Henry Ford : Greatest American Hero (A Short Biography for Children)
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Doing that required a bigger factory. In the company moved into a huge new plant in Highland Park, Michigan, just north of Detroit. There Ford Motor Company began a relentless drive to increase production and lower costs. Henry and his team borrowed concepts from watch makers, gun makers, bicycle makers, and meat packers, mixed them with their own ideas and by late they had developed a moving assembly line for automobiles.
But Ford workers objected to the never-ending, repetitive work on the new line. Turnover was so high that the company had to hire 53, people a year to keep 14, jobs filled. At a stroke he stabilized his workforce and gave workers the ability to buy the very cars they made. Model T sales rose steadily as the price dropped.
Ford named his year-old son Edsel as president, but it was Henry who really ran things. Absolute power did not bring wisdom, however. Success had convinced him of the superiority of his own intuition, and he continued to believe that the Model T was the car most people wanted. He ignored the growing popularity of more expensive but more stylish and comfortable cars like the Chevrolet, and would not listen to Edsel and other Ford executives when they said it was time for a new model.
By the late s even Henry Ford could no longer ignore the declining sales figures. In he reluctantly shut down the Model T assembly lines and began designing an all-new car. It appeared in December of and was such a departure from the old Ford that the company went back to the beginning of the alphabet for a name—they called it the Model A.
Henry Ford Biography for Kids
The new car would not be produced at Highland Park. In Ford had started construction on an even bigger factory on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan.
Iron ore and coal were brought in on Great Lakes steamers and by railroad. The Model A was competitive for only four years before being replaced by a newer design. In , at age 69 Ford introduced his last great automotive innovation, the lightweight, inexpensive V8 engine. In addition to troubles in the marketplace, Ford experienced troubles in the workplace. Struggling during the Great Depression, Ford was forced to lower wages and lay off workers. He fought back with intimidation and violence, but was ultimately forced to sign a union contract in But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Ford Motor Company became one of the major US military contractors, supplying airplanes, engines, jeeps and tanks.
The influence of the aging Henry Ford, however, was declining. Henry Ford had laid the foundation of the twentieth century. The vast quantities of war material turned out on those assembly lines were crucial to the Allied victory in World War II. High wage, low skilled factory jobs pioneered by Ford accelerated both immigration from overseas and the movement of Americans from the farms to the cities.
The same jobs also accelerated the movement of the same people into an ever expanding middle class. In a dramatic demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, the creation of huge numbers of low skilled workers gave rise in the s to industrial unionism as a potent social and political force. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. There is a prophetic story of how the year-old Henry Ford got a pocket watch for his birthday, and then proceeded to take it apart.
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He simply wanted to know how it worked. It was a character trait that marked the rest of Ford's life. Ford was interested in every aspect of life around him. He explored innovative forms of education which, in time, lead to the founding of the Edison Institute, known today as The Henry Ford. In a single location, Ford brought together dozens of buildings and millions of artifacts. It was one of the largest collections of its kind ever assembled, as well as a bold and ambitious new way for people of all ages to discover and explore the richness of the American experience for themselves.
Control of the company
Henry Ford took inspiration from the past, saw opportunities for the future, and believed in technology as a force for improving people's lives. To him, technology wasn't just a source of profits, it was a way to harness new ideas and, ultimately, further democratize American life. Ford's Early Work Life. From Kitchen Sink to Model T. The Model T Changed the World.
Ford Had an Understanding of the Market. He was glad to fight, even though the fight pitted the puny Ford Motor Company against an industry worth millions of dollars. The gathering of evidence and actual court hearings took six years. Ford lost the original case in ; he appealed and won in His victory had wide implications for the industry, and the fight made Ford a popular hero.
Once only the rich had travelled freely around the country; now millions could go wherever they pleased. The Model T was the chief instrument of one of the greatest and most rapid changes in the lives of the common people in history, and it effected this change in less than two decades. Farmers were no longer isolated on remote farms. The horse disappeared so rapidly that the transfer of acreage from hay to other crops caused an agricultural revolution. The automobile became the main prop of the American economy and a stimulant to urbanization—cities spread outward, creating suburbs and housing developments—and to the building of the finest highway system in the world.
The minute subdivision of labour and the coordination of a multitude of operations produced huge gains in productivity. Overnight Ford became a worldwide celebrity. People either praised him as a great humanitarian or excoriated him as a mad socialist. Ford said humanitarianism had nothing to do with it. Previously profit had been based on paying wages as low as workers would take and pricing cars as high as the traffic would bear.
