Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) was an American industrialist who is most renowned for his path-breaking contributions to the automobile industry. After building an early horseless carriage, he ventured into the automobile business by founding the Ford Motor Company. In October 1908, the Model T was launched by Ford Motors at $850 making it the first car which could be afforded by middle class people. It was a huge success and it went on to capture more than 50% of the American automobile business. Henry Ford made several revolutionary contributions to industry including the moving assembly line, the $5 day wage and the five-day, 40-hour work week. Apart from cars, he also made important contributions to the aviation industry. Henry Ford received numerous honors during his lifetime and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Here are his 10 major accomplishments.
#1 He built an early horseless carriage called the Ford Quadricycle
In 1896, at the age of 32, Henry Ford completed his first experimental self-propelled vehicle or automobile. He called it the Quadricycle as it ran on four bicycle tires. The Quadricycyle was a simple vehicle which consisted of a light metal frame fitted with four bicycle wheels. It was powered by a two-cylinder, four-horsepower gasoline engine. The Ford Quadricycle was driven by a chain and its transmission had only two gears: 1st for 10 mph (16 km/h); and 2nd for 20 mph (32 km/h). At the time it was developed, the “horseless carriage” was a relatively new idea and it hadn’t been established how a car should function or look like. The Ford Quadricycle is thus regarded as an important innovation that would lay the foundation for future, with more practical designs of automobiles.
#2 Henry Ford founded one of the most successful companies in the world
After an unsuccessful association with the Detroit Automobile Company, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, which was incorporated on June 16, 1903. The company was launched with a capital of $28,000, which came from twelve investors owning a total of 1000 shares. Henry Ford and Alexander Y. Malcomson held the maximum number of shares with 255. Thus, together they owned 51% of the new company. The Ford Motor Company would go on to become one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. Today, it is the second-largest U.S.-based automaker and the fifth-largest in the world. Moreover, according to the 2018 Fortune 500 list, it is the 11th-ranked overall American-based company with global revenues of $156.7 billion in 2017. It is also one of the largest family-controlled companies in the world with the Ford family owning majority of the voting power.
#3 His Model T is regarded as the first affordable automobile
After founding the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford conceived a series of cars starting with Model A and proceeding through the alphabet. In October 1908, the Model T of Ford made its debut. It was priced at $850 and, through assembly line production, its cost continued to reduce till it was less than $300 in 1925. Among other things, the Model T was smooth in functioning, easy to drive and extremely cheap to repair. The Model T is regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to common middle-class Americans. It was a runaway success. In a matter of days after its release, 15,000 orders were placed. By 1914, sales of Model T had passed 250,000. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. Production of Model T continued till 1927. The final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. In 1999, in the Car of the Century competition, Ford Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century. Moreover, as of 2102, it still stood eighth on the top ten list of most sold cars of all time.
#4 Henry Ford revolutionized industry through his moving assembly line
An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which an item moves from workstation to workstation where the parts are added in sequence until the final product is assembled. With the success of Model T, there was enormous demand for the car. Also, Ford wanted to reduce the price of the car by building it more efficiently. The moving assembly line was developed by Ford and it began operation on October 7, 1913, at the Highland Park Ford Plant. The process to build a Model T was divided into 45 steps. Using conveyor belts, the moving assembly line reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to around 2 hours and 30 minutes. This in turn increased the production to more than one million a year by 1920. Along with the moving assembly line, Ford’s mass production techniques like large production plants and standardized, interchangeable parts went on to revolutionize industry and had an enormous influence on the world.
#5 His $5 day wage is considered a defining moment for American workers
On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford introduced the $5 day wage to his employees, doubling their pay. This was at a time when most workers earned $11 per week. A Cleveland editorial covered the announcement to be “shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.” This resulted in an immediate increase in productivity since the best mechanics in Detroit started to join Ford Motors. This in turn led to a stabilized workforce, accumulation of skilled human resources and lowering of training costs. $5 in 1914 translates to roughly $120 in 2014. Thus Henry Ford’s $5 day wage was one of the defining moments of the 20th century for American workers. Moreover, with their new wage, the workers could buy the product they made, the Model T, with less than four months’ pay.
#6 Henry Ford popularized the five-day, 40-hour work week
On May 1, 1926, Ford made another revolutionary change by reducing shifts from nine hours to an eight-hour a day for a 5-day work week. This was a significant reduction from the previous 48-hour work week that was generally practiced in the industry. This decision was made as Ford believed that workers would put in more effort into their works in exchange for increased leisure time. Although Ford considered an apt amount of leisure time to be good for business, altruistic concerns also played a major role. In the words of Ford, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” Ford Motor Company was one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week. Its influence can be gauged from the fact that it has become the standard working duration for employees in today’s world.
#7 He made important contributions to the aviation industry
During World War I, Henry Ford entered the aviation business building mass produced Liberty aircraft engines as well as engines for Kettering’s Bug aerial torpedo. In 1925, the Ford Motor Company bought out the Stout Aircraft Company and began construction of the all-metal Ford Trimotor. The Ford Trimotor became the first successful American airliner and it made passenger service potentially profitable. It had two engines mounted on the wings and one in the nose; and it could carry eight passengers. The Ford Trimotor made its first flight on June 11, 1926 and its production ended on June 7, 1933. A total of 199 Ford Trimotors were made. Ford also built the Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan, which was one of the first modern airports in the world. Due to his revolutionary contributions to the aviation industry, Ford was honored by the Smithsonian Institution.
#8 He established the Ford Foundation to advance human welfare
On January 15, 1936, Henry Ford, along with his son Edsel Ford, established the Ford Foundation. The aim of the foundation was to pave the way for research, education and development by providing ongoing grants. For numerous years, the Ford Foundation was one of the most influential foundations in the world. It had a global reach and, among other things, its interest included economic empowerment, education, human rights, democracy, the creative arts and development of third world countries. The Ford Foundation remains active and it is one of the major philanthropy organizations making grants through its headquarters and ten international field offices. In 2014, it reported assets of US$12.4 billion and approved US$507.9 million in grants.
#9 He pioneered an industrial concept that is named Fordism after him
Henry Ford is credited with the development of Fordism, a concept in manufacturing that standardized mass production and consumption. The term fist gained prominence when it was used by Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his 1934 essay “Americanism and Fordism”. Since then it has been used by numerous writers on economics and society. Fordism is actively used in social, economic and management theories about production, working conditions, consumption and related phenomena. Although it was developed as a method to boost productivity in the manufacturing sector, the principle can be essentially applied to any kind of manufacturing process. The three major principles that constitute Fordism are: standardization of the product; usage of highly efficient assembly lines; and higher wages for the workers.
#10 Henry Ford is regarded as one of the most influential people of the 20th century
In 1928, Henry Ford was awarded the Elliott Cresson medal by Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In 1938, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Nazi Germany. In 1946, Ford was admitted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, an American museum. The United States Postal Service honored Ford with a 12 cent postage stamp as a part of the prominent American series from 1965 to 1978. In 1975, 38 years after his death, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement’s U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In December 1999, in a poll conducted among the American people, Henry For was among 18 people included in the Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. Moreover, in 1999, the TIME magazine included Henry Ford in its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.