If Henry Ford is a name you’re familiar with it’s most likely to do with his automobiles. The famed American is best-known for creating the Ford range of automobiles. They remain one of the most famous and revered car manufacturers in the industry. In fact, we reckon most people have probably owned a Ford car at some point!
The Man Behind The Car
But the man himself was as interesting, unique, and captivating as the cars he created. And that’s why it’s important to give as much attention to the man as the work he created. So, we’re going to look at some of the more surprising facts you maybe didn’t know about Henry Ford.
Henry Ford had always been preoccupied with how things worked. He was constantly curious about it, even as a child. And, at the age of 15, he received a watch as a gift from his father. He spent time taking the watch apart and putting it back together in order to understand how it worked.
This led to him starting to do the same with friends and family members’ watches. He developed quite the reputation for being able to fix things. And he was thought of as the go-to guy when it came to watch repairs. This desire to know how things worked seems to have been instrumental in his decision to move into the automotive world.
Change of Direction
When Ford was growing up, the family lived on a farm that was run by his parents. As was often the case those days, it was expected that Ford would take over from his father and carry on running the farm. But, the young Ford had little to no interest in farming and hated the work involved in running a farm.
He had only remained there as long as he did due to his close relationship with his mother. Once she died, a devastated Ford moved from the family farm and decided to make his own fortune. He became an engineer before forming the famed Ford Motor Company and changing the landscape of the 20th Century.
Trying to Go Back
Having said this, Henry Ford did try to make a brief return to farming in the early part of the 19th Century. However, as you might have imagined, this was short lived. The young Ford was always more interested in how machines worked and spent more and more time with the farming machines.
This reignited the fire in him, and led him to move away from farming once more, and work more with machines again. This would be Ford’s last foray into farming, and the last time in his early life that he would try to work without machines. The Ford automotive empire was not too far away from inception now.
He Ran for Senate
In 1918, then President Woodrow Wilson tried to convince Ford that he should run for a Democratic seat in the Senate. By this time his Ford Motor Company had been around for quite some time, and Ford was seen as a true American icon. Wilson clearly thought he would make a great addition to the Senate.
In a letter penned to the President, Henry said how much he would love to run, but pledged that he wouldn’t pay a single penny in donations. True to his word, the businessman ran for the Senate without spending a single cent on his campaign. Incredibly, he still only lost by around 4,000 votes!
Handing over the Reins
By 1918, Ford was looking to the future and wanted to make sure the company would be in safe hands for the long-term. As well as running for Senate in 1918, he also made some business related changes and decisions of his own. One of the major ones affected the Ford Motor Company.
Henry decided to appoint his son Edsel Ford as President of the company. Though he retained the right to the final decision, he left the majority of the running down to his son. It was during this time that he also created another company which he named Henry Ford and Son.
It Wasn’t Just Cars
Many people associate Ford squarely with the cars that he and his company manufactured. And this is understandable, considering how popular and successful they became. But, it’s important to understand that he did other things as well as manufacturing cars. You may not know this, but Ford also had a company that made charcoal briquettes!
Yes, he apparently used the wood scraps from his automobile plants to fuel the production of his charcoal briquettes. The company he formed for this charcoal production was named Kingsford Charcoal. This was a nod to his brother-in-law E.G. Kingsford. The company still exists today, and they still manufacture charcoal, incredibly!
Teaching the Next Generation
It seems like Ford was a guy who had his fingers in quite a lot of pies. Sure, automobiles were his specialty, and we’ve already touched on the charcoal, but apparently he also had a vested interest in education. Perhaps his own background had shown him the value of education.
In 1926 he bought a school called the Redstone Schoolhouse in Massachusetts. And he wound up moving the school to his property in Sudbury. The building had been abandoned and used simply as a warehouse, but Ford revamped and renovated it. It became a fully functioning and working school once more, where kids were taught there until the early 1950s.
Legendary author Aldous Huxley wrote many fine works of fiction. Among his finest work is a novel called Brave New World, which you may have heard of. There are actually a lot of references in the novel to Henry Ford, and his impact on the world. This could have been a nod to Ford, or it could have been an attempt to convey consumerism within the novel.
For example, Ford is revered as some sort of deity-like figure. And many of the references in the novel have people referring to him as Our Ford, instead of Our Lord. There is also a change to the dates of the years, in this case being Annum Fordum.
Friendship with Thomas Edison
Early in his career, Ford worked as an engineer, specifically at the Edison Illuminating Company. He rose through the ranks, and, after less than two years had achieved the role of Chief Engineer. It was during this time that he met and became friendly with the company owner, and famed engineer, Thomas Edison.
The two had something of a bromance, and Edison was very impressed with Ford’s automobile experiments. In fact, he even encouraged Ford to work on and complete the second vehicle for the marketplace. Edison was often cited as being instrumental in helping with Ford’s career, and the two remained close friends.
