produced for 18 years. This new Model A (a previous model had used the name in 1903–1904) was designated as a 1928 model and was available in four standard colors, but not black.

By 4 February 1929, one million Model As had been sold, and by 24 July, two million. The range of body styles ran from the Tudor at US$500 (in grey, green, or black) to the Town Car with a dual cowl at US$1200. In March 1930, Model A sales hit three million, and there were nine body styles available.

The Model A was produced through 1931. When production ended in March, 1932, there were 4,849,340 Model As made in all styles. Its successor was the Model B, which featured an updated 4-cylinder engine, followed by the Model 18 which introduced Ford’s new Flathead V8 engine.

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Willow Run Manufacturing Plant

B-24_bomber_at_Willow_RunThe Willow Run manufacturing plant, located between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan, was constructed during World War II by Ford Motor Company for the mass production of the B-24 Liberator military aircraft.

After the war, ownership of the assembly plant passed to Kaiser Motors and then to Ford rival General Motors, which now owns and operates part of the facility as Willow Run Transmission.

Willow Run was used by GM to manufacture a number of models, including Chevy trucks (1956–58), the Nova and Caprice. It was also used to manufacture parts for the Vega subcompact. Perhaps the most well-known product assembled at Willow Run was the Chevrolet Corvair. Most Corvairs were built there from 1960 through 1969.

GM’s Fisher Body division was also located at Willow Run, and built bodies for the Chevrolet models assembled there.

In 1968, General Motors reorganized its body assembly divisions into the monolithic GM Assembly Division (GMAD). GMAD absorbed many Fisher body plants, but Willow Run was one of the plants where Fisher continued to build bodies until the 1970s.

On June 1, 2009, GM announced it would be closing the plant as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.

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Ford Motor Company


Ford_Edison_Firestone1Henry Ford with Thomas Edison and Harvey
. Ft. Myers, Florida, February 11, 1929.

In response, Malcomson brought in another group of investors and convinced the Dodge Brothers to accept a portion of the new company. Ford & Malcomson was reincorporated as the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903, with $28,000 capital. The original investors included Ford and Malcomson, the Dodge brothers, Malcomson’s uncle John S. Gray, James Couzens, and two of Malcomson’s lawyers, John W. Anderson and Horace Rackham. In a newly designed car, Ford gave an exhibition on the ice of Lake St. Clair, driving 1 mile (1.6 km) in 39.4 seconds, setting a new land speed record at 91.3 miles per hour (147.0 km/h). Convinced by this success, the race driver Barney Oldfield, who named this new Ford model "999" in honor of a racing locomotive of the day, took the car around the country, making the Ford brand known throughout the United States. Ford also was one of the early backers of the Indianapolis 500.

Model T

The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 ($20,100 today) (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s, a majority of American drivers had learned to drive on the Model T.

Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford’s network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to encourage exploring the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Although Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin, Charles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills.

Ford_assembly_line_-_1913Ford Assembly Line, 1913

Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000. (Using the consumer price index, this price was equivalent to $7,020 in 2008 dollars.)

By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T’s. However, it was a monolithic black; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black". Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T’s were available in other colors, including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. This record was achieved in just 19 years from the introduction of the first Model T (1908).

President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.

Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford in December 1918. Henry, however, retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed his son. Henry started another company, Henry Ford and Son, and made a show of taking himself and his best employees to the new company; the goal was to scare the remaining holdout stockholders of the Ford Motor Company to sell their stakes to him before they lost most of their value. (He was determined to have full control over strategic decisions.) The ruse worked, and Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from the other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.

By the mid-1920s, sales of the Model T began to decline due to rising competition. Other auto makers offered payment plans through which consumers could buy their cars, which usually included more modern mechanical features and styling not available with the Model T. Despite urgings from Edsel, Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to form a customer credit plan.

Model A and Ford’s Later Career

By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Henry to make a new model. He pursued the project with a great deal of technical expertise in design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father’s initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission.

The result was the successful Ford Model A, introduced in December 1927 and produced through 1931, with a total output of more than 4 million. Subsequently, the Ford company adopted an annual model change system similar to that recently pioneered by its competitor General Motors (and still in use by automakers today). Not until the 1930s did Ford overcome his objection to finance companies, and the Ford-owned Universal Credit Corporation became a major car-financing operation.

Ford did not believe in accountants; he amassed one of the world’s largest fortunes without ever having his company audited under his administration.

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Labor Philosophy

The Five-Dollar Workday

Time henry fordTime Magazine, January 14, 1935.

Ford was a pioneer of "welfare capitalism", designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men per year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. A Cleveland, Ohio newspaper editorialized that the announcement "shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.” The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs. Ford announced his $5-per-day program on January 5, 1914, raising the minimum daily pay from $2.34 to $5 for qualifying workers. It also set a new, reduced workweek, although the details vary in different accounts. Ford and Crowther in 1922 described it as six 8-hour days, giving a 48-hour week, while in 1926 they described it as five 8-hour days, giving a 40-hour week. (Apparently the program started with Saturdays as workdays and sometime later it was changed to a day off.)

Detroit was already a high-wage city, but competitors were forced to raise wages or lose their best workers. Ford’s policy proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing and be good for the economy. Ford explained the policy as profit-sharing rather than wages. It may have been Couzens who convinced Ford to adopt the $5 day.

