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Ford America

Henry Ford in his new "Quadricycle" in 1896.
"There was always a great deal of Huckleberry Finn about Henry Ford" --Merrill Denison, The Power To Go

Born in 1863 of Irish immigrant parents on a farm outside Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford grew up with a respect and devotion farmers. Both his grandfather and father, using and improving devises such as the first horse-powered thresher, automatic horse rakes, reapers, wire, and twine binders, encouraged his interest in mechanics. By the time Ford was 17 he was an apprentice to a Detroit machinist; by 21 he was an expert clockmaker; by 22 he was a gas-engine service man. Visiting the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and meeting Thomas Edison, the young 30 year old became enthralled with the possibilities of gasoline powered engines.

In 1903, with his goal of manufacturing a light, inexpensive, powerful, capable, durable, and functional automobile, Ford applied to the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers only to be turned down. A "go-getter" at heart, rejection didn't stop this American entrepreneur. Ford, claiming the right to a new four cylinder engine, began manufacturing the latest automobile. Production didn't take off, however, until Ford applied the methods of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the genius behind The Principles of Scientific Management (1911). According to Taylor in his book, "In the past, the man has been first; in the future the system must be first." To Taylor, the inefficient man was like "a bird that can sing but won't sing." Taylor's revolutionary approaches towards industry focused more on efficiency than product design. He examined each process of a product's production and thought of ways to lessen its manufacturing time. Furthermore, Taylor emphasized management and workers' joint effort in increasing surplus rather than dividing it. More was better. Faster was better. Producing more faster could only lead to one thing: the assembly line.

The Tin Lizzie
Ford's Model T, or "Tin Lizzie," first manufactured in 1909.
Ford's use of the assembly line became the backbone of the Ford Company's mass production. Ford wanted the most automobiles for the most people. Yet, farmers were still number one on his list of consumer targets. With this in mind, Ford had to lower the price of the car, still at 900 dollars in the 1910's. A number of small technical changes and more extensive use of the assembly line allowed Ford to raise wages to 5 dollars a day. This unheard of practice drew more employees to his Detroit manufacturing plants. Now, Ford employees driving their Ford cars made the horseless carriage available to America's poor and huddled masses. Originally manufactured in 1909, by 1926, Ford lowered the price of the most significant and revolutionary automobile of the century, the Model T. This car, available for only 300 dollars developed into the American symbol of mobility. During its automobile lifetime from 1909 to 1927, the Ford Copany produced 15 million Model T's.

Taking the new symbol to American roadways, Americans gained a new spirit of independence. Ford's automobile essentially reinvigorated the Progressive Era's esteem of the American landscape. In the 1920's the automobile and the road created a new mobile culture. Ironically, the machine allowed Americans to see the garden.

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