Biography: Henry Ford
Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, was born in Dearbornville, Springfield Township, Wayne County, Mich., on July 30, 1863. His parents were William and Mary (Litogot) Ford. He was the eldest of six children – four boys and two girls. His father was a native of Kilmalooda Parish, County Cork, Ireland, who came to America in 1847 and settled on a farm in Wayne County.
Young Henry Ford showed an early interest in mechanics. By the time he was 12, he was spending most of his spare time in a small machine area he had equipped. There, at 15, he constructed his first steam engine.
Later, he became a machinist’s apprentice in Detroit in the shops of James F. Flower and Bros. and in the plant of the Detroit Dry Dock Co. After completing his apprenticeship in 1882, he spent a year setting up and repairing Westinghouse steam engines in southern Michigan. In July, 1891, he was employed as an engineer by the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. He became chief engineer on Nov. 1, 1893.
On April 11, 1888, he married Clara J. Bryant of Greenfield, Mich., the daughter of Melvin Bryant, a Wayne County Farmer. They had one son, Edsel Bryant Ford, born Nov. 6, 1893.
Ford’s career as a builder of automobiles dated from the winter of 1893 when his interest in internal combustion engines led him to construct a small one-cylinder gasoline model. The first Ford engine sputtered its way to life on a wooden table in the kitchen of the Ford home at 58 Bagley Avenue in Detroit. A later version of that engine powered his first automobile – essentially a frame fitted with four bicycle wheels. That first Ford car was completed in June, 1896.
On Aug. 19, 1899, he resigned from the Edison Illuminating Company and, with others, organized the Detroit Automobile Company. The company unfortunately went into bankruptcy a year-and-a-half later.
Meanwhile, Henry Ford designed and built several racing cars. In one of them, he defeated Alexander Winton in a notable race on a track in Grosse Pointe, Mich., on Oct. 10, 1901. In another car, the famous 999 racer, he established a world record for the mile, covering the distance in 39.40 seconds on Jan. 12, 1904, on the winter ice of Lake St. Clair.
On June 16, 1903, Ford helped organize the Ford Motor Company, capitalized at $150,000. Henry Ford did not put any capital into the venture. The first car built by the company was sold July 15, 1903. Henry Ford owned 25.5 percent of the stock in the new organization. He became president and controlling owner in 1906. In 1919, Ford, his wife, Clara, and his son, Edsel, acquired the interest of all minority stockholders for $105,820,894, and became sole owners of the company. Henry Ford turned over the presidency to his son Edsel in 1919. Due to Edsel’s unexpected death at 49 years of age, Henry reclaimed the presidency in 1943.
In September, 1945, when he resigned the presidency for the second time, Henry Ford recommended that his eldest grandson, Henry Ford II, be elected to that position. The board of directors followed his recommendation.
In 1946, Ford was lauded at the Automotive Golden Jubilee for his contributions to the automotive industry. In July of the same year, 50,000 people cheered him at Ford Field in Dearborn at a giant 83rd birthday party. That same year, the American Petroleum Institute awarded him its first Gold Medal annual award for outstanding contributions to the welfare of humanity.
Ford was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Automobile Club of America and the Detroit Board of Commerce.
In collaboration with Samuel Crowther, he wrote “My Life and Work” (1922), “Today and Tomorrow” (1926) and “Moving Forward” (1930), which described the development of Ford Motor Company and outlined his industrial and social theories. He also published “Edison, as I Know Him” (1930) with the same collaborator.
Doctor of Engineering degrees were conferred on him by the University of Michigan and Michigan State College, and he received an honorary LL.D. from Colgate University.
Henry Ford died at his residence, Fair Lane in Dearborn, at 11:40 p.m. on Monday, April 7, 1947, following a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 83. At his bedside were Mrs. Ford and members of the household staff. At the time of his death, flooding on the Rouge River, which flows through the grounds at Fair Lane, had cut off electrical power. Old-fashioned kerosene lamps and candles were the only sources of light in the house, creating a scene similar to that of his birth in the same county many years earlier.
Funeral services were held from St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit, and Mr. Ford was buried in the Ford family cemetery at St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in Detroit.
Mrs. Ford died on Sept. 29, 1950, at the age of 84.
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