Happy 150th birthday, Henry FordThursday 1 August 2013, by The Media Team
He’s not alive, you understand (at least we think not; Elvis still runs a camping shop in North Shields according to some sources) but this week sees the anniversary of this great pioneer’s birth and Gumtree wants to mark the occasion with a hearty “Well done, sir.”
Ford’s rise to prominence was not a straightforward one. Having taken a job at Thomas Edison’s Electric Illuminating Company in 1891, he climbed the ranks to be chief engineer there and used his spare time to build his first ‘horseless carriage’ – named the Quadricycle – in 1896. A second car followed in 1898, prompting Ford to persuade investors to back him in a new venture to build and sell vehicles. But Ford was no businessman at that stage. The company collapsed, as did a second.
Most mortals might have had a rethink at this point but not Ford. His response was to take even bigger risks, building and sometimes driving racing cars. It was this high-profile and rather thrilling activity that helped to attract further investors and the Ford Motor Company was born in 1903. Ford himself continued to race cars as well as designing them, in 1904 setting a new land speed record of 91.3 mph. Doesn’t sound that fast today, does it – the sort of velocity that might provoke a small tut on the motorway – but back then it must’ve felt like the speed of light. And it helped Ford to maintain his reputation as the great innovator.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently,” he would say later.
But Ford’s life mission, born out of a passionately-held vision, was to produce a vehicle for “the great multitude” and it was this that drove him above all else. The breakthrough came in 1908 when he launched the seminal Model T, which was easy to operate and relatively inexpensive (the price came down each year). At a single stroke, Ford had revolutionised the motor industry by making cars accessible to broad swathes of ordinary Americans. By 1918, half of all cars in the USA were Model Ts.
Ford’s legacy and influence on Twentieth Century history are almost impossible to overstate. He invented the assembly line of production; his determination to pay low-skilled workers well led to high immigration levels and the urbanisation of the American workforce (it also accelerated the union movement, thereby creating one of the dominant forces in American social and political life); and, of course, the mass production of Ford’s cars gave rise to dramatically increased mobility. In short, the world as we know it today has been shaped in no small part by Henry Ford.
Once again, Henry, we toot our horn in your direction.