How did Henry Ford affect The Automobile Industry? Henry Ford is largely responsible for kickstarting a new form of mass production with the moving assembly line. With increased production and skyrocketing sales, Ford mass-produced his famous Model T automobiles. Buying a new car was no longer a luxury of the wealthy but a standard practice of the middle class. Wages of workers were increased, and workdays were shortened. Ford established a new mass production system that influenced the future of manufacturing and brought more attention to a consumer-centered lifestyle.
How did Henry Ford affect The Automobile Industry?
When people think of Henry Ford, they generally think of the man who brought cars to the masses. But did you know that he also pioneered the 40-hour workweek and introduced a daily $5 salary—both of which seemed radical at the time?
Although Ford didn’t actually invent the automobile or the assembly line, it was his genius combination of the two—car building and assembly-line manufacturing—that forever changed the automobile industry not only in America but also across the globe. It’s clear that Henry Ford’s manufacturing innovations were revolutionary.
Ford’s fascination with all things engineering started at a young age. As a kid, he loved tinkering with watches; he was so good at it that he became the neighborhood watch repairman. Watch the video to learn about Ford’s lifelong journey from tinkerer to manufacturing legend.
Early Life of Henry Ford
Henry Ford became interested in mechanics and the operations of machinery at a young age. Ford was born on July 30, 1863 and raised on a farm in Springwells Township located in Wayne County, Michigan. He was one of six children. By the time Ford had turned 12 years old, he had a small shop set up where he spent most of his time tinkering with machinery.
Three years later, he managed to create his own steam engine. One of Ford’s first jobs was as a machinist’s apprentice at James F. Flower and Brothers, located in Detroit. He worked with brass valves designed for milling machines. He got to explore more of his interests in machinery in this position at a rate of $2.50 per week.
While working as a machinist’s apprentice, he was also hired as an apprentice for the Detroit Dry Dock Company. He spent three years working as an apprentice before moving on to steam engine repair work.
Ford found a job at the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit in July 1891. After two years of employment, he was promoted to chief engineer. The Edison Illuminating Company was fairly new at the time; it was established by Thomas Edison in 1880 after he had just invented the incandescent lamp, or light bulb, a year prior. Ford met Edison, who became somewhat of a mentor and lifelong friend.
While working as a chief engineer, Ford began to explore his interests in automobiles on the side. He created his first engine at his home in Detroit in the early 1890s. Ford liked to improve upon his creations and constructed a new and improved engine by 1896. The engine was used in the very first automobile he created, known as the Quadricycle. It consisted of four bicycle wheels, one seat, a frame, and a gas-powered engine.
The transmission was made of a leather belt and chain drive. A long, curvy rod with a small handle was used to steer the vehicle. Ford sold it the same year for $200 and used his profits to begin working on his next automobile project. He eventually bought the Quadricycle back almost a decade later.
In the late summer of 1899, Ford made his first attempt at starting his own automobile business. He quit his job at the Edison Illuminating Company and created the Detroit Automobile Company. This business venture ultimately failed, ending in bankruptcy about a year and a half later. He attempted another automobile business venture in 1901 by founding the Henry Ford Company. He left the company just months later, in 1902, which later turned into the Cadillac Motor Car Company.
Transportation in the Early 20th Century
Different types of automobile inventions had been around since the 18th century. Steam and electric-powered modes of transportation came before gas. Karl Benz is often associated with inventing the first “true automobile,” which was powered by gasoline using an internal combustion engine. He created the vehicle in 1885, and it was patented in 1886. Frank and Charles Duryea established the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the first automobile manufacturer in the US.
The most common way to get around in the early 20th century was by horse-drawn carriages. Although cars were being produced, most people couldn’t afford them. It was considered a luxury item. Even the factory workers who were creating the automobiles weren’t earning high enough wages to afford the convenience of an automobile. The American railroad system in the early 1900s offered a quicker mode of transportation. It also helped to connect people and places at longer distances.
The invention of the gas-powered automobile was by no means new by the time Henry Ford came into the industry. However, he created a system that other automobile manufacturers didn’t have: he was able to establish an automobile assembly line that changed the way goods made their way through production. The transformation to a faster way of production helped influence how the automobile became a part of the daily lives of most people in America.
Beginnings of the Ford Motor Company
After Ford dropped his second automobile business venture, he decided to organize another company with several other investors. A total of $28,000 was initially invested in establishing the Ford Motor Company in 1903; Ford owned 25.5% of the stock. One of his partners was Alexander Malcomson, a businessman and the largest coal dealer in Detroit.
In the company’s first five years, Ford created nine different automobile models. The Ford Model A was the first vehicle sold in July 1903. The Model N was the most successful of the group and helped Ford gain popularity and increase sales.
The first Model T was introduced in October 1908 and manufactured in one of the first Ford Motor facilities, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. It quickly became the most successful Ford model produced and was one of the best-selling vehicles of the time.
One of the main manufacturing plants for the Ford Motor Company was the Ford Highland Park Plant in Michigan. It was designed by American industrial architect Albert Kahn. The plant officially opened in January 1910 and became the first location to operate the automobile moving assembly line.
The Automobile Assembly Line & Mass Production of the Model T
The biggest transformation to the automobile industry and manufacturing as a whole came with the introduction of the moving assembly line. Ford is often mistaken for the inventor of the assembly line; however, Ransom Olds was one of the early automobile manufacturing pioneers who mass-produced automobiles in the US. At the time the Ford Motor Company was founded, Old’s company Olds Motor Works was one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the nation.
Ford made improvements to Olds’ stationary assembly line, and his innovations led to the moving assembly line. The conveyor belt was a feature of the assembly line that also wasn’t completely new. Conveyor belts were used in manufacturing plants in other industries. After a few failed attempts, however, Ford managed to create an assembly line that moved automobile parts down to lines of workers on a conveyor belt system.
The moving assembly line was up and running in the Highland Park plant by 1913. It allowed for the workers to be assigned just one or two tasks. This differed from common manufacturing methods that had workers learning how to complete all tasks to build a product rather than specialize in one.
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