Ford's beginnings (Ford
- son of a Dearborn farmer, but with a
talent for mechanics that led him to a series of
engineering jobs before he got into automobiles
- In 1896 Ford was chief engineer of the
Edison Illuminating Co. (now Detroit Edison).
- In that year he built a car called the
Quadricycle and started looking for backers to produce
it commercially (he later claimed to have built a car
in 1892 but there is no evidence for that but Ford's
- in 1899 he found a group of
businessmen to support him, 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 ways 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 production.
- Racing was a way to test out which car
was better and get publicity, but it didn't lead to
Struggle to define the automobile
- Ford started the Ford Motor Company in
1903 with a new set of backers.
- The Dodge brothers became
stockholders in return for providing chassis,
engines, and transmissions for the first Ford
- Ford initially made medium-priced
- by 1910 the industry was consolidating
- General Motors was about to go under
under excessive debt and was saved only by new
investors who advanced cash on very harsh terms (6%
interest plus a 17% commission).
- many of the smaller companies went
bankrupt, and even the larger ones were better at
finance than at solving technological problems.
- a number of makers were thinking about
low cost cars (an idea that was not tried in Europe
until after its success in America). One notable
example after the curved dash Oldsmobile was the Brush
Runabout, which sold for $500 and had 10 HP and
all-wood construction. It didn't hold up very
- the key invention of this period was
the electric starter
- It was invented by Henry
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
assistance 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 resulting gangrene.
- the electric starter meant that
women and older men could drive cars
Ford first invents a better car, then
leads assembly-line revolution (more
on Ford as a businessman)
- Ford first designed a mass market car
and then studied how to cut costs in production.
Mass market meant not only low cost 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 assembly line as early as 1908, but they
didn't want to delay introduction of the model T to
implement it. The Model T was the first low cost
($825-$850) high power (20 HP) car, also light (about
1,200 pounds) and fairly easy to drive, with a
two-speed, foot-controlled "planetary"
transmission. 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 really hit the mass market the price had to be
brought down to $600, and that could not be done with
existing production methods.
- Ford begins to focus on how his
company can build this car cheaper--look for economies
- between 1913
and 1914 conveyor belts were introduced throughout the
- time required to assemble the chassis
fell from 12 hours 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 $290 by 1927 (its last year of
production). 577,000 sold in 1916. Within
a decade all automobile manufacturers were using the
line and Diego Rivera painting (Detroit Institute of
- now Ford could hire unskilled workers
- He paid average wages: $2.38 for a
nine hour day. 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 time. At one
point fire hoses had to be used to disperse the mob
of applicants around the Highland Park plant.
- Between 1914 and 1916, the company's
profits doubled from $30 million to $60 million.
- Ford did believe that the gains made
by improving techniques of production should be
passed on to society in three ways--to stockholders
through dividends, to consumers through lower
prices, and to labor through higher wages. He
understood that the worker was also a
consumer. He wasn't fond of stockholders,
particularly after the Dodge brothers set themselves
up as competitors. In fact in 1916 (a year
with record profits) he paid such low dividends that
stockholders sued and won. Ford
Model T Automobile Plant
Meanwhile Sloan at General Motors was
revolutionizing organization and marketing
- gave more responsibility to production
- General Motors made cars for different
markets (from Chevrolet at the bottom to Cadillac at
the top) and pioneered the annual
model change and a choice of colors.
Worked out close relations with dealers.
Consumers began to look for styling and excitement,
not the lowest possible price.
- Ford made the Model T until 1927--15
million of them--nearly 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 designed yet.
- Even then he played the publicity well
and the new Model A was a success.
Consider the advantages and limitations of
points to automobile racing and luxury automobiles as
showing important ways that automobile technology went in
different directions from the practical car predicted by
delivered its conflicting messages of personal freedom,
populism, luxury, economy, speed, and general excess."