Enterprise of Henry Ford: The Auto Magnate Demonstrated the Power of Free Enterprise as a Force for Good. He Not Only Made Himself Rich but Put America on Wheels and Raised the Lot of Workers. (History-American Ingenuity)

Article excerpt

This June, the Ford Motor Company commemorates the 100th anniversary of its founding.--Editor

In 1903 there was little indication that the first sales of a buggy-like Ford two-seater would lead to anything significant. The capital raised by founder Henry Ford, then age 40, amounted to a modest $28,000 in cash. But in 23 years that had been turned into more than $900 million in profits. An early stockholder, the sister of one of Ford's business geniuses, invested $100 for one share of the new venture. "That one hundred dollars was eventually to bring her $355,000," biographer William Adams Simonds noted in his book Henry Ford.

While 1,500 American auto manufacturers tried and failed, Mr. Ford proved he had a better idea.

The great industrialist (1863-1947) also had ideas about peace, prohibition, publishing, and politics that kept him at the center of national attention. He loved the publicity, loved being a public man, though he was anything but a competent speaker. Indeed, Ford was not an easy man to categorize. In My Forty Years With Ford, Charles E. Sorensen, a longtime associate who became Mr. Ford's head of production, described the founder of the Ford Motor Company as follows:

He was unorthodox in thought but puritanical in personal conduct.

He had a restless mind but was capable of prolonged, concentrated work.

He hated indolence but had to be confronted by a challenging problem before his interest was aroused.

He was contemptuous of moneymaking, of money-makers and profit seekers, yet he made more money and greater profits than those he despised.

He defied accepted economic principles, yet he is the foremost exemplar of American free enterprise.

He abhorred ostentation and display, yet he reveled in the spotlight of publicity.

He was ruthless in getting his own way, yet he had a deep sense of public responsibility.

He demanded efficient production, yet made place in his plant for the physically handicapped, reformed criminals, and human misfits in the American industrial system.

He couldn't read a blueprint, yet had greater mechanical ability than those who could.

He would have gone nowhere without his associates, we did the work while he took the bows, yet none of us would have gone far without him.

He has been described as complex, contradictory, a dreamer, a grownup boy, an intuitive genius, a dictator, yet essentially he was a very simple man.

Capitalist Cornucopia

That was the "simple man" who determined to produce a "car for the great multitude" and gave America the Model T--the most famous and beloved automobile that was ever built. Within a few years of its introduction in 1908, the Ford Company was producing half of the cars in the world. By the early '20s, Ford made a full 60 percent of the automobiles manufactured in the United States. More than 15 million Model Ts, the "universal car," were produced. So enthralled did the American public become with Henry Ford's cars that when production of the T was halted in 1927, in order to retool for the Model A, more than 400,000 buyers ordered the new model, sight unseen. When that car was introduced in December of 1927, ten percent of the U.S. population stormed showrooms on the first day to get a look at it.

All of this made Henry Ford quite wealthy of course. But Ford "the dreamer" ploughed his profits back into the company to assure maximum growth. This would, he said, "build more and more factories, to give as many people as I can a chance to be prosperous."

Surely the most dramatic proof that he meant what he said was when Ford doubled the pay of his employees, reducing their work hours simultaneously, all without raising the already inexpensive price of his superior product. This introduced the five-dollar day. While such a figure seems insignificant in the greatly inflated money of today, this announcement of a doubling of the minimum wage in Ford plants for every laborer, reaching right down to the sweepers, shook the whole business community in 1914. …