The Life of Henry Ford
July 30, 1863
Henry Ford is born on a farm to William and Mary Ford in Springwells Township, Michigan, located nine miles outside of Detroit.
Henry Ford leaves his family farm to pursue his interest in machinery in Detroit. One of his first jobs is at the Flowers Brothers Machine Shop where, for a salary of $2.50 a week, he shapes brass valves on a milling machine.
April 11, 1888
On her 22nd birthday, Clara Bryant of Greenfield Township marries Henry Ford. Bryant grew up on a farm a few miles northeast of the Ford homestead.
November 6, 1893
Clara gives birth to a son, Edsel Bryant Ford. The family is living in a rented house on Bagley Avenue in Detroit.
June 4, 1896
After two years of spending nearly every free minute refining his engine in the small shed behind his home, as well as in a basement room at Edison Illuminating, Ford completes his first automobile, the "Quadricycle," and drives it through the streets of Detroit.
August 5, 1899
With financial investors he has attracted with his quadricycle, Ford forms the Detroit Automobile Company. Over the next several years, Ford will have a number of financial backers, who eventually all become exasperated with his constant attempts to update and improve his models.
October 10, 1901
Ford enters one of his cars in a 10-mile car race in Grosse Pointe, which he wins. His victory makes him the talk of automotive circles. Soon after, he builds a newer, more powerful racer -- the 999 -- which sets an American speed record of five miles in five minutes 28 seconds.
June 16, 1903
Henry Ford and his partner Alexander Malcomson, Detroit’s largest coal dealer, incorporate the Ford Motor Company with $28,000 in cash and $21,000 in promised funds from 10 other investors -- primarily friends, relatives, or business contacts of Malcomson.
1903 - 1908
Between 1903 and the 1908 advent of the Model T, Ford’s company manufactures nine different cars: Models A, B, AC, C, F, K, N, R, and S. The most successful, the Model N, is described in advertisements as "a high-grade, practical automobile…[raised] out of the list of luxuries." Its skyrocketing sales foreshadow the success of the Model T.
Ford introduces the Model T, or "Tin Lizzie," as it came to be known. Within months, demand is so high that the company puts new orders on a hiatus.
Ford's Highland Park factory begins operating the first moving automobile assembly line in the world. By the end of the year, Highland Park will employ about 13,000 men.
January 5, 1914
Ford Motor announces the $5/day wage for an eight-hour work day. Replacing the previous pay rate of $2.34 for a nine-hour day, it was twice what could be earned at any other auto company. The following day, 10,000 job seekers clamor for jobs at Highland Park.
After watching an outside movie company film a newsreel in his factory, Ford becomes intrigued by the possibilities for publicity and establishes his own moving picture department. Its two-man staff quickly grows to be a full service production company of over 25, with its own fleet of modern 35mm cameras and a film processing and editing lab at Highland Park. Their first film, How Henry Ford Makes One Thousand Cars a Day, would be released that summer.
Henry Ford begins secretly buying hundreds of acres of farmland along the River Rouge to build what would become known as the Rouge Plant.
November 24, 1915
Henry Ford calls a press conference to announce his plan to end World War 1. Known as Ford's "Peace Ship" expedition, the plan includes chartering an ocean liner and sailing to Europe to convince the warring nations to stop fighting. The stunt is ultimately a failure.
Henry and Clara Ford move into Fair Lane, a 1,300-acre estate in Dearborn, Michigan.
November 1, 1916
Edsel Ford, age 22, marries Eleanor Clay, niece of the founder of Hudson's, Detroit's preeminent department store.
November 2, 1916
John and Horace Dodge, two of Ford's original investors, file a lawsuit against the directors of the Ford Motor Company charging that the company violated the interests of its stockholders. Ford receives an injunction forbidding him from using company funds to build the new plant.
December 30, 1918
Henry Ford suddenly resigns from the presidency of the Ford Motor Company. His 25-year-old son Edsel is elected to the role, and assumes the presidency on New Year's Day, 1919.
March 5, 1919
Henry Ford declares that he is starting a rival automobile company which will produce a stripped-down version of the Model T to be sold for $250-$300. The announcement excites the public but alarms the seven remaining Ford Motor Company stockholders. In a panic over the thought of losing sales to Ford's new company, they sell their stocks.
By July, Ford's announcement is revealed to be a trick: his agents had purchased all of the stocks and there would be no rival automobile company. For the first time, the Ford family controls every last share in the Ford Motor Company. And while Edsel may be president in name, Henry still retains power.