The profit-sharing was offered to employees who had worked at the company for six months or more, and, importantly, conducted their lives in a manner of which Ford’s "Social Department" approved. They frowned on heavy drinking, gambling, and what might today be called "deadbeat dads". The Social Department used 50 investigators, plus support staff, to maintain employee standards; a large percentage of workers were able to qualify for this "profit-sharing."

Ford’s incursion into his employees’ private lives was highly controversial, and he soon backed off from the most intrusive aspects. By the time he wrote his 1922 memoir, he spoke of the Social Department and of the private conditions for profit-sharing in the past tense, and admitted that "paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees’ private concerns is out of date. Men need counsel and men need help, oftentimes special help; and all this ought to be rendered for decency’s sake. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen organization than will any social work on the outside. Without changing the principle we have changed the method of payment.”

Labor Unions

Ford was adamantly against labor unions. He explained his views on unions in Chapter 18 of My Life and Work. He thought they were too heavily influenced by some leaders who, despite their ostensible good motives, would end up doing more harm than good for workers. Most wanted to restrict productivity as a means to foster employment, but Ford saw this as self-defeating because, in his view, productivity was necessary for any economic prosperity to exist.

He believed that productivity gains that obviated certain jobs would nevertheless stimulate the larger economy and thus grow new jobs elsewhere, whether within the same corporation or in others. Ford also believed that union leaders (particularly Leninist-leaning ones) had a perverse incentive to foment perpetual socio-economic crisis as a way to maintain their own power. Meanwhile, he believed that smart managers had an incentive to do right by their workers, because doing so would maximize their own profits. (Ford did acknowledge, however, that many managers were basically too bad at managing to understand this fact.) But Ford believed that eventually, if good managers such as he could fend off the attacks of misguided people from both left and right (i.e., both socialists and bad-manager reactionaries), the good managers would create a socio-economic system wherein neither bad management nor bad unions could find enough support to continue existing.

To forestall union activity, Ford promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer, to head the Service Department. Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing. The most famous incident, in 1937, was a bloody brawl between company security men and organizers that became known as The Battle of the Overpass.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Edsel (who was president of the company) thought Ford had to come to some sort of collective bargaining agreement with the unions, because the violence, work disruptions, and bitter stalemates could not go on forever. But Henry (who still had the final veto in the company on a de facto basis even if not an official one) refused to cooperate. For several years, he kept Bennett in charge of talking to the unions that were trying to organize the Ford company. Sorensen’s memoir makes clear that Henry’s purpose in putting Bennett in charge was to make sure no agreements were ever reached.

The Ford company was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the United Auto Workers union (UAW). A sit-down strike by the UAW union in April 1941 closed the River Rouge Plant. Sorensen recounted that a distraught Henry Ford was very close to following through with a threat to break up the company rather than cooperate but that his wife Clara told him she would leave him if he destroyed the family business. She wanted to see their son and grandsons lead it into the future.[36] Henry complied with his wife’s ultimatum. Overnight, the Ford Motor Co. went from the most stubborn holdout among automakers to the one with the most favorable UAW contract terms. The contract was signed in June 1941.

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Ford Model T Assembly Line (1919)…  (6:36)



Please take time to further explore more about Assembly Line, Henry Ford, Ford Model T, Ford Model A (1927-1931), Arsenal of Democracy, Willow Run, Ford Motor Company, Fordism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lend Lease, John Steinbeck, and The Grapes of Wrath by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…





Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1639…
    Three Connecticut towns adopt the Fundamental Orders, one of the earliest constitutions in the colonies.

  • In 1784…
    The Treaty of Paris is officially ratified by the Continental Congress at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, formally ending hostilities between Great Britain and the newly created sovereign United States.

  • In 1914…
    Henry Ford announces that he has improved the assembly line process at the Ford Motor Company’s factory in Highland Park, Mich. By using a conveyor belt to pull along each vehicle’s chassis, the automaker is able to produce a Ford Model T in only 93 minutes.

  • In 1943…
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the first president to travel by airplane on official business as a passenger aboard the "Dixie Clipper," a Pan American Boeing 314 Flying Boat. Roosevelt arrives in Morocco to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other Allied leaders to discuss strategy in World War II at the Casablanca Conference.

  • In 1952…
    Dave Garroway hosts the premiere episode of Today, the first morning news and talk show on television, created by NBC Vice President Sylvester "Pat" Weaver. Sixty years later, Today remains the most popular morning program of its kind.

  • In 1954…
    New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio and movie star Marilyn Monroe are wed at San Francisco City Hall. Their marriage will end in divorce less than a year later.

  • In 1985…
    Martina Navratilova wins the Virginia Slims of Washington, joining Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors as only the third tennis player to have won 100 professional tournaments.


Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Assembly Line…

Wikipedia: Henry Ford…

Wikipedia: Ford Model T…

Wikipedia: Ford Model A (1927-1931)…

Wikipedia: Arsenal of Democracy…

Wikipedia: Willow Run…

Wikipedia: Ford Motor Co…

Wikipedia: Fordism…

Brainy Quote: Henry Ford Quotes…


Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Henry Ford: The Model T Available to General Public…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Arsenal of Democracy…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Lend Lease: America as the "Arsenal of Democracy"…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath is Published…