At the beginning of the 20th century the automobile was a plaything for the rich. Most models were complicated machines that required a chauffer with its individual mechanical nuances to drive it. Henry Ford was determined to build a simple, reliable and affordable car; a car the average American worker could afford. Out of this determination came the Model T and the assembly line – two innovations that revolutionized American society and molded the world we live in today.
Henry Ford did not invent the car; he produced an automobile that was within the economic reach of the average American. While other manufacturers were content to target a market of the well-to-do, Ford developed a design and a method of manufacture that steadily reduced the cost of the Model T. Instead of pocketing the profits; Ford lowered the price of his car. As a result, Ford Motors sold more cars and steadily increased its earnings – transforming the automobile from a luxury toy to a mainstay of American society.
Ford Motor Company entered the business world on June 16, 1903, when Henry Ford and 11 business associates signed the company’s articles of incorporation. . With $28,000 in cash, the pioneering industrialists gave birth to what was to become one of the world’s largest corporations. Few companies are as closely identified with the history and development of industry and society throughout the 20th century as Ford Motor Company.
Beginning in 1903, the company began using the first 19 letters of the alphabet to name new cars. In 1908, the model T was born. This Model T made its debut with a purchase price of $825.00. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record.
Four years later the price dropped to $575.00 and sales soared. By 1914, Ford could claim a 48% share of the automobile market. 19 years and 15 million Model T’s later, Ford Motor Company was a giant industrial complex that spanned the globe.
Central to Ford’s ability to produce an affordable car was the development of the assembly line that increased the efficiency of manufacture and decreased its cost. Ford did not conceive the concept, he perfected it. Prior to the introduction of the assembly line, cars were individually crafted by teams of skilled workmen – a slow and expensive procedure.
The assembly line reversed the process of automobile manufacture. Instead of workers going to the car, the car came to the worker who performed the same task of assembly over and over again. With the introduction and perfection of the process, Ford was able to reduce the assembly time of a Model T from twelve and a half hours to less than six hours.
Charles Sorensen – who had joined Henry Ford two years earlier – describes how Ford had him set up a secret room where design of the new car would be carried out: “Early one morning in the winter of 1906-7, Henry Ford dropped in at the pattern department of the Piquette Avenue plant to see me. ‘Come with me, Charlie,’ he said, ‘I want to show you something.’
I followed him to the third floor and its north end, which was not fully occupied for assembly work. He looked about and said, ‘Charlie, I’d like to have a room finished off right here in this space. Put up a wall with a door in big enough to run a car in and out. Get a good lock for the door, and when you’re ready, we’ll have Joe Galamb come up in here. We’re going to start a completely new job.’
The room he had in mind became the maternity ward for Model T.
By March, 1908, we were ready to announce Model T, but not to produce it, On October 1 of that year the first car was introduced to the public. From Joe Galamb’s little room on the third floor had come a revolutionary vehicle. In the next eighteen years, out of Piquette Avenue, Highland Park, River Rouge, and from assembly plants all over the United States came 15,000,000 more.”
Birth of the Assembly Line
A few months later- in July 1908 – Sorensen and a plant foreman spent their days off developing the basics of the Assembly Line:
“What was worked out at Ford was the practice of moving the work from one worker to another until it became a complete unit, then arranging the flow of these units at the right time and the right place to a moving final assembly line from which came a finished product. Regardless of earlier uses of some of these principles, the direct line of succession of mass production and its intensification into automation stems directly from what we worked out at Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1913…
This assembly would be easier, simpler, and faster if we moved the chassis along, beginning at one end of the plant with a frame and adding the axles and the wheels; then moving it past the stockroom. I had Lewis arrange the materials on the floor so that what was needed at the start of assembly would be at that end of the building and the other parts would be along the line as we moved the chassis along.
The basics of the Assembly Line had been established but it would take another five years for the concept to be implemented. Implementation would await construction of the new Highland Park plant which was purpose-built to incorporate the assembly line. The process began at the top floor of the four-story building where the engine was assembled and progressed level by level to the ground floor where the body was attached to the chassis.
