“Thomas Edison threw the switch. Then there was light. It was a glorious event for the nation and for the remarkable life of Henry Ford,” Albert Einstein broadcasting from Germany Oct. 21, 1929.
All throughout history man kind has reveled in ah at the great wonders of the mind made into reality. There are even specific periods when someone has created greatness and scholars froze that exact moment in time. How lucky are we to have the pleasure of going back to that precise instance and relive history.
Henry Ford’s life was so much more in the decade of 1910 to 1920. This was an exciting time in America, although it was a trying one as well that tested all. Nonetheless, Henry created an empire with the internal combustion engine that later led to the first revolutionized automobile in America, the Model T.
In recognition for this accomplishment, Henry Ford will forever be remembered as one of the greatest inventors of the twentieth century.
As industrialization of the new world led to the decline of skilled labor, workers began demanding fair compensation and safer working environments. The Progressive Era was full of hardships and the working class man was tired, nearly penniless with nothing to show for it.
Families were starving, while the unit as a whole labored in factories for about a dollar per day. This included children from the age of four years old. During this time, youngsters weren’t able to receive an education because the work day was ten or more hours. Employees were expendable because of the growing amount of immigrants flooding U.S. shores in search of a better life. The only problem was, that life was due to the sacrifice of another. In the early 1900’s survival of the fittest was an understatement.
Henry Ford never labored as these men did. He grew up on a farm always tinkering with gears, cams, and levers. Farm work was never finished, so he preferred not to do any of it. In his early teens, Henry was known for fixing watches. At sixteen he ventured to Detroit where he started tinkering with the gas-powered engine along with three electric plant workers. Just imagine how exciting it must have been, after hearing that engine turn over for the first time. Exhilarating!
After the Ford Motor Company became incorporated, Henry Ford declared, “There would be only one Ford car. It would be built for the multitudes, large enough to carry a family, but simple enough, and small enough, for the average family to keep up. Any man with a good salary could afford one, and enjoy with his family the hours of pleasure in God’s open spaces.”
As a business man who owned a factory that manufactures automobiles, Henry clearly saw that something had to be done to better satisfy the working class and prevent them from joining the union. He didn’t believe in unionization, and fought hard to keep it out of his factories. Believing unions corrupt good people with good intentions, Henry took union matters seriously. Though in 1940, only three short years after the Battle of the Overpass, he signed with the United Auto Workers, UAW, union of workers.
To better satisfy his workers, Henry raised the minimum wage. This would not only make Ford employee’s better workers, it would make them loyal to the Ford Empire not the union. At this time employees averaged $2.34 per day, however Henry raised minimum wage to $5.00 a day. He quoted, “It was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made.”
Also one of the most historic labor philosophies of all time. In 1914 the five dollar a day work-day proved most excellent as profits went up, and turnover ratings went down. As bad as assembly jobs were, he knew something had to be done about the turnover rates and the absenteeism in his factories. Not only did he raise the minimum wage in the industry, Henry took off an hour a day for all employees. M. Bates wrote, “productivity was not to be reckoned with at Ford, and these bold moves made him extremely wealthy.”
In time, about $10 million in profit-sharing was added for hard-working employees. Frank Wicks wrote in his book, The remarkable Henry Ford, “It’s been said by many that Henry Ford singlehandedly made low-paid workers into middle class consumers, who bought his cars.”
Subsequently came along WWI, which he openly opposed. Henry Ford declared European rule selfish as the government was reigned strictly by nobility willing to sacrifice the sons of their common people. In 1915, he sailed aboard a peace ship on a personal quest in trying to put an end to it all. Of course he failed, and eventually in 1917 joined the campaign by converting Ford factories to the war effort, refusing to acquire a single cent.
By 1920 after winning a court battle with the Dodge brothers over shareholders dividends, Henry Ford bought out all the shareholders and took complete control over the enterprise. It was then that he stepped down as President and handed the company over to his son Edsel Ford.
As president of the Ford Motor Company, Edsel modified Ford after purchasing the Lincoln Motor company, owning the first import, and then hiring Bob Gregorie as Ford’s first designer and creating Ford’s first “hot rod.” Edsel lived a life of luxury and made all attempts at including his father’s company to accommodate that life style.
After long disheartening battles with his father, Edsel was finally able to reinvent the Ford and create the Model A, to his satisfaction. The many upgrades we have now-a-days can be credited to Edsel who passed away in 1943 from stomach cancer.
During Henry’s last days, Wicks also wrote that he took highly publicized traveling and camping vacations with friends Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. Sometimes a U.S. president would join their adventures.
Henry nearly idolized Edison who was sixteen years older. They met in 1895 as he described his plans for a gas engine vehicle. At first he feared Edison would recommend him to use electricity, however Edison assured Henry that a gas-powered engine was brilliant.