1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ford, Henry

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

FORD, HENRY (1863-       ), American manufacturer, was born on a farm at Greenfield, near Detroit, Mich., July 30 1863. He received only a common-school education in the local school and when about 15 years old went to Detroit, where he learned the machinist's trade. There a little later he began to work for the Edison Illuminating Co., and became interested in the problems of self-propelled vehicles. He worked on the construction of a gasoline engine, making all the parts himself, and in 1892 produced his first motor-car, a very clumsy vehicle, somewhat resembling a tricycle propelled by a one-cylinder engine. He continued his experiments and in 1898 was able to interest a few capitalists in his scheme. He had from the beginning a sincere desire to benefit the people, and was determined to produce a car which could be sold at a price within reach of persons of small means, the profits to come from quantity sales. His plan, however, did not coincide with that of the other members of the early company, and he withdrew. In 1903 he organized and became president of the Ford Motor Co. of Detroit, which ultimately became the largest producer of cars in the world, turning out at a very low price no fewer than 1,000,000 in the single year, 1920, and employing 75,000 men. Parts were standardized and methods devised for quickly assembling the various units that went to make up each car. At the beginning, however, serious difficulties were encountered. As early as 1895 a patent had been secured by George B. Selden, of Rochester, N. Y., which seemed to cover every type of gasoline engine used on a self-propelled vehicle. This supposed “blanket” patent had led other manufacturers of automobiles to form the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. They paid for the privilege of using the engine and announced that they would sue any unauthorized producer. Suit was brought against the Ford Motor Co. the very year of its organization, and prospective buyers of the Ford cars were warned that they would be subject to prosecution. The Ford Co. advertised their car widely, declaring that they would give full protection to their customers. At first the suit brought against the Ford Co. was successful but on appeal it was declared in 1910 that the Selden patent applied to a particular type of engine only, and that the engine manufactured by the Ford Co. did not infringe the patent. In 1909 the Ford Co. erected a factory just outside Detroit, covering 47 acres. As the demand for cars increased, other plants were erected in Canada and England. In 1914 a profit-sharing plan was announced whereby a large percentage of the company's profits would be returned to the workers, and at the same time a minimum wage of five dollars a day was fixed. In 1919 the minimum wage was set at six dollars for approximately 28,000 of the workmen. The company undertook to do much for the welfare of its men, providing a large body of social workers among them, and furnishing legal and medical aid free. A school was founded for giving instruction to foreigners in the English language. This was all undertaken with the idea of securing greater efficiency in the shops. In 1914 Mr. Ford contributed $2,000,000 to a hospital that was building in Detroit, and later added $3,000,000. On the outbreak of the World War he came forward as a pronounced pacifist, and in Sept. 1915 announced that he had set aside $1,000,000 to fight preparedness in the United States and other countries then at peace. In Dec. 1915 he chartered a ship, and with a band of invited pacifists sailed for Europe, hoping to bring about a conference of the belligerents that would result in peace before Christmas. But nowhere was official recognition given the party and dissension arose among themselves. Mr. Ford, after reaching Christiania, returned to America, where he continued to work against preparedness. He assailed the Navy League and the National Security League, alleging that they were supported by munition manufacturers. In Sept. 1916 be brought suit for $1,000,000 against the Chicago Tribune for libel, having been called an anarchist in one of its editorials. After three years' litigation he was awarded six cents and the costs of the trial. When America entered the World War he gave full support to the Government and became a member of the Shipping Board, devoting his attention to standardizing production. He placed his efficient plants at the disposal of the Government and some were converted into producers of submarine chasers and small tanks. In 1918 he accepted the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from Michigan, but his Republican opponent, Truman H. Newberry, was awarded the election. Charges of excessive expenditure and fraud were lodged against Mr. Newberry, who was tried and convicted. On appeal the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. On Jan. 12 1922 the Senate decided, by a vote of 46 to 41, that Newberry was entitled to retain his seat. On Jan. 1 1920 Mr. Ford resigned as president of the Ford Motor Co., being succeeded by his son, to devote himself to developing the farm tractor business. Shortly before, he had purchased the Dearborn (Mich.) Independent.