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The story begins in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan, on 30 July 1863, when Henry was the first-born of William and Mary Ford’s six children. Growing up on a prosperous family farm, he was educated in a one-room school, where he showed an early interest in all things mechanical. This interest would develop into true genius and earn him the accolade of ‘one of the greatest industrialists in the world’.

The Henry Ford Story

Ford evolution of mass production moving assembly line 1913

The evolution of mass production

Henry Ford designed his first moving assembly line in 1913, and revolutionised the manufacturing processes of his Ford Model T.

This assembly line, at the first Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan, became the benchmark for mass production methods around the world.

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Learning the trade cont.

His apprenticeship lasted three years, after which he returned home to Dearborn. During the next few years, Henry divided his time between operating and repairing steam engines, finding occasional work in a Detroit factory and overhauling his father's farm implements. The year 1888, saw a major change in his life, when he married Clara Bryant and began supporting his new family by running a sawmill.

It wasn’t long before Henry made another change and by 1891, he had become an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. A promotion to Chief Engineer two years later, gave him enough time and money to devote more attention to his personal experiments on internal combustion engines.

Henry Ford inspecting engine
First Ford Vehicle - Model T 1908

Starting the Ford Motor Company cont.

Henry Ford realised his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. This vehicle signalled a new era in personal transport – it was easy to operate, maintain and handle on rough roads and was an immediate success.

A new generation 

Things were advancing rapidly. 1919 saw Henry and his son, Edsel, acquire the interest of all minority stockholders for $105,568,858 and become the sole owners of the company. Edsel, who succeeded his father as President that year, continued to occupy the position up until his death in 1943, when Henry Ford returned to the driving seat of the company.

Henry Ford and Henry Ford II
Henry Ford

Retirement

After resigning as president of Ford Motor Company for the second time during September 1945, Henry was succeeded by his grandson, Henry Ford II. In the following year, he was honoured at the American Automotive Golden Jubilee for his major contributions to the motor industry and later that year, the American Petroleum Institute also awarded him its first Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the welfare of humanity.

The end of an era

Henry Ford died at his home, in Fairlane in Dearborn, on 7 April 1947, at 11.40pm. He was 83. At the time of his death, the local Rouge River had flooded causing a local power cut. With kerosene lamps and candles lit, the scene must have been more reminiscent of his birth 83 years earlier.

Henry Ford seated portrait

The Ford Trademark

The Ford oval trademark is one of the best-known corporate symbols in the world and has been in regular use for more than 50 years. The script trademark dates back to the very beginning of the company when Henry Ford’s engineering assistant developed a stylised version of the words ‘Ford Motor Company’. Here’s how it has evolved over the years.

 

 

1903
The First Logo

The script lettering was first used on company communications at the start of 1903.  The first production car, the Model A, received special treatment – the first Ford logo for the car had a fashionable art nouveau border.

 

 

1906
Script with Wings

By 1906, a more developed form of script appeared with long-tailed ‘F’ and ‘D’ letters – known as the ‘script with wings’. This logo was used on all Ford cars up to the end of 1910, when the lettering was revised again into the form that is still in use today. The Ford script trademark was registered at the United States Patent Office in 1909.

 

 

1907
First Oval

The first Ford oval was originally used by British agents Perry, Thornton and Schreiber – the forerunners of the original Ford Motor Company Limited of Great Britain. This oval was used to advertise the Ford as the ‘hallmark for reliability and economy’.

1911
Definate Oval

By combining the script and oval, Ford created the definitive logo. The Ford vehicles and company communications continued to use the script lettering until the late 1920s.

1912
The Universal Car

For a brief time, Ford did move away from the oval design and used a winged triangle design on their cars. Originally designed to symbolise speed, lightness, grace and stability, the logo was produced in orange or dark blue and carried the words ‘The Universal Car’. Henry Ford disliked the design and it was swiftly discontinued.

1927
Ford Oval Badge

The new Model A was the first Ford vehicle to carry the Ford oval as a radiator badge. With the familiar deep royal blue background that we know today, the logo was used on many cars until the end of the 1950s.

The blue oval then disappeared from the various bonnets and grilles of cars until the mid-1970s, with just the word ‘Ford’ appearing instead. Although the Ford oval badge was still used consistently on company communications, during this period.

 

The Blue Oval Today

Since 1976, the blue and silver Ford oval has been used as an identification badge on all Ford vehicles, providing an easily recognisable and consistent brand for all the company's plants, facilities and products around the world.

ford blue logo

The evolution of mass production

Henry Ford designed his first moving assembly line in 1913, and revolutionised the manufacturing processes of his Ford Model T.

This assembly line, at the first Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan, became the benchmark for mass production methods around the world.

A simple idea

It was Henry's intention to produce the largest number of cars, to the simplest design, for the lowest possible cost. When car ownership was confined to the privileged few, Henry Ford's aim was to "put the world on wheels" and produce an affordable vehicle for the general public.

How Ford first built cars

In the early days, Ford built cars the same way as everybody else – one at a time. The car sat on the ground throughout the build as mechanics and their support teams sourced parts and returned to the car to assemble it from the chassis upwards. To speed the process up, cars were then assembled on benches which were moved from one team of workers to the next. But this was not fast, as Ford still needed skilled labour teams to assemble the 'hand-built' car. So production levels were still low and the price of the car was higher to cover the costs of mechanics.

What was needed was automation. Henry and his engineers invented machines to make large quantities of the parts needed for the vehicle and devised methods of assembling the parts as fast as they were made. They were ready for the breakthrough.

Increasing productivity

To achieve Henry Ford’s goal of mass consumption through mass production, productivity needed to increase. At the Detroit factory in Michigan, workers were placed at appointed stations and the chassis was hauled along between them using strong rope. The chassis stopped at each station, where parts were fitted, until it was finally completed.

Ford Mercury assembly line 1946
Ford vehicle inspection assembly line 1972

An impressive result

Henry Ford had built on the basic principles of early pioneers such as Elihu Root, who masterminded an assembly system for Samuel Colt, which divided the manufacturing process in order to simplify it. 

He continued experimenting until every practice was refined, and his mass production vision became a reality.

Another initiative was to use interchangeable parts that could be put together easily by unskilled workers. The experiments continued with gravity slides and conveyors. Naturally, even the placement of men and tools was meticulously researched to ensure the production line ran as efficiently as possible.

The sum of its parts

Each department, in the manufacturing process was broken down into its constituent parts. These sub-assembly lines were set up in each area until, as Henry was heard to remark, "everything in the plant moved."  As a result, production speeds increased – sometimes they were up to four times faster.

Ford Rotunda building 1938

The final assembly line

The ultimate step was the creation of the moving final assembly line. Starting with a bare chassis, it moved along the line and through each workstation until a complete car was driven off under its own power. An essential part of this process was that all feeder lines along the route were synchronised to supply the right parts, at the right time.

Reaping the rewards

This combination of accuracy, continuity and speed introduced mass production to the world. At Highland Park, Model T production reached record levels, with a complete car leaving the line every 10 seconds of every working day. Ford was able to cut prices, double the minimum daily wage to $5, produce a superior product and still make a profit.

At this time, two million Model Ts were being produced by Ford each year and sold at just $260 – a very affordable price for its time.

Ford assembly line 1985
Crowds of applicants for $5 day wage at Ford Motor Company

Revolutionary progress

The Model T started a rural revolution. The $5 day wage and the philosophy behind it, started a social revolution. The moving assembly line started an industrial revolution.

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