A Company Is Founded
After two unsuccessful attempts to establish a company to manufacture automobiles Henry Ford set about to create a profitable automobile company, one whose future, he insisted, lay in the production of affordable cars for a mass market. He eventually found 11 business associates and, with $28,000 in cash, signed the company's articles of incorporation. The new company was formed in June, 1903. Henry Ford was named vice-president and chief engineer of the now-named Ford Motor Company.
The company was by no means immediately successful, but there is a record of a shipment to a customer in July of 1903. On the 20th of that month Ford sold an automobile to a Detroit physician and with that sale the Ford Motor Company had taken its first steps.
The infant company produced only a few cars a day at the Ford factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. Groups of two or three men worked on each car from components made to order by other companies and the cars were hand-assembled by the teams. From the beginning the company used the first 19 letters of the alphabet to name new car designs. In 1908 the Model T was born and with its introduction Henry realized his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient. The Model T initiated a new era in personal transportation. It was easy to operate, maintain, and handle on rough roads, immediately becoming a huge success.
It was so successful that Henry was forced to study more efficient ways to mass-produce cars in order to lower the price. He looked at other industries and found four principles that would further their goal: interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and reducing wasted effort. From 1908 to 1913 Ford worked to put these principles into a production system, measuring and testing as he went along. The new year of 1913 saw the first moving assembly line ever used for large-scale manufacturing, located in a large factory at Highland Park, Michigan. Henry created the 40 hour work week at this facility.
Workers remained in place, adding one component to each automobile as it moved past them on the line. Delivery of parts by conveyor belt to the workers was carefully timed to keep the assembly line moving smoothly and efficiently. The introduction of the moving assembly line revolutionized automobile production by significantly reducing assembly time per vehicle, thus lowering costs. Ford's production of Model Ts made his company the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T's, and each took only 93 minutes to build.
Trivia Note: During the years when teams built the Model T buyers could choose from a number of body colors. It was only after the moving assembly line was introduced - and tremendous demand for Model T's created production backlogs - that Henry Ford was said to have issued his famous dictum that "They can have a Model T in any color, so long as it's black."
The Model T put Americans on the road. For the first time in most people's lives they could easily travel from the farms to the towns and beyond in a matter of hours rather than days. The price of the Model T was originally $850 but mass production eventually brought the price as low as $290, allowing millions to be able to afford automobiles. The ceaseless demand for the cars facilitated construction of the world's largest industrial complex along the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan, completed during the early 1920s.
The massive Rouge Plant included all the elements needed for automobile production: a steel mill, glass factory and automobile assembly line. Iron ore and coal were brought in on Great Lakes steamers and by railroad, and were used to produce both iron and steel. Rolling mills, forges, and assembly shops transformed the steel into springs, axles, and car bodies. Foundries converted iron into engine blocks and cylinder heads that were assembled with other components into engines. By September 1927, all steps in the manufacturing process from refining raw materials to final assembly of the automobile took place at the vast Rouge Plant. Henry Ford's idea of mass production had reached its zenith.
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