Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ford, Henry

Automotive pioneer Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 on his family’s farm in what is now part of Dearborn, Michigan. He was the oldest of six children. While he enjoyed the simplicity of rural life, he did not like farming. A talent for engineering and an astute business sense led him to become one of the great industrialists of his era.

In April 1888, Ford married Clara Bryant, a local girl and the foster child of Irish immigrant farmers. Together they would have one son, Edsel, who was born in 1893. That same year Ford was promoted to chief engineer at the main plant of Edison Illuminating Company.

In 1899, Ford left his position with Edison and founded the Detroit Automobile Company. His first vehicle, the quadricycle, helped him attract financial backing but the company faltered in 1901. After the formation and dissolution of a second company, the Henry Ford Company, which lasted four months, Ford found backers to support him again and on June 16, 1903, founded the Ford Motor Company. Innovations in manufacturing and the success of the Model T several years later helped make Ford the leading car manufacturer in the country and one of the most successful companies in history. He is credited with incorporating the moving assembly-line into automotive mass-production.

In 1917, the Ford Motor Company started construction on the Rouge Plant, which was a realization of Henry Ford’s dream of an all-in-one manufacturing complex. Once he became a wealthy man, Ford dedicated himself to other equally ambitious pursuits. His activities included experiments with new technologies, including soybean and plastic, social health programs for his employees, philanthropy and increased involvement in politics. Unfortunately, his politics led him to join the questionable America First Committee during World War II, and to express hateful anti-Semitic sentiments. His opinions were published in his own newspaper, the weekly Dearborn Independent, and to this day remain a stain on his reputation.

He built a beautiful estate in Dearborn called Fair Lane, as well as the Edison Institute, the Henry Ford Museum, and Greenfield Village, now world famous and called “The Henry Ford.” Ford retired for the first time in 1919, when he handed over leadership of his company to his son, Edsel. In 1943, after Edsel’s untimely death, Henry Ford once again took the reins as president of the company. On September 21, 1945, Ford once again resigned as president, recommending his eldest grandson, Henry Ford II, as his successor.

Ford’s death on April 7, 1947 was observed with a moment of silence throughout the City of Detroit. Ford factories and showrooms worldwide closed, and all other American car factories went silent for several minutes when the funeral service began. An estimated 100,000 mourners viewed his remains as he lay in state at Greenfield Village. He is buried at Addison Ford Cemetery in Dearborn.



Photo of Henry Ford, 1946

Henry Ford speaking to Thomas Edison, 1928

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