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I Invented the Modern Age: The Story of Henry Ford

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 23, 2023 3:00 am

I Invented the Modern Age: The Story of Henry Ford

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 23, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we hear the story of the man who made the claim to have invented the modern age.

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Get holiday ready right now at the Home Depot. How doers get more done. Music. Our next story is about the man whose legacy fits in your garage. Our storyteller is Richard Snow. Snow worked at American Heritage magazine for nearly four decades and was its editor in chief for 17 years. He's the author of I Invented the Modern Age, The Rise of Henry Ford.

Let's take a listen. Henry Ford is among the strangest and in some ways the least appealing of great men. He spent a great deal of the latter part of his life building on some empty acreage in Dearborn, Michigan, a vast museum devoted to American history. Now, it's an endlessly fascinating place.

Ford collected on the grandest possible scale. When he revered Thomas Edison all his life, I don't think he admired any living person more, and he brought Edison's laboratory up from Menlo Park, New Jersey, along with the rooming house that Edison's assistants had lived in and seven carloads of New Jersey dirt. So the buildings could literally sit on their native soil. And when he went to get the Wright Brothers cycle shop, he also brought the pretty little Queen Anne house the brothers had grown up in, and it was a wooden building stood on stone foundation.

He had the mortar knocked out between the stones and re-ground, so it would be on its same cement. This tells a good deal about his immense capacity for taking pains. The whole museum tells a lot about the man.

It's like walking through Henry Ford's brain, and that's a very interesting place to be. He loved mechanisms of all kind. He loved watches. So in the village, there are three watchmakers, but there's no attorney's office. There's no nice little country bank because he thought lawyers and bankers were all leeches.

And there's something else about that place, I felt. When Ford was a young man, and all the time he was working to establish himself, he had a magical ability to draw people to him, to trust him, to make them work for him and do it happily. One of his early friends called that the magnet. He said, oh, that's Henry.

He's got the magnet. And I felt a dim tug of that magnet's pull all the time I was in his museum, and that's what made me want to write a book about him. But, of course, I started the book with considerable trepidation. Probably only Abraham Lincoln has been written more about than Henry Ford. And this wasn't helped when I told a friend what I was going to be writing about, and he said, isn't that story about as well known as the Nativity?

That's certainly what I'd been worried about, but after I spent a while with him, I began thinking that maybe the story wasn't also well known after all, or actually rather that it was so well known that we don't even realize it was his story. What I mean is that everybody knows the name and the comment about history being made and that he built a lot of cars, but the true breadth of his accomplishment is now so much a part of the world we inhabit that his influence is around us like the air we breathe and as invisible. Every century or so our republic has been remade by a new technology. 170 years ago it was the railroad, and in our time it's the microprocessor. And these technologies do more than change our habits. They change the way we think. Thoreau, who saw the railroads come in, listening to the train steaming past Walden Pond wrote, Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented?

Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than ever they did in the stage office? And of course, anyone over the age of 20, younger than that, and it's simply your environment, knows what the computer and the internet are doing now. Well, in between the steam locomotive and the Mac came Henry Ford's Model T. When Ford was quite elderly he was speaking with a Dearborn high school boy who was doing an article on him for the high school newspaper and Ford got very sentimental about the one room school house and square dancing and started to talk about how wonderful these old days were. And the boy wasn't an easy sell on this and he said, well that's all very well Mr. Ford, but we live in the modern age. Ford said, young man, don't tell me about the modern age, I invented the modern age. You'll notice he didn't say I made a hell of a lot of cars, he said basically he had fashioned the world he and the boy were living in and it's a crazy preposterous megalomaniac claim and I've come to think it's very largely true. There is a mystery to him, certainly his close associates felt so, almost every one of his high lieutenants, it's interesting reading them one after another, they all say well we worked on this and we were very close on that, but I never really understood him, I never understood Mr. Ford. Nobody called him Henry. The Reverend Samuel Marquis who spent years working with Ford wrote, in spite of a long and fairly intimate acquaintance with him I have not one mental picture of which I can say this is the man as he is or as I know him.

