Henry Ford is one of the most famous and influential men in the history of automobiles. He was the first man to turn the car from a technological toy for the rich into a practical household item.
Henry Ford was not an inventor, but he was a true innovator. His goal to make large amounts of inexpensive cars meant that cars became a part of everyday life and were affordable to more people than ever before.
Henry Ford was born in 1863 and started off life working on the family farm. He was an incredibly ambitious man and soon outgrew farm work and moved to Detroit to work on steam engines. After starting the Ford Motor Company, Ford's factory in Detroit gave the city its reputation as the “world's car capital”.
Although Ford is not known for making classy luxury cars or flashy sports cars, Ford's simple and accessible vehicles have been a staple of family life all over the world for over a century.
Henry Ford, as a young steam engine worker, built his first 'gasoline-powered horseless carriage', the Quadricycle. This had a simple, four horsepower engine, a tiller instead of a steering wheel and no reverse gear – miles away from the cars we know today.
After several failed attempts to break into the motor industry the Ford Motor Company was founded. The company's first car was the Model A. The car was built by hand with imported parts and the factory could only produce a couple per day. This frustrated Ford, who already had dreams to spread his cars across the entire of America and beyond.
Despite Ford's frustrations, the Model A was a success and Ford opened their first international plant in Canada, which spread Ford cars all across the British Empire. The first Ford car was imported to Australia, putting Ford's dreams of industrial world domination within his grasp.
Ford released the Model T – one of the most important cars ever produced. The Model T, nicknamed the 'Tin Lizzie', was designed to be cheap, easy to maintain and reliable. Henry Ford said he aimed to:
“build a car for the great multitude, constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one, enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces.”
Ford's aim was true, and the Model T is still one of the most successful cars of all time. A whopping 16 million were sold in the 20 years it was in production, and by World War One, nine out of ten cars in existence was a Model T!
To keep up with the Model T's huge demand, and to keep costs down, Ford managed to reduce the time it took to make the chassis from 12.5 hours to a lightning quick hour and a half. This kind of efficiency was unheard of across the auto industry.
Ford once again revolutionised the industry by upping his employees pay to $5 – twice the rate for normal factory workers. The extra money and free time liberated normal working people while actually increasing productivity, helping develop a new American middle class that could afford to buy their own cars.
Despite being the dominant car in the world for almost two decades, as other car manufacturers were beginning to come into their own competition became fierce.
Ford realised they needed a complete reboot if they intended to keep up with the latest car trends, so after the 15th million Model T was driven off the assembly, Ford closed down all its factories and began work designing the new Ford Model A.
The Model A was named after Ford's first car and it sold over 5 million copies in just 5 years before it went out of production
In a time where America was starting to become the nation of petrolheads it is today, Ford invested a huge amount of time and money to create the first commercially successful V8 engine – the Flathead. The versatile engine was a triumph and remained in production for 22 years.
Edsel, Henry Ford's only son and president of the Ford Motor Company, died tragically. Henry Ford, still grieving, returned briefly to his former position as president.
Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, took over his grandfather's job as company president. He brought in the “Whiz Kids”, a bunch of former U.S Army officers to whip the company back into shape after a rocky couple of years.
Ford Transit first hit Europe. This iconic vehicle has been the best-selling van for the last 40 years and is still used by just about every tradesman the world over.
Ford introduces the classic Thunderbird. The trendy T-Bird was a convertible made for style and comfort over convenience and inspired a whole generation to have “fun, fun, fun until Daddy took the T-Bird away”.
Everyone's favourite muscle car, the Ford Mustang, roared onto the scene and is still one of the fastest selling cars in history. After it was used in one of the greatest car chases in movie history in Bullitt the Ford Mustang became one of the coolest cars around.
Ford shattered Ferrari's six-year stranglehold on at the 24 Hour Le Mans with three Ford GT40 Mk IIs. The GT40s power and durability won Ford the next four Le Mans in a row and is the only American car to ever win this prestigious competition.
In this decade the Ford Pinto was released which, due to safety and problems and a poor design, often appears on lists of “the 50 worst cars of all time” lists. Luckily, Ford soon built another timeless classic, the Ford Fiesta. The Fiesta was so successful it broke the one-year sales record of the Mustang, so what Ford lost on the swings they gained on the roundabouts.
The 70s saw another trendsetter emerge in the Ford Torino. Although the car was plagued with reliability issues, the body style was immortalised by the 70s cult cop show Starsky and Hutch.
Phillip Caldwell succeeded Henry Ford II, who was the first non-Ford-family member to become chairman and CEO.
The classic small family car, the Ford Escort was launched in the late 60s to replace the Ford Anglia. The scrappy little saloon really came into its own in the 1970s, where it became one of the most successful rally cars of all time, winning every RAC Rally between 1975 and 1979.
One of Ford's most anticipated new cars ever, the Taurus, hit the market. The aerodynamic “jelly bean” body style of the Ford Taurus broke the tradition of the boxy sedans from the 70s. New quality standards helped the Taurus become one of Ford's most popular vehicles ever.
1990s and beyond
As SUVs started to gain popularity over their smaller cousins, the family sedans, Ford saw their chance to release the Ford Explorer – an update of the Ford Bronco. Riding on the SUV boom the Explorer was yet another roaring success for Ford.
The Ford Mondeo was introduced in 1993. The car failed to take off down under due to its superior Australian cousin, the Ford Falcon, which dominates taxi ranks and police forces across the country.
Ford celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003, marking the fact it is one of the oldest and most influential car manufacturers still around today.
Ford introduced the Ford GT, based on the pioneering GT40 that dominated the Le Mans from 1966 to 1969. This garish monstrosity was limited at 330km/h for our own safety, and its sculpted body blends the style of both muscle cars and supercars.
Despite almost hitting bankruptcy during the financial crisis at the turn of the 21st century, Ford was the only American auto manufacturer to avoid a government bailout loan.
After over a century of leading industrial innovation and producing some of the most popular, affordable cars in the world, Ford is set to lead us well into the new millennium
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