A boy on a farm near Detroit in the later half of the 1800s saw a self-propelled steam engine rumbling down the road towards him. The boy already had a fascination with gadgets and machinery, so he ran to the driver of the steam engine and began asking him all about his machine. From that point on, that mechanically minded farm boy knew what he wanted to do: build cars. The boy’s name? Henry Ford.
Henry left the farm and began to work on building a car. At the age of 36, he had succeeded: he was able to take his wife for the very first family excursion in a Ford car. The company grew with backing from many investors (including the Dodge brothers). By 1908, the highly successful Model T Ford – also known as the Tin Lizzie – rolled out of the factory doors and to the dealers’ yards. This cheap car for the masses revolutionised the American way of life, allowing many of them to follow their dreams and leave life in the back country farms for the big cities.
Henry Ford’s company also made two huge changes to the way things were done at his Detroit factory. First of all, Ford and his chief engineer, Charles E. Sorensen, took an interest in the time-and-motion studies pioneered by Frederick W. Taylor, and honed to a fine art by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (those who wish to know more about the hilarious home life of the Gilbreths where Frank and Lillian trialled their efficiency experiments) should read the book Cheaper by the Dozen , which is nothing like the 2003 movie). These efficiency studies led to the development of the production line method of assembling vehicles, allowing large numbers of vehicles to be produced by the Ford company.
The second major review and change made by Henry Ford was that he raised the wages of his workers to the then very generous sum of $5 a day. This was actually a cost-cutting move, as prior to this, the Ford company had very high turnover of employees and were losing money having to continually train new workers. However, this generous wage meant that Henry Ford was hailed as the champion of the working man. Henry also had a very strict work ethic that saw him not only insisting that his employees live clean, honest and upright lives outside of working hours, but also had Ford himself trying to reform and improve vagrants and ex-convicts (and, even more radically for those days, black workers) by offering them jobs to give them a fresh start. He would deliver a progress review once every quarter.
After the death of Henry Ford, his son, Henry Ford (Junior), took over the company. Henry Ford (Junior) disagreed with his father over the role of trade unions and embraced them whole-heartedly, signing many good deals. Working with industrialists, he actively sought out the long-term unemployed in Detroit slums and gave them jobs.
Even in the early days, Ford was exporting its Model Ts to Australia, the Tarrant Motor Company in Melbourne being the first dealer to sell Ford’s vehicles. And in 1925, the Ford factory in Geelong, again close to Melbourne, with others opening soon afterwards in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide. These factories assembled Ford cars for sale, but full production was reviewed and began in 1955. In the 1960s, the iconic Ford Falcon grew and grew in popularity – and Ford had its first Bathurst win in 1967 with the Ford XR Falcon.
Ford continues to be a popular Australian icon today. Its rivalry with Holden in the V8 Supercars competitions is one of the legendary clashes of the Australian sporting world that generates great excitement and interest.
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