There are in him lights so high and shadows so deep that I cannot get the whole of him in proper focus at the same time. And you're listening to one heck of a story as told by one heck of a storyteller, Richard Snow telling the story of Henry Ford when we come back, more of the man who invented the modern age, here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country, stories from our big cities and small towns, but we truly can't do this show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

Go to OurAmericanStories.com and give. Introducing the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones and QuietComfort Ultra earbuds with groundbreaking Bose immersive audio. Ever been completely taken by a song when the music really hits you, the beat drops and suddenly you're in it.

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All of that available at MeaningfulBeauty.com. And we continue with our American stories and with Richard Snow. He's the author of I Invented the Modern Age, The Rise of Henry Ford.

Let's pick up where we last left off. A reporter who met him in 1915 was harsher about this duality of nature. There's a fascinating little illusory trick which may be played with one of the Ford portraits photographs. If one side of Ford's face is covered, a benign, gently humorous expression dominates. When the other side is covered, the look is transformed into one of deadly malevolent calculation. This ambiguous effect is created by Ford's heavy, hollow eyes.

The pale eyes one would associate with a visionary or a killer. Visionary and killer, Ford was full of contradictions right from the very start. Well, whatever his mysteries, by the time that reporter wrote that, 1915, a great many people were trying to figure him out. He was on his way to becoming the richest American and once Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919, he was easily the most famous.

Now, this man who lived to read about the atomic bombs falling on Japan was born three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863 on a farm in Dearborn. His father had been born an Irish tenant on an Irish tenant farm and he always seems to have felt a sort of grateful surprise that he now owned not only a farm of his own but a prosperous one. Henry felt a little differently. He loved everything about the farm except the farming. He said, my earliest recollection is that, considering the results, there was too much work on the place.

That is the way I still feel about farming. There are clouds of folklore about Ford's boyhood, a lot of them sent up by Ford himself, but it does seem clear that he was very early interested in shifting onto machinery burdens that people had born since biblical times. He said, even when I was very young, I suspected that farm work might somehow be done in a better way.

That is what took me into mechanics, although my mother always said I was a born mechanic. He very early began taking things apart to see how they would work and he always got them back together, but what he took apart and got back together often ran better. A neighbor said that every clock in the Ford household shuddered when it saw it coming, but he did more harm than good with the clocks and by the time he was 12 he was repairing neighbors' watches. Now the next year when he was 13, his mother died and he expressed the loss in, you know, the best way he knew how. He said, the house was like a watch without a mainspring.

And it was perhaps the nearness of her death that made him particularly sensitive to the impact of what he called the most important, biggest event of my early years. His father was driving him into town in his wagon, family wagon, when they came upon a steam farm engine moving their way. Here is how clearly Ford described it 60 years later. I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse-drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended primarily for driving threshing machines and sawmills and was simply a portable engine and boiler mounted on wheels. I had seen plenty of these engines hauled around by horses, but this one had a chain that made a connection between the engine and the rear wheels.

The engineer was very glad to explain the whole affair, he was proud of it. He showed me how the chain was disconnected from the propelling wheel and a belt put on to drive the machinery. He told me that the engine made 200 revolutions a minute and that the chain pinion could be shifted to let the wagon stop while the engine was still running. And here Ford, so much of whose early youth is elusive, makes a clear and plausible statement of the moment his life took a course that would change everyone else's. This last, he means the engine running in neutral while not driving the wagon, is a feature which is incorporated in the modern automobiles. It was not important with steam engines, which are easily stopped and started, but it became very important with the gasoline engine. It was that engine which took me into automotive transportation. Ford followed that farm engine for the rest of his life. My toys were all tools, he wrote when he was in his 60s.

He added, and they still are. But of course as a teenager he had to learn to use those tools and he couldn't have found himself in a better place to do that. Detroit had standing timber all around, there was lake shipping, there was iron ore, and the city took advantage of all of this. When Henry Ford turned 17 and left home to go there, already had 120,000 residents, 10 railroads feeding it, and it was home to a thousand different manufacturing businesses.

Machine shops scattered everywhere. Ford spent a few months in business school there, and that was the only time in his life when his handwriting was legible. But his real education came from the machine shops. He held jobs in several of them and impressed everyone he worked with. He had an almost instinctive sense of machinery.