“By August, 1913, all links in the chain of moving assembly lines were complete except the last and most spectacular one – the one we had first experimented with one Sunday morning just five years before. Again a towrope was hitched to a chassis, this time pulled by a capstan. Each part was attached to the moving chassis in order, from axles at the beginning to bodies at the end of the line. Some parts took longer to attach than others; so, to keep an even pull on the towrope, there must be differently spaced intervals between delivery of the parts along the line. This called for patient timing and rearrangement until the flow of parts and the speed and intervals along the assembly line meshed into a perfectly synchronized operation throughout all stages of production. Before the end of the year a power-driven assembly line was in operation, and New Year’s saw three more installed. Ford mass production and a new era in industrial history had begun”
Principals facts of the development of Ford Motor Company during its first century
1903 — Ford Motor Co. founded by Malcomson group; Model A produced in rented Mack Ave. plant
1904 — Company builds Piquette Ave. plant at corner of Beaubien; still standing and being restored; Ford of Canada chartered in Windsor, Ontario
1906 — Ford overtakes Olds, Buick and Cadillac combined to become No.1 auto maker in U.S., Henry Ford becomes company president and majority owner
1908 — Introduction of legendary Ford Model T
1910 — Highland Park plant opens, assembly of Model T transferred from Piquette, which closes
1911 — First overseas assembly plant in Manchester, England; Ford wins Selden patent suit
1915 — Purchase of land for Rouge plant in Dearborn; 1-millionth Ford built
1917 — First Ford truck introduced – The Ford Model TT.
1921 — 5-millionth Ford built
1922 — Ford Motor Co. acquires Lincoln Motor Co.
1925 — First pickup introduced; Ford of Germany established
1927 — Model T production ends with 15-millionth built; Model A introduced after 6-month shutdown for retooling
1932 — Introduction of Ford V-8 and English Ford Model Y
1935 — Lincoln-Zephyr introduced, 1st medium-priced Ford
1937 — 25-Millionth Ford built
1938 — ’39 Mercury introduced as 2nd medium-price entry
1939 — Edsel Ford impresses friends with custom-built Lincoln-Zephyr Continental, production begins.
1941 — First general purpose vehicle, or “jeep”, built for military.
1948 — Introduction of 1949-models, company’s first all-new post-war cars
1950 — Ford overtakes Chrysler to regain 2nd place
1954 — Introduction of ’55 Thunderbird
1955 — Introduction of ’56 Continental Mark II
1956 — Sale of Ford Motor Co. common stock begins; new Central Office Building opened (later World Headquarters and now Henry Ford II World Center) in Dearborn
1957 — Introduction of ’58 Edsel
1958 — Late introduction of 4-seat ’58 Thunderbird
1959 — 50-millionth car, a Ford Galaxie; Edsel discontinued
1960 — Introduction of ’60 1/2 Mercury Comet “luxury compact,” ’61 Econoline “compact truck”
1962 — “intermediate” Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor introduced.
1964 — Introduction of Mustang “pony car”
1965 — Introduction of Ford Transit van in Europe, first transnational European design; Introduction of ’66 Bronco in U.S., first Ford sport/utility vehicle
1970 — Introduction of sub-compact ’71 Ford Pinto
1973 — Introduction of “downsized” ’74 Mustang II
1976 — Introduction of sub-compact front-wheel-drive (FWD) Ford Fiesta in Europe
1977 — Introduction of “Fox” chassis compact cars
1978 — Introduction of “Panther” chassis large body-on-frame cars, still basis of Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car; 150-millionth Ford vehicle worldwide is built. Ford acquires 25 percent interest in Mazda.
1980 — Introduction of ’81-model Ford Escort “world car”
1982 — Introduction of ’83 Ranger compact pickup; Introduction of first “jelly-bean” styled cars, ‘83 Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar
1985 —Introduction of FWD midsize ’86 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable
1987 —Introduction of ’88 Lincoln Continental
1990 — Introduction of ’91 Ford Explorer SUV
1992 — Introduction of Mercury Villager minivan, joint venture with Nissan
1993 — Introduction in Europe of Ford Mondeo “world car”
1994 — Introduction of ’94 Ford Windstar minivan
1996 — 250-millionth Ford vehicle built
1997 — Introduction of Lincoln Navigator SUV;
1998 — Introduction in Europe of Focus compact car
1999 — The Model T is named Car of the Century
2000 — Introduction of Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type models; Acquisition of Land Rover from BMW;
2001 —Introduction of retro 2-seat Ford Thunderbird
2002 — New design unveiled for ’04 Mustang, the last surviving “pony car”
2003 — Ford Motor Company celebrates its 100th year