Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863 in Dearborn, Michigan. His parents, William and Mary, owned a farm and were both Irish immigrants. He had five siblings and his father taught him about mechanics at a young age.
Henry left home in 1879 to move to the city of Detroit. He was hired as a machinist by James F. Flower & Bros., but only stayed with the firm a short time before being hired by Detroit Dry Dock Co. He continued working as a machinist for several years and learned a lot about fabrication processes.
In 1882, Henry returned to his family's farm in Dearborn and was hired by Westinghouse as a steam engine technician. Over the next several years, he also managed a sawmill and helped with his family farm. In 1888, he married a woman named Clara Bryant.
Henry was hired as an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company in 1891 and was promoted to the position of chief engineer in only two years. In his free time, he started building prototype internal combustion engines and testing them. In 1896, he built his first full vehicle, which he named the Quadricycle.
It was this early success that convinced him that there was a future in automobiles. He left his engineering job to start the Detroit Automobile Company with several investors. Unfortunately, he focused too much on the engineering and not enough on marketing, resulting in poor sales and bankruptcy. He was forced to leave the business in 1902 after investors threatened to withdraw their capital.
In 1903, Henry convinced some investors that he could make an automobile company work. With about $30,000, he started the Ford Motor Company and showed the world that he meant business by breaking a land speed record with one of his designs. The event won the praise of race car driver Barney Oldfield, who purchased the model and dubbed it the "999". Barney drove the vehicle around the country, gaining prestige for the company throughout the United States.
The company released its first popular model, the Model T, in 1908. It quickly gained massive recognition in the country for its low cost and reliability, earning the company a lot of profit. In 1913, Henry implemented an assembly line manufacturing style in the company's factory, greatly boosting productivity. The increase in manufacturing capacity helped to meet growing demand and, in 1918, it was revealed that half of the automobiles in the United States were Ford Model Ts. The model was manufactured until 1927, with a final sales volume of fifteen million units.
In 1918, Henry sought a seat in the senate, but failed to gain a majority vote. He decided to give his son Edsel command of the company, but retained a strong hold on the company's direction. In 1926, the company designed a new model to meet new consumer expectations, dubbing it the Model A. The model sold four million units over four years until it was discontinued in 1931.
Henry pioneered new methods of labor compensation by providing long-time employees with higher wages and reduced hours. To qualify for these benefits, employees had to work for the company 6 months or more and demonstrate that their behavior upheld moral values. In 1926, he instituted the five-day week, which gave workers an extra day off. This model of labor has prevailed throughout the years as the most popular work schedule.
Henry financed a lot of research in the field of plastics, culminating in a concept car that was constructed of soybean-plastic and ran on ethanol, rather than gasoline. The model was introduced to the public, but was never manufactured due to a lack of demand.
In 1943, Henry's son Edsel died, leaving the position of president in the company vacant. Despite being 79 years old, Henry decided to take the position once again, placing his grandson in the vice president position. This situation only lasted for two years, when his wife convinced him to resign and allow his grandson to take the position of president. On April 7, 1947, Henry experienced a cerebral hemorrhage and died on his estate.
Despite being a popular business figure, Henry was criticized for his anti-Semitic views. For eight years, he published a newspaper called "The Dearborn Independent", which featured anti-Semitic articles and was denounced by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. Henry also strongly supported Hitler's Nazi regime and was given an honorary Grand Cross of the German Eagle. It is believed that he gave Hitler financial backing and opened an assembly plant in Berlin, which was used to build trucks for the German military.