Henry Ford was a pioneer in the automobile industry. At 40 years old, he launched the Ford Motor Co., which would become one of the biggest automobile companies in the world.
Ford Motor Co. opened its door in Detroit, Michigan in 1903 with just 12 people on staff, including Henry and his son Edsel. Since then, the automaker has gone through many ups and downs throughout its 115-year history. Over the years, Ford has introduced numerous innovations to its production line and created a series of iconic vehicles, including the Mustang. You might be surprised at the series of events that led Ford to where it is today!
Did you know the Model T initially sold for $850?
The Model A Was Billed as the “Perfect Machine”
Pictured above is Henry Ford’s first car, which he built in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1896. The vehicle was a gasoline-powered buggy that had an 8 HP engine. Ford called the vehicle a Model A, and it was billed as “the most perfect machine on the market, which even a 15-year-old boy is able to drive”.
Over the next several years, Ford named its models using the letters of the Latin alphabet (from A to S). The process involved a lot of experimentation, and many of them were never intended to be mass produced or sold to the general public.
Ford’s Assembly Line Was Inspired by a Visit to a Slaughterhouse
On October 7, 1913, Ford Motor Co.’s Highland Park plant in Michigan officially launched the first moving assembly line in the world. The photo above shows how the bodies of the vehicles were drawn down a wooden ramp and then lowered onto the chassis. Ford was the first business to mass produce vehicles.
Henry Ford’s production line was cost effective and enabled the average person or family to buy a vehicle. Ford also changed the way factories functioned and how they were organized, making him a revolutionary in the automotive industry. His ideas forever changed automobile production. Ford was inspired to build his own assembly line after visiting slaughterhouses.
The Model T Was One of the World’s Most Popular Vehicles
The photo above depicts Ford employees building a Model-T engine at a factory assembly line circa 1914. Ford launched the Model T (also known as the Tin Lizzie) in 1908, and it was one of the world’s most popular vehicles. The Model T initially sold for $850. The vehicle was dubbed the “Car of the 20th Century” in 2000.
After producing more than 15 million Model Ts, Ford halted production on the model in 1927. During the first year of production, 10,660 units were sold to consumers. It is one of the top 10 vehicles to have sold more than 15 million units.
Coming up in a few slides, learn about the interesting friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
The Peanuts Made Their First Live Animation Appearance In a Ford Commercial
Illustrator Charles M. Schulz created the comic strip Peanuts in 1950. Peanuts reached the height of its popularity in the ’60s and was featured in over 2,600 newspapers. An estimated 355 million readers in 75 countries were fans of Peanuts, so it’s no surprise that Henry Ford wanted in on the action.
In 1963, Ford helped boost the popularity of Charlie Brown and his cohorts by launching a commercial featuring the gang. It was the first time Charlie Brown and his friends were shown in live animation. That same year, a tiny special called A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on TV.
Clyde Barrow Used a Ford as a Getaway Car & Wrote Henry a Letter About How Much He Loved It
Bonnie and Clyde were criminals during the Great Depression. Their getaway vehicle was a 1934 Ford (a 221 cubic-inch Flathead 21-stud V-8 to be specific). Clyde actually wrote Henry Ford a letter about how much he liked it:
“While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.”
Ford Changed Lives by Offering $5 Daily Wages & a Shorter Work Time
The photo above shows workers completing upholstery on the seats of Model T Fords in 1915. On January 5, 1914, the company made history by offering employees $5 a day for an eight-hour workday — double the then-current market salary. The previous rate was $2.34 for nine hours.
While Ford only had 3,000 jobs available at its plant in Highland Park, 15,000 job seekers applied for the in-demand positions. The higher salary combined with a shorter work day and profit sharing was a win-win. The action cut employee turnover and helped the middle class grow. Henry Ford reportedly wanted his workers to have a “life” and not just make a living.
Ford Had Thomas Edison’s Final Breath Bottled Up On His Deathbed
Prior to launching his automobile business, Henry Ford worked for Thomas Edison at the Edison Illuminating Co. in Detroit as a chief engineer. The inventor and businessman was Ford’s mentor and friend. While working for his pal, Ford became interested in gas-powered vehicles and envisioned a horseless carriage.
