Henry Ford was an “industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production; he has been described as “a national treasure.”
Ford was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm located in Greenfield Township, Michigan. His father was William Ford (1826-1905, and his mother was Mary Litogot Ford (1839-1876). William Ford was born in County Cork, Ireland, after his family moved from Somerset, England. Mary Ford descended from Belgian immigrants and was born in Michigan. After her parents died while she was still a child, Mary was adopted by the neighbors, the O’Herns. The couple became parents of five children: Henry, Margaret Ford (1867-1938), Jane Ford (c. 1868-1945), William Ford (1871-1917), and Robert Ford (1873-1934).
After receiving a pocket watch from his father, by age 15 Ford was dismantling and reassembling the timepieces of friends and neighbors. His skill earned him the reputation of being a watch repairman. On Sundays he walked four miles to church.
His mother’s death in 1876 left Ford devastated. Even though his father expected him to take over the family farm, he did not like farm work. He left home in 1879 to be an apprentice machinist in Detroit. He returned home to Dearborn to work on the family farm and while there became an expert on a portable steam engine made by Westinghouse. Sometime later he was hired by Westinghouse to service their engines. He began studying bookkeeping in Detroit during this same period of time. In 1888 Ford married Clara Ala Bryant (1866-1950), and the couple had one child, Edsel Ford (1893-1943).
Ford was hired as an engineer in 1891 by the Edison Illuminating Company and was promoted to Chief Engineer in 1893. At that time he “had enough time and money to devote attention to his personal experiments on gasoline engines. These experiments culminated in 1896 with the completion of a self-propelled vehicle which he named the Ford Quadricycle. He test-drove it on June 4. After various test drives, Ford brainstormed ways to improve the Quadricycle. He built a second automobile in 1898.
The Henry Ford Organization posted the following: “Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He didn’t even invent the assembly line. But more than any other single individual, he was responsible for transforming the automobile from an invention of unknown utility into an innovation that profoundly shaped the 20th century and continues to affect our lives today.
“Innovators change things. They take new ideas, sometimes their own, sometimes other people’s, and develop and promote those ideas until they become an accepted part of daily life. Innovation requires self-confidence, a taste for taking risks, leadership ability and a vision of what the future should be. Henry Ford had all these characteristics, but it took him many years to develop all of them fully.
Henry “Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, but he developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle class Americans could afford. In doing so, Ford converted the automobile from an expensive curiosity into a practical conveyance that would profoundly impact the landscape of the twentieth century. 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….”
Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel. When Edsel died of cancer in May 1943, Henry assumed the presidency in spite of poor health, both physical and mental. He held the position until the end of World War II; in September 1945 he gave the presidency to his grandson Henry Ford II. He died at age 83 on April 7, 1947, in Fair Lane, his estate in Dearborn, Michigan. Approximately 5,000 people per hour paid their respects at a public viewing in Greenfield Village. His funeral was held in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit, and he was buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.