Even at the end of his life he could look at 10 identical carburetors laid out on a bench and point to the one that had something wrong with it. And he loved being among machines, but a few years later he was back in Dearborn on the farm. He'd been lured there by his father with the promise of 40 acres of land and his 80 acres. His father still hoped Henry would become a farmer too.

Ford didn't want the farmland, but he went because he did want to be perceived as a more stable citizen. And the reason he cared about that was because he'd fallen in love with an 18-year-old named Clara Bryant. He'd met her at a New Year's Eve dance. He loved dancing all his life. And he married her in 1888, and she turned out to be a great choice. She was steady and staunch and brave and had such complete faith in him that he took to calling her the great believer.

And being married to Henry can't have been easy for her at first because over the next 10 years they lived in 10 rental houses. And all during that time Ford was experimenting with creating a machine that would do what the steam traction engine had, which was drive itself. He knew all about steam engines by now and decided they were simply too heavy to power what he had in mind. So he began to look to gasoline and the internal combustion engine. He started building a car in the woodshed behind his rented house. Woodshed makes it sound like too modest a thing. It was actually a rather substantial little brick building.

You can see it, or a replica of it, today in Greenfield Village. And it was a lonely and frustrating job because everything had to be built from scratch. When Ford needed a carburetor, he had to invent one. He didn't even have a name for it.

The word hadn't come into the language yet. And he worked on his first car for months and felt it was finally ready in June of 1896. And it gives a good idea of the intensity of purpose with which he, the concentration with which he worked, that it was only when he was ready to take it out on its trial run that he discovered it was too big to fit through the woodshed door. Well, he fixed that with an axe and got his car started and coaxed his two-cylinder engine into life and drove off into his future and ours. The car worked and he improved it and finally got it running well enough to convince a Detroit lumber tycoon to finance what Ford called the Detroit Automobile Company. And I think it's worth remembering how courageous it was to stake everything on building automobiles in those days. Years later, Ford said a very interesting thing about it. He said, Of course there was no demand for an automobile.

There never is for a new product. And you've been listening to Richard Snow tell the story of Henry Ford. My toys were all tools, he recalled. They still are. And my goodness, they were. And Detroit at the turn of the century, we're talking about the 1890s and the time that Ford went there and started to work there. There were a hundred thousand plus citizens.

Ten railroad lines fed the city and there were all kinds of manufacturing shops and concerns. And of course, Ford, well, this is living large, being amongst all of those people making all of those machines. And it's interesting, the first 10 years of his marriage, 10 separate rentals working on his car for months. And as he put it, Of course, there was no demand for the automobile. There never is for a new product. And he was cutting new ground.

Henry Ford, when we come back, more of the story of the man who invented the modern age here on Our American Stories. Introducing the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones and QuietComfort Ultra earbuds with groundbreaking Bose immersive audio. Ever been completely taken by a song when the music really hits you? The beat drops and suddenly you're in it. Entranced.

Can't help but surrender to the moment. That's the feeling of Bose immersive audio. The realest sound there is. Breakthrough spatialized sound makes your music bigger, richer and more spacious than ever. It takes what you're hearing out of your head and places it just in front of you for more richness and spaciousness. You can only get sound like this with QuietComfort Ultra headphones and QuietComfort Ultra earbuds. It's everything music should make you feel taken to new highs. It's a totally new experience that lets you feel your music like never before. Bose immersive audio now available in QuietComfort Ultra headphones and earbuds.

Dive in deeper at Bose dot com forward slash I heart. Insurance can be confusing sometimes. That's why State Farm is there for your what ifs, because they know the rest of your life is full thinking about other things like what if your life was a playlist.

Imagine how crazy it would be. Your first song might be a noisy track called Kids. The second one a spooky track called Home Ownership. Then 100 more songs called Work, Health, Pets, Cars, Yard Work.

The playlist goes on and once you put it on repeat and add shuffle mode, things might not sound all that jazzy. That's why the last track you'd want to add to your life's playlist is called Insurance Uncertainties. With lyrics like what if I'd like to add coverage to my policy? What if I have a question?