He Didn’t Invent the Automobile
Contrary to the commonly held assumptions, Ford is not actually responsible for creating the automobile, or the assembly line. These were around before Ford emerged on the scene. However, he is responsible for championing the concept of mass production, which he used throughout the company to bring the cars to the mass market.
He’s also, as a result of this, responsible for developing and producing the first “affordable automobile” in the world. Before Ford, cars were seen as an expensive luxury that only the wealthy and elite might have. But he changed all that and allowed regular everyday Americans to purchase and own their own cars.
It’s sometimes pertinent to consider what might have happened had Ford not done this. Imagine he never existed, or he went in a different direction. Would someone else have taken over and done the same thing? Is it a case of technology developing in a naturally organic way anyway?
Or, would we still be in a position where cars would be only things rich people could afford. It seems inconceivable now that there may have been a time when not everyone could afford a car. In a similar sense to cellular phones, we just assume they are something everyone should/would have. This illustrates the impact and influence Ford has had on the world.
It’s amazing that the impact of Henry Ford can still be felt, even today. If you think about the automobile industry, and how competitive and saturated the market is, it’s even more impressive that Ford still manages to be successful and to produce some of the most reliable and popular vehicles in the world.
Of course, the newer models of Ford are perhaps not as reliable and long lasting as the older models. But reputation matters so much in the world of business, and it’s pretty clear that the Ford Motoring Company has a fantastic reputation. This is due to the hard work and vision of Henry Ford as a young man.
Money, Money, Money
His developments in the automotive world made Henry Ford an incredibly wealthy man. In fact, at the time he was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and still would be today, were he alive. But, Ford knew how to spend his money, and he used it to try to do a lot of good in the world.
For one thing, he started to pay his workers a higher wage so they would be able to afford the products they were making. He also opened a museum and spent money on relics and artifacts to showcase. He also spent money investing in the aviation industry as well! This is before we even talk about the charity that got him into the philanthropy hall of fame.
Taking to the Skies
Not content with dominating the automobile industry, Ford also turned his attention to aviation. He felt that this represented the future of travel, and wanted to try to put the average man in the air as well as on the road. In order to try to achieve this, he formed the Ford Airplane Company during the First World War.
Due to his success on the roads, many people figured it would be easy for Ford to emulate the same success in the skies. However, producing planes is very different to producing vehicles. To begin with, it was a successful venture, and Ford’s plane the Ford Flivver was a success. However, a fatal accident in 1928 put an end to this idea.
Letter From Bonnie and Clyde
Not many people know this, but career criminals and infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde actually loved Ford cars! They often used them as their getaway cars for crimes they committed. In fact, they loved them so much that Clyde Barrow even wrote Henry Ford a letter praising his work.
The letter, dated 1934, detailed Clyde telling Ford what a “dandy car you make.” There has long been a debate about who actually penned the letter, with some believing it to be Bonnie. However, the general consensus seems to be that Clyde was the author; it’s also unclear what Ford thought of the letter.
He Loathed Experts
Ford had a hatred of experts that some could argue bordered on the side of irrational. This might have been more to do with the fact that he didn’t actually like people to second guess him. Nevertheless, he refused to employ any experts or people with a large amount of experience.
As you might imagine, this led to a fair few issues and huge financial cost. Eventually, he had to renege on this and hire an expert electrical engineer, after realizing his engineers couldn’t solve an important problem. It’s unknown whether Ford employed experts across the board after this, or whether he went back to his original stance.
Ford Built a Town
Amazingly, Ford actually is responsible for building a town as well. He was a believer in integration and wanted to ensure that all the resources that were needed were supplied. This led to him creating the infamous town of Fordlandia, built in the Amazon Rainforest in 1928.
The whole idea of the town was that it would be self-reliant and that it could supply rubber from the trees for his Ford factory. He had a deal going with the Brazilian government to allow him to do this. However, as you might already have guessed, the idea didn’t work out, and Fordlandia never wound up coming to fruition in the end.
Of course, Henry Ford is long dead now, but the Ford empire has endured, and that’s thanks to the family legacy. The descendants of Ford have gone to great lengths to ensure that the business stays afloat, and William Clay Ford, Jr. is the current executive chairman of the Ford Motoring Company.
William is the great-grandson of Henry Ford and the son of William Clay Ford Sr., and he also served as president and CEO until 2006. Another descendant of Henry Ford is Elena Anne Ford, who is an heiress to the Ford Motor Company. It looks like the company will stay in the family for years to come.
Leno Is a Fan
As you might imagine, there are a fair few celebrities and famous faces who are fans of Ford cars. And, one of the best-known celebrity fans is legendary talk show host Jay Leno. Leno, known for his jaw-dropping car collection, has long been an advocate of Ford, and his first job was actually at a Ford dealership!
Among the most prized possessions of Leno’s car collection is his 1965 Ford Mustang GT 350. This is one of the most awesome cars in the world and a personal favorite of Jay’s. He also had a friendship with the late Carroll Shelby, who created the Shelby Mustang, for close to 20 years.