Henry Ford

From first experiments in the home court-yard to mass- production, through the intelligence and passion of a man who had invented the car idea according to its modern meaning. It's a difficult undertaking to sum up the life of a man who made the history of the motor-car, perhaps it may mean to be guilty of presumption. In any case it seemed to us a necessary step to arrive at the heart of his creature, reminding that cars are machines built by men and, in this concern. they bring with them like stigmata, vices and virtues of their creators. Henry Ford was born in 1863 in Detroit, Michigan. After technical studies he went to the university where he took an engineering degree. He became an engineer with the "Edison Illuminating Company", a real breeding ground of ideas, where in the 90's of the past century he was promoted to Chief Engineer. In those years he began his preliminary study on the automobile that, at that time, was taking its first steps. It is said that Ford built his first automobile in 1896 in the home court-yard and after these first experiments, he decided to devote his life to the new revolutionary means of transport. In 1899 he left The Edison Company and moved to the "Detroit Automobile Company", a newly settled company that intended to build a car designed by Ford himself, but the experiment was unsuccessful, it seems that such failure was due to his fussiness that brought him to call the project continually into question, without ever approving a final drawing to deliver to the production. Disappointed and unemployed, he devoted his attempts to the construction of a racing car together with a certain Childe Harold Wills, with whom he shared the enthusiastic feeling for mechanics. The new car easily dominated all over the others in the 1901 Gross Point race and, on the wave of this promising success, "the Henry Ford Motor Company" was established, with a capital of $ 30,500, paid up by six trustful investors, lured on to Henry Ford's technical skills. But instead of devoting to the design of a mass production model, i.e. the company's final target, he still showed his interest in racing cars and after few months he left the company that afterwards took the corporate name "Cadillac Motor Company". Without one dollar in their pockets, Ford and Wills moved to another working place and went on designing two different racing cars: the "999" and the "Arrow". A driver of these days, Tom Cooper, offered to finance them: however it was not he who brought these two racing cars to be successful, but Barney Oldfield who, thanks to Ford and his team mates' work, became the speed symbol of those years. Also a part of glory covered Henry, who made an agreement at that time with Alexander Malcomson, a Detroit resourceful coal trader, with some financial troubles and a good flair for business. In a few months he invested 7000 dollars in the development of the "Arrow" and of the "999" , besides providing the capitals required for establishing the "Ford & Malcomson Company". Stimulated by the new partner, Ford concentrated on the design of a mass production car and first agreements were made to produce it accordingly: to avoid heavy investments in production structures, ignoring the designing step and at the risk of bringing the newly established company to a crisis since the very beginning, a contract was made with the Dodge brothers of Detroit, successful engine manufacturers, to whom the construction of 650 finished chassis had been ordered, while the Ford Company should only take charge of the final assembly. On 16th June 1903 the "Ford Motor Company" was officially established with a capital of 100,000 dollars shared among twelve partners. The funny thing is to point out that, apart from Malcomson, an uncle of his, who was a banker, Charles Bennet and the Dodge brothers, all the other persons were belonging to lower middle-class, mainly tied to the coal trader by dependence or business relations. Their effort to share in the new partnership's capital was sometimes so remarkable as great it had to be their trust in Malcomson's flair for business and in Henry Ford's technical skills. But once again he exposed the Company to risk because of his incapability of completing the designing step and it was only up to the sales manager's decision, James Couzens, to start up the car production, whatever the defects might be, and to save everybody from disaster. The model A Ford resulted in line with competitors; the drawbacks of its earlier age were eliminated in time and by continuous changes. In few years the Ford Motor Company became one of the most solid and profitable companies in America. That would have been sufficient to make Ford feeling a successful man, but he was not satisfied and the true revolution that he brought about the world of the car took only place in the 1910s, when it was over a long process of observations and continuous changes, purposely made to optimize the quality and price of his products: but this is the short story of the Ford Model T . If we would still like to remind some features of the personality of that man, we may mention his inflamed pacifism in the years of the first world war, when he bravely objected to the United States' intervention in the conflict, taking a position of "isolationist" that caused him to be labelled "pro-German" in Europe and much hostility. Under this point of view he chartered a ship, renamed "Peace Ship" , by that he sailed for the old continent in order to conduct private negotiations between the Allied Powers and Germany, negotiations that were unsuccessful, except for his workers' protests in England and a taxation that heavily hit the activity of the across the Channel company. Another interesting fact worthy of note was the complete independence that he succeeded in obtaining for his company towards the production and banking system: the Ford Motor Company was nearly all released from outside procurements, having centralized and incorporated every single production process needed for the manufacturing of cars, as well as for financial management, without any dollar being deposited or requested by banks. It is said that Henry Ford II, succeeded to his father in 1945, asked where the funds had been deposited: it was answered that 700 million dollars, making the whole liquidity, were kept in the strong-room vault of the Company. An oddity of a man that since the very beginning had suffered a lot from the strangling rules of banking systems.

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Graphic & Engineering by Fabio Carrera