The development of mass-production techniques, which enabled the company eventually to turn out a Model T every 24 seconds; the frequent reductions in the price of the car made possible by economies of scale; and the payment of a living wage that raised workers above subsistence and made them potential customers for, among other things, automobiles—these innovations changed the very structure of society. During its first five years the Ford Motor Company produced eight different models, and by its output was cars a day. The stockholders were ecstatic; Ford was dissatisfied and looked toward turning out 1, a day.
The stockholders seriously considered court action to stop him from using profits to expand. In Ford, who owned 58 percent of the stock, announced that he was only going to make one car in the future, the Model T. The only thing the minority stockholders could do to protect their dividends from his all-consuming imagination was to take him to court, which Horace and John Dodge did in The court hearings gave Ford a chance to expound his ideas about business.
In December the court ruled in favour of the Dodges; Ford, as in the Selden case, appealed, but this time he lost. Ford, irate that a court and a few shareholders, whom he likened to parasites, could interfere with the management of his company, determined to buy out all the shareholders. He had resigned as president in December in favour of his son, Edsel, and in March he announced a plan to organize a new company to build cars cheaper than the Model T. Ford said that if he was not master of his own company, he would start another.
The ruse worked; by July Ford had bought out all seven minority stockholders. The seven had little to complain about: Ford Motor Company was reorganized under a Delaware charter in with all shares held by Ford and other family members. Never had one man controlled so completely a business enterprise so gigantic.
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The planning of a huge new plant at River Rouge , Michigan, had been one of the specific causes of the Dodge suit. What Ford dreamed of was not merely increased capacity but complete self-sufficiency. World War I , with its shortages and price increases, demonstrated for him the need to control raw materials; slow-moving suppliers convinced him that he should make his own parts. Wheels, tires, upholstery, and various accessories were purchased from other companies around Detroit.
As Ford production increased, these smaller operations had to speed their output; most of them had to install their own assembly lines. It became impossible to coordinate production and shipment so that each product would arrive at the right place and at the right time. At first he tried accumulating large inventories to prevent delays or stoppages of the assembly line, but he soon realized that stockpiling wasted capital. Instead he took up the idea of extending movement to inventories as well as to production. He perceived that his costs in manufacturing began the moment the raw material was separated from the earth and continued until the finished product was delivered to the consumer.
The plant he built in River Rouge embodied his idea of an integrated operation encompassing production, assembly, and transportation. To complete the vertical integration of his empire, he purchased a railroad, acquired control of 16 coal mines and about , , hectares acres of timberland, built a sawmill, acquired a fleet of Great Lakes freighters to bring ore from his Lake Superior mines, and even bought a glassworks. The move from Highland Park to the completed River Rouge plant was accomplished in It would continue on through the foundry molds and stamping mills and exactly 28 hours after arrival as ore would emerge as a finished automobile.
Similar systems handled lumber for floorboards, rubber for tires, and so on. Most remarkably, not one cent had been borrowed to pay for any of it. It was all built out of profits from the Model T. Trusting in what he believed was an unerring instinct for the market, Ford refused to follow other automobile manufacturers in offering such innovative features as conventional gearshifts he held out for his own planetary gear transmission , hydraulic brakes rather than mechanical ones , six- and eight-cylinder engines the Model T had a four , and choice of colour from every Model T was painted black.
When he was finally convinced that the marketplace had changed and was demanding more than a purely utilitarian vehicle, he shut down his plants for five months to retool. In December he introduced the Model A. The new model enjoyed solid but not spectacular success. Despite the introduction of the Ford V-8 in , by Ford Motor Company was third in sales in the industry.
Ford freely employed company police, labour spies, and violence in a protracted effort to prevent unionization and continued to do so even after General Motors and Chrysler had come to terms with the United Automobile Workers.
When the UAW finally succeeded in organizing Ford workers in , he considered shutting down before he was persuaded to sign a union contract. Henry Ford was a complex personality. Away from the shop floor he exhibited a variety of enthusiasms and prejudices and, from time to time, startling ignorance. In , with the support of Pres. Woodrow Wilson , Ford ran for a U. Senate seat from Michigan. He was narrowly defeated after a campaign of personal attacks by his opponent.
Ford died at home in , exactly years after his father had left Ireland for Michigan. His holdings in Ford stock went to the Ford Foundation , which had been set up in as a means of retaining family control of the firm and which subsequently became the richest private foundation in the world.
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