The photo above shows the pair posing together in 1921. When Edison died in 1931, his son, Charles, was by his bedside. The story goes that Charles, following Ford’s instructions, captured his father’s final breath in a test tube and closed it up with a cork. Ford wanted to keep it as a memento in tribute to his best friend.
Even Bonnie and Clyde preferred Ford vehicles.
Ford Motor Co. Also Built Airplanes
Above is an automobile parked next to a Ford Tri-Motor Airplane. Ford Motor Co. got in the business of building airplanes during World War I. Henry Ford had many reasons for branching off in this direction. First, he loved working with anything that was mechanical. But he also wanted to do his part by supporting the United States during the conflict.
At one point, the United States Centennial of Flight Commission identified the automaker as a pioneer in aviation. Unfortunately, Ford’s airplane business wasn’t very profitable. He was forced to shut it down in 1933.
Bonnie & Clyde Were Famously Killed In a Stolen 1934 Ford DeLuxe Fordor
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed on May 23, 1934. The pair was ambushed by several police officers while traveling on a country road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. They were driving a 1934 Ford DeLuxe Fordor. They stole the car from Ruth and Jesse Warren of Topeka, Kansas, and one month later they were shot to death.
It’s believed the officers shot 130 rounds of ammunition at the couple, and each one was killed by dozens of gun shot wounds. The bullet-ridden vehicle has been displayed in several locations and is currently at the Whiskey Pete’s casino in Primm, Nevada.
Coming up, the failed project that cost Ford $250 million.
The Much-Hyped Edsel Was a Huge Failure
Pictured above are the three sons of Edsel Ford during the national press induction of the infamous Edsel: William Clay Ford (Vice-President in Charge of Product Planning and Styling), Benson Ford (Vice-President and Chairman of Dealer Policy Board) and Henry Ford II (President of the Ford Motor Company).
The Edsel, produced from 1958 to 1960, was a flop. Ford invested a lot of money in the model, promoting it as the car of the future. However, consumers thought it was ugly, too costly, and over hyped. The American public had no interest in the vehicle, and few were sold. Ford lost over $250 million on the project.
At One Point Ford Used One Ton of Manure To Power Its Factories Each Week
Henry Ford was a bit ahead of his time when it came to being eco-friendly. Ford Motor Co. factories in the United States and England initially used both animal and human waste to power their facilities (it sounds gross, but it was a useful practice). Ford reportedly burned an estimated 2,000 pounds of manure each week.
The downside, of course, was the smell. However, the green practice was innovative during a period when few people worried about mankind’s effects on the environment. Ford discontinued the practice in 1939 when cheaper fuel alternatives became more readily available.
One of the Company’s Concept Vehicles Was an Atomic-Powered Car
In 1957, Ford came up with a concept car dubbed the Nucleon. It was an atomic-powered vehicle and meant to represent the car of the future. Designers envisioned a package with consumers choosing the horsepower they preferred. The rear of the car was meant to contain the atomic core, which could be periodically recharged, eliminating the need for service stations.
The Nucleon was to be powered by a steam engine and uranium fission, which is similar to what is used in nuclear submarines. Ford made a scale model of the vehicle, which is currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Ford Placed a Mustang on Top of the Empire State Building in 1965
Pictured above is a 1965 Ford Mustang. The fastback was made in addition to two other models, the hardtop and the convertible. Ford first introduced the Mustang on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair. The following year, the company put one of its prototypes on top of the Empire State Building.
The company disassembled the vehicle by breaking it down into four pieces. Workers moved the Mustang in resident elevators to the top of the building. They reassembled it there and photographed it with a helicopter. The Mustang was then reassembled inside the building before it was taken apart and removed from the landmark site five months later.
Jim Morrison Owned a 1967 Shelby GT 500 That Has Since Disappeared
Jim Morrison, the famous singer of the Doors, reportedly only owned one car in his lifetime — a night mist blue 1967 Shelby GT 500. Morrison’s friend, Babe Hill, dubbed the car “The Blue Lady.” The car has been missing since 1969. No one knows what happened to it.
