The Fascinating Story of Ford Motor Company

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!

The Model A Was Billed as the “Perfect Machine”

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

The Peanuts Made Their First Live Animation Appearance In a Ford Commercial

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Paramount/Getty Images

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

The Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images
The Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images

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

National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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

Library of Congress/Getty Images
Library of Congress/Getty Images

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.

Ford Motor Co. Also Built Airplanes

George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

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

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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.

The Much-Hyped Edsel Was a Huge Failure

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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

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Getty Images

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

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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

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FPG/Staff Getty Images

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

Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images

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

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Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

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

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FPG/Getty Images

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

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

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

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

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

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Ford Attempted Create A Factory The Size Of A Small Village

Abandoned factory
Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images
Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1928, Henry Ford attempted to build a factory/village in the Amazonian jungle of Brazil known as “Fordlandia.” His initial idea was to establish a large rubber plantation the size of a small village that would serve a number of purposes.

Not only would it be a way to help stimulate the economy of the local people by providing jobs, but would also supply fresh rubber for his many factories. However, the harsh landscape and remote location proved to be incredibly difficult. In the end, Ford gave up on his vision and the factory remains abandoned today.

Ford Eventually Beat Ferrari

Ford in front of Ferrari
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images
Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

Established in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest sports car race in the world, held just outside of Le Mans, France. It eventually grew to become the race that would show the world which company produced the fastest cars.

From 1960 to 1965, Ferrari had been unbeatable. However, in 1966, the Ford Motor Company entered the race with the Ford GT40 and won. It broke Ferrari’s winning streak and established Ford as the fastest car in the world.

The Company Was Involved In World War I

Man next to ambulance
FRANTZ ADAM/AFP via Getty Images
FRANTZ ADAM/AFP via Getty Images

On top of providing airplanes to fight in World War I, the Ford Motor Company also manufactured motor vehicles. World War I was the first conflict when vehicles were used on a mass scale. Before, soldiers relied on their own feet or the help of pack animals.

Knowing that the United States military was going to need all of the help they could get, Ford Motor Company provided plenty of vehicles for the cause. The majority of the automobiles were used for ambulances, delivery trucks, and troop and weapons transportation.

Fords Were Used In World War II As Well

Men assembling Jeep
Charles Phelps Cushing/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Charles Phelps Cushing/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Initially, Henry Ford was opposed to involving his company in World War II due to his pacifist stance. However, the business that the war would bring Ford was too hard to pass up. On top of that, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ford’s opinion about the war began to shift.

By the end of the war, Ford had built B-24 Liberator bombers, over 86,000 aircraft, more than 57,000 airplane engines, 4,000 gliders, and 277,000 armored cars which included tanks, Jeeps, and thousands of generators.

All In The Family

Model T
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Although Ford Motor Company is still controlled by the descendants of Henry Ford, they are only minority owners of the company. While they may hold a majority of the voting power in the boardroom, they only own a fraction of the money.

The last ford descendant to hold to the position of CEO was William Ford Jr. However, one of the things that he ensured was that he owned the first Ford ever built. The car is a 1903 Ford Model A, whose original owner was Dr. Pfennig. Owning the car was a way for the family to hold onto their history and the vehicle is on display today in the Henry Ford Museum.

Ford Has Had Recent Success In The United Kingdom

Fiesta in showroom
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images

A subcompact hatchback, the Ford Fiesta was first introduced to the world in 1976, becoming one of the most globally successful front-wheel drive vehicles ever produced. It was sold across the United States between 1978 and 1981, and was discontinued until Ford decided to bring it back in 2009.

It was so successful upon its second release that broke the Mustang’s one-year sales record. It also took off overseas, especially in the United Kingdom, and was the most popular car in the country as of 2018.

The Name Behind Mustang

Couple In Front Of Mustang
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Although the Ford Mustang has an incredibly fitting name, there’s still debate as to how he got it. Some possibilities include that it was named after the P-51 Fighter plane, the Southern Methodist University mascot, or the classic wild Mustangs of the American West.

However, Mustang wasn’t the only idea for a name for the popular vehicle. Others were considered, such as Cougar and Torino, although they would go on to become the names for other models.

Not Everyone Can Own A Ford GT

2020 Ford GT
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

There are only a limited supply of Ford Gts built every year, and they definitely aren’t just sold to anyone with enough money to buy one. The Ford GT is a supercar, and therefore the company is picky about whom they deem fit to own one.

Not only is there an extensive application process, but applicants have to be selected by the company itself. Their goal is to have the car promoted by global influencers in the automobile world such as Jay Leno, baseball player C.J. Wilson, as well as famous racecar drivers.

Ford Didn’t Need A Government Bailout

Ford sign
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When the market took a downturn towards the turn of the millennium, the North American automotive industry took one of the biggest hits. Because of this, many of the larger manufacturers were forced to request government subsidies to stay afloat and continue to stay in business.

However, even though GM, Ford, and Chrysler, otherwise known as The Big Three, were struggling as well, Ford held its own. They remained the only company out of the Big Three that didn’t need a bailout to continue their business.

