Ford's beginnings (Ford
son of a Dearborn farmer, but with a talent for
that led him to a series of engineering jobs before he got into
In 1896 Ford was chief engineer of the Edison
Co. (now Detroit Edison).
In that year he built a car called the
started looking for backers to produce it commercially (he later
to have built a car in 1892 but there is no evidence for that but
in 1899 he found a group of businessmen to
but they got impatient that he was building cars for automobile racing
(which he thought was critical publicity) rather than concentrating on
setting up commercial production. Ford and his backers parted
in 1902 and his former backers found another engineer, Henry M. Leland,
who gave the company a new name--Cadillac--and got it into commercial
Struggle to define the automobile
Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with
set of backers.
The Dodge brothers became stockholders in
return for providing
chassis, engines, and transmissions for the first Ford cars.
Ford initially made medium-priced
by 1910 the industry was consolidating painfully
General Motors was about to go under under
and was saved only by new investors who advanced cash on very harsh
(6% interest plus a 17% commission).
many of the smaller companies went bankrupt, and
the larger ones were better at finance than at solving technological
a number of makers were thinking about low cost
idea that was not tried in Europe until after its success in
One notable example after the curved dash Oldsmobile was the Brush
which sold for $500 and had 10 HP and all-wood construction. It
hold up very well.
the key invention of this period was the
It was invented by Henry
M. Leland and Charles
F. Kettering. Leland became interested in the problem because
a friend of his had died in a bizarre accident. He went to the
of a lady whose car had stalled, and when he turned the crank to start
it the crank handle kicked back and broke his jaw. He died of the
the electric starter meant that women and
older men could
Ford's assembly-line revolution (more
on Ford as a businessman)
Ford first designed a mass market car and then
how to cut costs in production. Mass market meant not only low
but sturdy, easy to operate, and easy to repair. Ford was one of
the first to use alloy steel in America.
Ford's engineers may have had the idea for the
line as early as 1908, but they didn't want to delay introduction of
model T to implement it. The Model T was the first low cost
high power (20 HP) car, also light (about 1,200 pounds) and fairly easy
to drive, with a two-speed, foot-controlled "planetary"
It was immediately very popular--compared to cars costing $2000.
Ford decided in 1909 to produce nothing else.
Ford's business manager had calculated that to
hit the mass market the price had to be brought down to $600, and that
could not be done with existing production methods.
and 1914 conveyer belts were introduced throughout the factory
time required to assemble the chassis fell from
30 minutes to 2 hours 40 minutes, and then by 1914 to 1 1/2 hours
price of Model T dropped to $360 by 1916 and to
1927 (its last year of production). 577,000 sold in 1916.
a decade all automobile manufacturers were using the assembly line.
assembly line and Diego Rivera painting (Detroit Institute of Arts)
now Ford could hire unskilled workers
He paid average wages: $2.38 for a nine hour
Workers hated the assembly line and turnover reached over 300%
in 1914 Ford began to offer selected workers
$5 a day
and an eight hour day--about twice the going rate in Detroit at the
At one point fire hoses had to be used to disperse the mob of
around the Highland Park plant.
Between 1914 and 1916, the company's profits
$30 million to $60 million.
Ford did believe that the gains made by
of production should be passed on to society in three ways--to
through dividends, to consumers through lower prices, and to labor
higher wages. He understood that the worker was also a
He wasn't fond of stockholders, particularly after the Dodge brothers
themselves up as competitors. In fact in 1916 (a year with record
profits) he paid such low dividends that stockholders sued and won. Ford
T Automobile Plant
Meanwhile Sloan at General Motors was
organization and marketing
gave more responsibility to production
General Motors made cars for different markets
at the bottom to Cadillac at the top) and pioneered the annual model
and a choice of colors. Worked out close relations with
Consumers began to look for styling and excitement, not the lowest
Ford made the Model T until 1927--15 million of
driving the company into bankruptcy. Finally when he had to face
reality and shut down Model T production he didn't have a new model
Consider the advantages and limitations of mass
this page written and copyright © Pamela
last updated 10/16/2000