Henry Ford (1863 – 1947)

Freedom of Movement…

Henry Ford, was born on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan in 1863. By the time he died in 1947, he would change the world.  Although his name is associated with cars, he didn’t invent them.  His genius was his relentless vision and efforts to transform the automobile from an item of luxury few could afford into the promise of transportation freedom that millions of Americans could afford.  In the process he changed the nation moved and the world soon followed. 

Ford’s brilliance was twofold. Firstly, it was in his technical and design insights. He literally revolutionized automobile production.  Before Ford, automobiles were custom-made, handcrafted luxuries available only to the elite. The time and cost associated with this craftsmanship limited the wider adoption of the car. But Ford’s dream was different. He imagined a world where every individual had the freedom of mobility. To achieve this, in 1913, he introduced the world to the moving assembly line. A piece of innovation that, overnight, slashed production time, bringing down the costs and complexities tied to car manufacturing. The Model T, once a luxury, became an affordable necessity, making it onto roads in numbers previously unimaginable.

Yet, the genius of Ford didn’t stop at production. The second dimension of his brilliance was his understanding of the American worker. He introduced the $5 workday in 1914 – an astounding wage for that era – effectively doubling the standard pay. This wasn’t merely generosity; it was a calculated strategy. By paying his workers well, Ford ensured they could afford the very cars they produced. More than just a wage, it was a promise of an elevated lifestyle. Additionally, Ford reduced the workday from nine hours to eight, a move that not only boosted morale and productivity but also added shifts and increased employment.

Underpinning all his business decisions was Ford’s belief in the “cycle of prosperity”. If workers were paid more, they’d buy more, stimulating the economy, which in turn would feed back into his business. This ethos wasn’t just about building a successful company; it was about creating an empowered and prosperous society.

By the time of Ford’s passing in 1947, the Ford Motor Company had sold tens of millions of automobiles. But numbers alone don’t illustrate his impact. Consider this: When the Model T – the first car to be mass produced via Ford’s assembly line – was introduced in 1908 there were less than 5 cars for every 1,000 Americans. Nineteen years later when the last of the 15 million manufactured rolled off the assembly line there were 157 cars for every 1,000 Americans.  (Today that number stands at almost 800!) Ford is the man who made cars part of the fabric of America, and a cornerstone of the nation’s infrastructure, economy, and lifestyle.

In the era before Ford, vast distances limited opportunities, keeping communities isolated and insular. After Ford, the world was closer. Families could travel with ease, businesses could expand their horizons, and people from coast to coast felt more connected than ever before.

Beyond the roads, Ford’s influence penetrated deeper into the American psyche. The freedom of mobility brought with it the freedom of ambition. With cars bridging distances, a person in a remote town could dream of bigger cities, better jobs, and brighter futures. The cultural and economic dynamism of the 20th century – from the rise of suburban America to the expansive growth of industries and businesses – finds its pulse in the rhythm of Ford’s assembly line. In essence, Henry Ford didn’t just give America cars; he gifted it an era of mobility, transforming dreams into tangible destinations. The open road, a symbol of boundless possibilities, is in many ways a tribute to Ford’s vision. The vast highways stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, filled with cars of every make and model, are a testament to a man whose dreams went beyond engineering, touching the very soul of a nation and shaping its journey into the modern age.