Henry Ford changed the way of life for many people with his vision to make owning a car practical and affordable. The moving assembly line and mass production techniques he developed set the standard for worldwide industrial practice in the first half of the 20th Century.

henry ford having a conversation

The story begins in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan, on 30 July 1863. The young Henry was interested in mechanical processes as soon as he could talk. He worked in a machine shop at 12, built his first steam engine at 15, and became an apprentice machinist at 16. 

He worked various jobs as a young man, until he joined the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit in 1891. It took him just two years to become the company’s chief engineer. Thomas Edison himself became a lifelong mentor and friend to Henry Ford.

During this time, Ford experimented with automobiles and internal combustion engines – both at work and at home. In 1893, the first Ford engine sputtered its way to life on a wooden table in the family’s home at 58 Bagley Avenue in Detroit. Soon after that, he built his first automobile.

henry ford inspecting ford engine

Ford left his role at Edison in 1899 and a few years later he founded the Ford Motor Company. This gave him the freedom to explore his ground-breaking ideas.

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. In 1908, he achieved that with the Model T. 

ford factory workers watching ford vehicle roll off the production line

The culmination of Henry Ford’s genius and practical mindedness, the Model T was quick to build, easy to operate, and handled well on all grounds. Most importantly, its low cost made it accessible to ordinary people. A new era in personal transport had begun. 

Ford was a natural-born innovator. He didn’t just create the world’s first mass-market car. He created the future. The production lines that came to define early 20th century industry and the 40-hour workweek both rolled out of the Ford factory alongside gleaming Model Ts.

ford factory workers working on production line

It was Henry's intention to produce the largest number of cars, to the simplest design, for the lowest possible cost. At Highland Park, Model T production reached record levels, with a complete car leaving the line every 10 seconds of every working day.

Henry remained at the helm of Ford Motor Company for the rest of his life, sharing duties with his son Edsel. On his 83rd birthday, over 50,000 people cheered for him in Dearborn at a special party. 

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.