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Ford History

Source: Ford Motor Company

The Dream Becomes a Business

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.

As with most great enterprises, Ford Motor Company's beginnings were modest. The company had anxious moments in its infancy. The earliest record of a shipment is July 20, 1903, approximately one month after incorporation, to a Detroit physician. With the company's first sale came hope—a young Ford Motor Company had taken its first steps.

Mass Production on the Line

Perhaps Ford Motor Company's single greatest contribution to automotive manufacturing was the moving assembly line. First implemented at the Highland Park plant (in Michigan, US) in 1913, the new technique allowed individual workers to stay in one place and perform the same task repeatedly on multiple vehicles that passed by them. The line proved tremendously efficient, helping the company far surpass the production levels of their competitors—and making the vehicles more affordable.

The First Vehicles

Henry Ford insisted that the company's future lay in the production of affordable cars for a mass market. 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. 19 years and 15 million Model T's later, Ford Motor Company was a giant industrial complex that spanned the globe. In 1925, Ford Motor Company acquired the Lincoln Motor Company, thus branching out into luxury cars, and in the 1930's, the Mercury division was created to establish a division centered on mid-priced cars. Ford Motor Company was growing.

Becoming a Global Company

In the 50's came the Thunderbird and the chance to own a part of Ford Motor Company. The company went public and, on Feb. 24, 1956, had about 350,000 new stockholders. Henry Ford II's keen perception of political and economic trends in the 50's led to the global expansion of FMC in the 60's, and the establishment of Ford of Europe in 1967, 20 years ahead of the European Economic Community's arrival. The company established its North American Automotive Operations in 1971, consolidating U.S., Canadian, and Mexican operations more than two decades ahead of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ford Motor Company started the last century with a single man envisioning products that would meet the needs of people in a world on the verge of high-gear industrialization. Today, Ford Motor Company is a family of automotive brands consisting of: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, and Volvo. The company is beginning its second century of existence with a worldwide organization that retains and expands Henry Ford's heritage by developing products that serve the varying and ever-changing needs of people in the global community.

In the Beginning

The story of Henry Ford is not of a prodigy entrepreneur or an overnight success. Ford grew up on a farm and might easily have remained in agriculture. But something stronger pulled at Ford's imagination: mechanics, machinery, understanding how things worked and what new possibilities lay in store. As a young boy, he took apart everything he got his hands on. He quickly became known around the neighborhood for fixing people's watches.

In 1896, Ford invented the Quadricycle. It was the first 'horseless carriage' that he actually built. It's a far cry from today's cars and even from what he produced a few years later, but in a way it's the starting point of Ford's career as a businessman. Until the Quadricycle, Ford's tinkering had been experimental, theoretical—like the gas engine he built on his kitchen table in the 1890's, which was just an engine with nothing to power. The Quadricycle showed enough popularity and potential that it launched the beginning of Ford's business ventures.

Ideas into Business

Ford Motor Company was founded on June 16, 1903. The first Ford, the Model A, was being sold in Detroit a few months later. When founded, Ford Motor Company was just one of 15 car manufacturers in Michigan and 88 in the US. But as it began to turn a profit within its first few months, it became clear that Henry Ford's vision for the automotive industry was going to work, and work in a big way. During the first five years of Ford Motor Company's existence, Henry Ford, as chief engineer and later as president, directed a development and production program that started in a converted wagon shop.

Henry Ford's insistence that the company's future lay in the production of affordable cars for a mass market caused increasing friction between him and the other investors. As some left, Ford acquired enough stock to increase his own holdings to 58.5 percent. Henry Ford became president in 1906, replacing John S. Gray, a Detroit banker who had served as the company's first president.

Ford Family Through the Years

The years between the world wars were a period of hectic expansion. In 1917, Ford Motor Company began producing trucks and tractors. In 1919 a conflict with stockholders over the millions to be spent building the giant Rouge manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan led to the company becoming wholly owned by Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, who then succeeded his father as president. After Edsel Ford passed away in 1943, a saddened Henry Ford resumed the presidency.

Henry Ford resigned for the second time at the end of World War II. His eldest grandson, Henry Ford II, became president on Sept. 21, 1945. Even as Henry Ford II drove the industry's first postwar car off the assembly line, he was making plans to reorganize and decentralize the company to resume its prewar position as a major force in a fiercely competitive auto industry.

Henry Ford II provided strong leadership for Ford Motor Company from the postwar era into the 1980s. He was president from 1945 until 1960 and chief executive officer from 1945 until 1979. He was chairman of the board of directors from 1960 until 1980, and remained as chairman of the finance committee from 1980 until his death in 1987.

Now, at the beginning of its second century, another Ford family member has been named CEO of Ford Motor Company, the first family member to hold the position in more than 20 years. Like his uncle, Henry Ford II, William Clay Ford Jr. (great-grandson of Henry Ford) leads a company where 'family' has a much broader meaning, referring to far more than just those with the last name 'Ford.' Today, the Ford family comprises employees, dealers, suppliers, shareholders, customers, and more—all those that help fulfill the vision Bill Ford has defined for the company: to create great products that benefit customers, shareholders, and society.
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