By 1926 15 million Model T's had been produced, with very few changes from the original 1908 design. Henry's son Edsel, by now an executive at Ford, pressed for a newer, more modern model to compete with the many other manufacturers that had sprung up over the years. The hand-crank, marginal braking, rough-riding flivver had seen its day. In July of that year Henry finally gave the order to start work on a "new Ford," the Model A.
The last Model T, car # 15,000,000, rolled off the line on May 26th, 1927. By then Henry had spend nearly $100,000,000 on the design and tooling for the new Model A, which contained 2,000 more parts than the simpler, basic Model T. The Rouge plant cranked up for production right away and on October 20, 1927, the first Model A came off the line. By December of that year customers could buy Model A's in seven body styles and four colors, at prices ranging from $385 to $550. By the end of production in 1931, 4,320,446 Model A's had been built and sold around the world.
Trivia Note: Henry Ford loved touring and camping. He had special cars built with collapsible tents, stoves and other amenities and invited his friends on outings often. A lover of cooking over fires, he invented a compact, easy to use fuel which was called the "charcoal briquette." The product was so successful that he formed a business to sell the briquettes, named "Kingsford," after a town he created on the upper peninsula of Michigan. The company sells charcoal to this day.
From The Depression To The War
Ford was by now a giant industrial complex that spanned the globe. It had acquired the Lincoln Motor Company in 1925 and created the Mercury division in the 1930s. In 1932 Ford introduced the first V8 engine in its new line of cars.
The company continued to sell vehicles during the Great Depression but
many of the rules of the factories were very harsh and strict. Working conditions compelled workers towards the concept of a union, similar to that of the other manufacturers. Ford workers earned 10 cents an hour less than workers at Chrysler and GM, 5 cents an hour under the average in the auto industry. They had no lunchrooms and only a 10-15 minute lunch break, factors that eventually led to unionization, precipitated after the famous "Battle of the Overpass" between Ford security staff and UAW representatives in 1937. The company would sign agreements with the UAW in 1941.
Henry Ford suffered a stroke in 1938, after which he turned over the running of his company to Edsel. In the spring of 1939, the Nazis assumed day to day control of Ford factories in Germany. With Europe in turmoil, Edsel Ford prepared his factories for [what he rightly believed] would be an inevitable wartime production status. Ford broke ground in April of 1941 at Willow Run, building the largest factory in the world to address what was sure to be massive war materiels production.
Ford's management and engineering staff worked near-miracles in the planning for production of the B-24 Liberator Bomber, to this day the most produced allied bomber in history. Prior to Ford's approach to production at the Willow Run factory the aviation industry could produce one Consolidated Aircraft B-24 Bomber a day. At Willow Run's 3,500,000 square foot factory Ford was able to build one B-24 an hour at a peak of 600 per month in 24 hour shifts. It is said that many pilots slept on cots waiting for takeoff as the B-24 rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Willow Run facility.
Starting in 1942 Ford produced the legendary Jeep vehicles under license from Willys. Designated as GPW, the Ford-produced jeeps eventually totaled 280,000, with an additional 13,000 amphibian versions called "GPA." These were largely given to Russia under the Lend-Lease provisions.
Edsel Ford was under severe stress from running the B-24 bomber facility and all the other facets of wartime production. He tragically died in the spring of 1943 of stomach cancer, prompting his grieving father Henry Ford to re-assume day-to-day control of the Ford Motor Company. Henry was in ill health himself and within two years gave over control of the company to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Henry died on April 7, 1947 of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home, Fair Lane, in Dearborn.
He was 83.
Trivia Note: Henry Ford's body was carried to his gravesite in a Packard.
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