When we had mechanical or “wind up” toys given to us at Christmas, we
always said, “Don't let Henry see them! He just takes them apart!”
—Margaret Ford Ruddiman
While the Ford Motor Company officially traces its origins to June 16, 1903, when the worlds second-largest automaker was incorporated with $28,000 scraped together from a grab bag of investors, the year 1847 can be said to mark the true hardscrabble beginnings of the Henry Ford story. That year, his father, William Ford, crossed the Atlantic from Ireland in one of the notorious “coffin ships” that over the course of a decade deposited more than a million of his countrymen in harbors up and down the eastern seaboard—and more than a few unfortunate souls into the sea en route.
Only the most gullible child believed the New World was a land of lemonade lakes and seven-pound potatoes. But even if the United States failed to live up to its utopian billing, the notion of America as the last best hope never shined brighter to ordinary folks looking for the space and freedom to better their daily predicament. Outposts of opportunity seemed to be everywhere in 1847, for foreigners and native-born alike. Gold was discovered in California, touching off a stampede of prospectors, sutlers, saloonkeepers, card sharks, and prostitutes. American troops invaded Mexico and quickly occupied the capital, opening up land north of the Rio Grande to disorderly settlement by discharged “doughboys” and the assorted misfits, adventurers,