This Day in Automotive History: Henry Ford Born 152 Years Ago

Ford's first invention, the Quadricycle.
Ford’s first invention, the Quadricycle.

Nothing says “throwback” in the automotive industry quite like the birthday of the man who created the first gasoline powered vehicle.  Today, July 30, is Henry Ford’s birthday.  He was born in 1863 on his family’s farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan, which is where The Henry Ford Museum is today.

As a child, Ford enjoyed playing with machines on the farm.  He landed a job in a Detroit machine shop and was given the opportunity to experiment and learned more about what he already enjoyed.  He was a part-time employee for the Westinghouse Engine Company, and an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company.

By the age of 33, he had constructed the first horseless carriage.  It was named the Quadricycle because it ran on four bicycle tires, and it was a gasoline-powered motor car.  He sold that vehicle, which was just a steel frame and a seat, in order to financially be able to move forward with an improved model.

Just a few years later in 1903, the Ford Motor Company was founded.  In October 1908, he offered the first Model T for $850, which translates to over $22,000 in today’s currency.  The Model T was produced for nineteen years, and its price fell to as low as $260.  More than 15 million cars were sold in the U.S. alone, and this vehicle was the beginning of the Motor Age.  It evolved from a luxury item for the wealthy into essential transportation for everyone, and this was possible because of the first ever assembly line that Ford introduced.

In 1917, Ford produced the first ever truck.  It was called the Ford Model TT and was based on the Model T, but it featured a reinforced chassis and rear axle.  But this model was not the last product of Ford’s innovative thinking processes.

The first truck ever constructed, the Ford Model TT.
The first truck ever constructed, the Ford Model TT.

In the next ten years, Ford was busy acquiring the Lincoln Motor Company and producing Ford Tri-Motor Airplanes.  But by 1927, Ford was competing with other automakers.  After 15 million Model T cars drove off the assembly line, Ford closed plants all over the world to focus on retooling the factories and designing a perfect new vehicle for consumers.

The result of this was the Model A.  This was the first car to feature the iconic Blue Oval logo that we still know today, and it included innovative features such as a Safety Glass windshield that previous vehicles did not have.  By 1931, Ford had sold over five million of these vehicles despite the hard times of the Great Depression.

Over the next decade or so, Ford came out with plenty more inventions.  He presented the world with the first commercially successful V8 engine, multiple vehicles under the Lincoln and Mercury brand names, and military Jeeps.

Ford’s only son, Edsel Ford, passed away in 1943, leaving Henry to return to his former position as president of Ford Motor Company.  Edsel’s son, Henry II, served as president from 1945 to 1960, and then as chairman and CEO from 1960 to 1979.

The Ford Motor Company began rapidly producing new models, such as the F-Series line of trucks in 1948, the 1949 Ford car, The Thunderbird, The Edsel, and finally, the Mustang.

In 1980, the first non-Ford family member, Phillip Caldwell, became chairman and CEO of Ford.  These positions have changed has a few more times over the years, and in 2014, Mark Fields took these tasks on.

The Ford Motor Company has come a long way since the humble beginnings of Henry Ford’s invention of the Quadricycle, and they are still innovating and creating new things every day.

Happy birthday, Henry Ford!


Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

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