Ford takes the stand in a suit he brought against the Chicago Tribune. Ford had sued the Tribune for libel after the paper called him an "ignorant idealist … and an anarchist enemy of the nation." Newspapers from across the country covered the trial in breathless detail as Ford was subjected to eight days of questioning. Though Ford won the trial, the press ridiculed the automaker for his lack of historical knowledge and inarticulate performance on the witness stand.
May 22, 1920
Ford begins publishing a controversial series of articles in the Dearborn Independent, under the bold headline "The International Jew: The World's Problem." He had purchased the newspaper a year and a half earlier.
January 20, 1926
Henry Ford receives a memo from Ernest Kanzler, a Ford VP and Edsel's brother-in-law, expressing what he, Edsel, and most Ford executives believe: that the Ford Motor Company should end the production of the Model T because of falling sales numbers and build a new, improved model.
The memo represents growing frustration among executives and a time many would recall as the most tense years in the company. In response to the memo, Ford, not used to opposition, humiliates Kanzler at every opportunity and forces him out of the company within months.
May 26, 1927
The 15-millionth Model T ceremoniously rolls off the assembly line at Highland Park as Henry and Edsel pose for the cameras.
The same day, Ford announces the company will begin producing a brand new vehicle -- the Model A. Ford had given in to pressure from Edsel and other executives and agreed to discontinue the Model T after mass-producing the vehicle for 15 years.
Spring - Fall 1927
Highland Park is shut down for six months to prepare for production of the new vehicle, the Model A. The project is immense: almost 75% of all existing tools need to be scrapped, rebuilt or refurbished for the new model. Sixty thousand workers are laid off. In the end, it would cost nearly $250 million before the first Model A is assembled on October 21.
September 30, 1927
Henry Ford purchases land in Brazil to establish rubber plantations in what would become known as "Fordlandia."
Eight years after construction began, Ford's enormous River Rouge factory complex begins full-scale automobile production. The vertically-integrated factory is Henry Ford's vision realized: entire finished vehicles could be built from scratch using raw materials owned and supplied by the Ford Motor Company without dependence on outside suppliers. Ford had once told a colleague that he "wanted the raw materials coming in on one end of the Rouge plant and the finished cars going out the other end."
October 21, 1929
Thomas Edison and President Herbert Hoover attend Ford's "Light's Golden Jubilee," an elaborate ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Edison's incandescent lamp.
As part of the ceremony, Ford unveils the Thomas Edison Institute (now the Henry Ford Museum) and Greenfield Village, which would grow to showcase hundreds of historic buildings and artifacts that Ford had meticulously purchased, dismantled, and reassembled as a recreated rural town -- Ford's deeply nostalgic commemoration of America's past.
October 29, 1929
The stock market crashes and the Great Depression hits the U.S.
December 1, 1929
Henry Ford institutes the $7 day in an effort to aid his workers and fend off the effects of the Depression, but it is to no avail: between 1929 and 1932, Ford must lay off nearly half of his workforce.
May 26, 1937
The Ford security staff violently attacks United Auto Worker (UAW) members handing out pro-union leaflets at the Rouge. The altercation, which was captured by photographers, became known as "The Battle of the Overpass."
July 29, 1938
The day before Ford's 75th birthday on July 30, Henry, Clara and a crowd of 40,000 spectators attend a pageant at Ford Field in Dearborn, in which 700 performers re-enact scenes from Ford's life.
Outside the Rouge, 50,000 Ford employees refuse to work until Ford agrees to meet union demands calling for higher wages, overtime pay, and job security. Ford declares he would rather shut down his factories than give in to the union.
Under pressure from Edsel, the unions, and the government, whose war contracts were at stake, Ford finally signs an agreement with union officials. He gives the UAW everything it wants and more -- a union shop, wages equal to the highest in the industry, and union dues deducted from workers' paychecks.
May 26, 1943
Edsel Ford dies at age 49 from incurable stomach cancer.
June 1, 1943
Henry Ford is re-elected president of Ford Motor Company.
Ford suffers a debilitating stroke while on a trip to Richmond Hill, his estate in Georgia. After returning to Fair Lane, Ford remains mentally and physically languid, often failing to recognize old friends and associates, and is carefully kept out of the public eye.
November 5, 1945
Henry Ford II, Edsel's oldest son and president of Ford Motor Company for just six weeks, sells Fordlandia back to the Brazilian government for a fraction of its value.
April 7, 1947
Henry Ford dies at Fair Lane at age 83.