The First Monster Truck Was A Ford

Ford monster truck
Tom Williams/Roll Call
Tom Williams/Roll Call

Bob Chandler built the first monster truck in 1975 and debuted his creation in 1979. Chandler named the truck Bigfoot, which became an icon of the monster truck world. He built the first model of his monster truck using the family’s 1974 Ford F-250 four-wheel drive.

Chandler eventually opened his own shop called Midwest Four Wheel Drive and Performance Center to carry parts needed for monster trucks, and by the mid-1980s, others began building monster trucks of their own.

Ford Received Six Cents In A Defamation Case

Person holding change
Ernie Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Ernie Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

When a writer for the Chicago Tribune called Henry Ford an ignorant idealist and anarchist enemy of the nation, Ford sued the paper for defamation for $1 million. The trial was held in 1919 and lasted for 14 weeks.

During the trial, the Chicago Tribune attempted to prove that Ford was indeed an ignorant idealist and was even backed by The New York Times. In the end, the Jury ruled in favor of Ford and the Chicago Tribune was told to play six cents in damages, which they never did.

Model T’s Weren’t All That Reliable

Fleet of Model Ts
CHRISTOPH SCHMIDT/DPA/AFP via Getty Images
CHRISTOPH SCHMIDT/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

There’s little doubt that the Ford Model T is the vehicle that the company owes the majority of its success. One of the reasons it was so impactful was that it could be massed produced and was affordable.

However, making them in mass amounts and for cheap meant that they had to use cheaper products, resulting in a rather unreliable vehicle. At one point, police departments began using the Model T as their police vehicles. Yet, it wasn’t long before they replaced them with a more reliable car, as the repair costs were becoming overwhelming.

Ford Had Multiple Failed Businesses

Ford sitting in a chair
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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

According to Henry Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Although he may have started one of the largest companies in the world, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some hiccups along the way.

In an attempt to start his first business, he spent all of his investor’s money without even building a car and liquidated it 18 months later. He went on to start the Henry Ford Company not long after and left just a year after operations began. At this point, all of his investors were concerned.

The Company Has A Secret Collection

Collection of cars
Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images
Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Over the hundred years that the Ford Motor Company has been around, they have constructed some magnificent vehicles. Yet, although many of the cars built over the years are no longer in production, the company has made a point to keep at least one of each model.

Located in London, England, Ford Dagenham once assembled cars but now only makes engines. It is there that Ford has stashed every model they have made.

Ford Inspired Sakichi Toyoda

Picture of Sakichi Toyoda
Pinterest
Pinterest

During the time that Ford became a national sensation in the United States for his vehicles, Sakichi Toyoda was working as a Japanese inventor and industrialist. Seeing the success that Ford had achieved, Toyoda was curious about what Ford had done right.

So, Toyoda started the Toyoda family companies and sent his son, Kiichiro Toyoda to work for Ford and learn his secrets. Toyoda learned everything about Ford’s business and started his own company called Toyota.

The Average Time To Build An F-150 Is 52 Seconds

Tailgates of F-150s
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

One of the incredible aspects of the Ford Motor Company that has made it so successful is its ability to mass-produce at an incredible rate. At the Dearborn Truck Plant, their workers have perfected the art of assembling F-150s.

According to Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker, “We build one F-150 every 52 seconds at this plant.” Because of this, the plant makes more than $100,000 million in revenue daily, producing more than 30,000 vehicles each month.

Ford Helped Fund Dodge Brothers Motor Company

Dodge Brothers car
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Back in the day, the Dodge brothers agreed to sell a Ford chassis for $250, creating a partnership between the two. In turn, the Dodge brothers lent Ford $100,000 in credit for 100 shares in the Ford Motor Company.

However, it was a rocky partnership and during their 15 years working together, they ran into some issues. Eventually, Ford bought out 10 percent that the Dodge brothers owned of the $25 million. The Dodge brothers then used this money to start the Dodge Brothers Motor Company.

Ford Was Inspired By Karl Benz

Karl Benz on automobile
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Although Henry Ford is often considered to be the godfather of the automobile, he didn’t invent it. He was inspired by a German man named Karl Benz, the first person to make a gas-powered vehicle.

Unlike Ford, his automobile was never put into mass production, although it paved the way for future minds like Ford and others. Ford was able to do things that his predecessors were unable to do, such as mass producing vehicles and making them affordable.

The Iconic Logo

Man in front of logo
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Over the years, the Ford logo has grown to represent more than just an automobile company, but America itself. Their logo is usually what comes to mind when thinking about the American automobile industry and because it’s simple and straightforward.

However, the logo we see today wasn’t always what the company used. This logo didn’t start being used until a whole four years after the company had been in production and it hasn’t ever changed since.

A Connection To Ostrich Feathers

Picture of an ostrich
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

A lot of people might wonder what a booming car company has anything to do with ostrich feathers. Well, as it turns out, Ford used them extensively during their early years of manufacturing.

The feathers were used to buffer the cars that had just been assembled and were never taken out of the factory to be sold at a high price. Although why they chose to use ostrich feathers remains unclear, the practice soon faded as better practices were adopted.