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An American Icon: The Fascinating History of Ford Motor Company

Every car owner has been there. It’s time to get a new car, but where do you start? Should you continue with the same kind of car you have now or try something completely different?

You’re comfortable with your old car, but maybe there are some things about it that could be improved. A brand new car, however, could have features that you don’t like. When looking for a new car, you might consider buying American.

Is there an American car company that’s more iconic than Ford? Read through the fascinating history of Ford Motor Company in this guide.

History of Ford

The Ford Motor Company has a rich history beginning in the nineteenth century. From one man with mountains of ambition to a global corporation, Ford has been turning heads for decades.

Birth of an Icon

Henry Ford was born on July 30th, 1863 and spent his formative years on a farm outside of Detroit. At thirteen, he had the opportunity to see a steam roller up close, and his love of machines was born.

At sixteen, Ford walked into Detroit and acquired a job as an apprentice at the Michigan Car Company Works which built and maintained the streetcars in the city.

When he was eighteen, Ford worked for a dry dock company in the city where he got experience working with large engines and industrial equipment. However, he soon returned to the farm to operate and build small engines for farming equipment.

Throughout the 1880s, he built internal combustion engines and began work on the development of a horseless carriage. In 1888, he married Clara Bryant who would support all of his engineering endeavors.

By the 1890s, Ford was working as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Power Plant and was spending all of his free time working on building what would become an automobile.

His innovations would catch the eye of Thomas Edison, and they would become life-long friends.

Birth of a Company

In June of 1896, Ford built his first working vehicle, which he called the Quadricycle. Within a few years, he started work as a superintendent at the Detroit Automobile Company, a precursor to the Ford Motor Company.

As superintendent, he had the freedom to work on engines, where he especially excelled. He also believed the most popular vehicles would be used for racing and started to develop cars for that purpose.

On November 30th, 1901, the members of the Detroit Automobile Company started the Henry Ford Company, where Ford held the position of chief engineer. Over the next few years, he continued to develop new vehicles and engines.

Now called the Ford Motor Company, they sold the first Ford Model A in 1903. Over the next few years, they steadily increased profits and became more successful.

They could only produce about 1700 cars every year because they were all hand-built, but a new innovation would help to improve their productivity.

Novel Assembly

The idea behind an assembly line is that each person does one small part of a task repeatedly so that together, all of the workers can finish tasks more quickly and efficiently.

Although assembly lines or production lines were used before the industrial revolution, it wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century that people started to use automated lines, powered by steam or electricity.

These automated conveyors would become crucial to the mass production of cars. The first use of assembly lines for car production is credited to Ransom Olds, the founder of Oldsmobile as early as 1901.

Even though Ford wasn’t the first, he wasn’t far behind, using an assembly line for the Model T in 1913. Ford’s line, however, was different, in that it was completely automated.

This moving assembly line reduced the time to build each Model T to just 93 minutes, completely revolutionizing the way cars were built. It was so fast that even the paint didn’t have time to dry.

Ford had to reduce the selection of colors on their cars because only one type of black paint could dry fast enough to keep up with production.

Building a Reputation

Over the next few decades, Ford exploded. High production was met with high demand and resulted in high profits. He built a huge complex of factories to keep all parts of production within his company.

Every part of the car was manufactured at this complex, which included a glass factory and a steel mill. When Ford stockholders objected to building this complex, Ford bought them out and made his son president.

In 1917, Ford started making trucks with the Model TT. This would become the inspiration for the F-100 series and eventually the F-150 series which remains the best-selling truck model today.

When Henry Ford’s son Edsel died in 1943, he regained control of the company for a few years. In 1945, he gave control to his grandson Henry Ford II. 1945 would also bring changes to the company because of the end of World War II.

The war influenced vehicle production, from rationing building materials to new innovations in design. Several cars came from the years after the war including 1954’s Thunderbird and 1964’s Mustang.

They also released the iconic Bronco in 1965. Click here if you are interested in finding a Ford Bronco for sale.

Maintaining a Reputation

In 1963, Henry Ford II attempted to buy Ferrari to boost sales by participating in international races like the 24 hours of Le Mans. However, Ferrari used the offer to start working with Fiat instead.

This was a huge insult to Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. In response, Ford started working with Carroll Shelby to produce vehicles that could compete with Ferrari at Le Mans.

They built the Ford GT40 Mk I and GT40 Mk II which would later influence the Ford GT line. These designs would also be used for the Shelby line of Mustangs.

Although Ford struggled at Le Mans for the first few years they attended, Ford would end up breaking Ferrari’s winning streak by winning for four straight years between 1966 and 1969.

This was a huge blow to Ferrari and redemption for the Ford Motor Company.

Ending a Century

The last three decades of the twentieth century also had many highlights, although nothing as exciting as the rivalry at Le Mans.

In 1970, Ford introduced the Maverick and brought its brand to a new continent by opening sales in the Asia Pacific region. In 1972, Ford begins putting retractable seatbelts in its cars, and in 1976, Ford of Europe debuts the new Fiesta line.

In 1979, Ford buys a 25% share of Mazda, and in 1981, they win the European Car of the Year award for the Ford Escort. In 1981, they introduce the Lincoln Town Car which would become one of their most popular sedans.

In 1987, Ford buys Aston Martin as well as the Hertz rental company and Henry Ford II dies at age 70. In 1988, Ford becomes the highest-earning car company in the world at 5.3 billion dollars, and in 1989, Ford buys Jaguar Cars.

In 1991, Ford introduces the Explorer, which would go on to bring the SUV style of vehicle into wider use. In 1999, Ford buys the vehicle division of Volvo.

A New Century

With the turn of the century and a new millennium came new standards for cars. Things like safety and environmental emissions were becoming as important as speed and looks for people wanting to buy a new car.

In 2000, Ford was facing a challenge of their vehicles rolling over and causing deaths. Because of this, Bridgestone recalled 6.5 million tires and tried to focus the blame on Ford while Ford blamed Bridgestone.

It wasn’t until 2005 that they came to an agreement where Bridgestone would give 240 million dollars to Ford as reimbursement. Overall, the recall cost more than 2 billion dollars.

Ford stepped up to the challenge and developed new systems to meet these requirements. They designed SUVs for families in addition to the trucks and cars they had sold for nearly a century.

They also ensured that all of their factories worldwide met the international environmental standards put forth by the International Organization for Standardization.

In 2004, they release the Ford GT, which reflected Henry Ford’s original idea that consumers were interested in speed. In 2005, they released the Mercury Mariner. This was their first gas-electric hybrid.

Next Steps

Now that you know all about the history of Ford Motor Company, feel free to do some more research on your own to find more information. If you enjoyed this article, please share or check out some of our other articles!