The Mustang is one of the most popular American cars of all time. Over 1 million units were sold in its first two years of production. It’s one of a handful of models that have been in continuous production since its inception. One of the most expensive Mustangs ever sold was a 1967 Shelby GT Super Snake for $1.3 million.
Ford Made Up a Common Catchphrase We Still Use Today
There’s a common phrase you may hear now and again. If a person says something costs “an arm and a leg,” he or she means that it is very expensive. Well, Ford is reportedly responsible for coming up with the saying. The automaker was known for being generous and carefree with his money, basically saying he’d rather give up cash than his body parts.
The actual quote Ford used was, “Money is like an arm or leg — use it or lose it.” When the automaker died, he donated the majority of his wealth to the Ford Foundation and left his family in charge of controlling the company.
Ford Introduced a Two-Seat Convertible Thunderbird to Compete With Corvette
Ford produced the Thunderbird in 1955 in order to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. The two-seat, V8 convertible was stylish and comfortable. A few years later the company controversially added four seats to the vehicles and created what became known as the personal luxury car.
Personal luxury cars focused more heavily on driving comfort and convenience instead of the handling and high-speed performance of sports cars. Ford made the Thunderbird from 1955 to 1997 and from 2002 to 2005 (with 11 different models). NASCAR driver Bobby Allison won 13 races in the late ’70s and 1980 seasons with a Thunderbird, despite it being boxy and not appearing aerodynamic.
The Pinto Had Some Serious Issues With Fire In Rear-End Collisions
Pictured above is a Pinto that Ford Motor Co. lent to a newspaper for consumer testing. As you can see, the vehicle caught fire as a result of faulty wiring while a photographer was shooting the car for an automobile supplement. Ford produced the subcompact vehicle from 1971 to 1980.
The vehicle courted controversy due to its fuel tank design. Several rear-end collisions resulted in ruptured fuel tanks and deadly fires. Fatal crashes involving Pintos resulted in two lawsuits against the automaker. In 1978, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos and Mercury Bobcats, making it the biggest recall in automotive history at the time.
The Fancy Woodgrain-Trimmed Country Squire Station Wagon Was a Popular Model
Pictured above is a 1978 Country Squire Station Wagon. Ford produced these vehicles for a whopping 41 years — from 1950 to 1991. Regarded as a premium model, the Country Squire’s signature design was its woodgrain body trim. The station wagon was extremely popular among Ford consumers.
The production run of the Country Squire was only outlasted by the Mustang (55 years in production and still going strong) and the Thunderbird (46 years). Early adopters had the option of installing an AM/FM cassette stereo (rock on!) as well as a two-way CB radio. Another option was a magnetic checkers board near the side-facing rear seats.
In 2018 Ford Decided to Focus on Trucks & Drop Its Line of Passenger Cars
Ford, which is known for its passenger cars including the Mustang, Thunderbird, Taurus, Focus, and Fusion, made a monumental decision in 2018. It announced that it will no longer produce passenger cars in North America for the following four years (excluding the Mustang).
The automaker made the decision as a result of decreased demand for passenger cars and a lack of profits. In comparison, one of its flagship vehicles, the F-150 pickup truck, has been the bestselling vehicle in the United States since 1982 (the first generation was 1948). According to Auto Week, Ford sold more than 450,000 of its F-series line (one every 35 seconds) from January through June 2018.
Ford Has Owned Stakes In Aston Martin, Mercedes & Other Luxury Brands
Ford was a visionary. As an engineer and ambitious businessman, he made a lot of decisions he hoped would make his company grow and expand all over the globe. In the mid-’60s he attempted to buy the Ferrari brand but failed. That did not deter him from following his dreams.
The Ford Motor Co. has since owned stakes in the following businesses: Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercury, and Aston Martin. These days, Ford also sells vehicles under the Lincoln brand. Meanwhile, members of the Ford family have the majority voting power in the company but minority ownership.