Well, there are some positive notes that can help keep your life in harmony. You can file a claim on the State Farm mobile app. Talk to a real person, including your agent, about insurance coverage and policy questions, because that's just what they do. So no matter how noisy your life may get, insurance can still be music to your ears.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. Now I'd like to introduce you to Meaningful Beauty, the famed skincare brand created by iconic supermodel Cindy Crawford. It's her secret to absolutely gorgeous skin. Meaningful Beauty makes powerful and effective skincare simple.

And it's loved by millions of women. It's formulated for all ages and all skin tones and types. And it's designed to work as a complete skincare system, leaving your skin feeling soft, smooth and nourished. I recommend starting with Cindy's Full Regiment, which contains all five of her best-selling products, including the amazing Youth Activating Melon Serum. This next generation serum has the power of melon leaf stem cell technology.

It's melon leaf stem cells encapsulated for freshness and released onto the skin to support a visible reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. With thousands of glowing five star reviews, why not give it a try? Subscribe today and you can get the amazing Meaningful Beauty system for just $49.95. That includes our introductory five piece system, free gifts, free shipping and a 60 day money back guarantee.

All of that available at MeaningfulBeauty.com. And we continue with our American stories and Richard Snow, the author of I Invented The Modern Age, The Rise of Henry Ford. Let's pick up where we last left off. And I think it's worth remembering how courageous it was to stake everything on building automobiles in those days. Years later, Ford said a very interesting thing about it. He said, of course, there was no demand for an automobile. There never is for a new product. That runs totally counter to the old saw about invention being the necessity being the mother of invention.

Very often it's exactly the other way around. Invention being the mother of necessity is, you know, nobody wanted an iPhone until they had one in their hand. Anyway, Ford got his company started and it seems instantly to have lost interest in it.

I just wandered away, wouldn't show up. Nobody knows why. Perhaps he wasn't quite ready to manufacture cars. More likely he resented working for anybody. He never liked having a boss. And said something that he then went on to ruin a second company.

And he was still able for a third throw of the dice to find a circle. Smaller, but a real circle of investors for his next enterprise. Which he founded in 1903 with $28,000 capital paid in. This one bore his own name, the Ford Motor Company.

And it would last. Now his investors not unreasonably wanted the Ford Motor Company to build expensive cars. In 1907, the Packard Gray Wolf sports car, though that term wouldn't exist for another 40 years, cost $10,000 and a nice suburban house might go for $1,800. Now work that calculation out today and if prices had stayed relative, the house would cost maybe $1.2 million and the Dodge Viper would cost $6 million. So, of course it was more desirable to sell something worth thousands of dollars than something worth hundreds of dollars.

The Ford believed exactly the opposite. Make the car cheaper. You'll do better selling lots of low-priced cars to farmers and shop clerks than you will a few costly ones to billionaires. And the way to achieve this, he said, he told one of the backers of his new company, is make one automobile like another automobile just as one pin is like another pin when it comes from a pin factory or a match like another match when it comes from a match factory. But how to do it?

How to do it? The car should be simple and durable, useful to farmers. Ford might have hated farming, but he loved the farm life or rather the virtues of loyalty and steadiness that he ordered that he saw in it. The car would be fundamental enough for any farm boy to understand and repair, rugged enough to negotiate at the truly dreadful roads at the time, versatile enough to be hooked up to a bandsaw or a thresher or a pump. Now by 1904, he was a success, but he saw it hidden inside every car he built, the ghost of a much greater car.

And in 1908, he called together his most trusted executives and started designing one in a sealed off room in his factory. And here his genius played as strongly and steadily as it ever would. And his inherent contradictions deployed themselves only to a creative end. A contradiction is because the car he was building would be at once as perfectly simple as he could make it and yet immensely sophisticated. It would, for instance, have four cylinders when no inexpensive car had more than two. And the engines in multi-cylinder cars tended just to be fussy, complicated, hard to repair, hard to maintain. Ford wanted his engine machined out of a single block of metal.

And while his helpers were trying to figure out how to do this, Ford had another thought, slice off the top. That is, have the engine in a single casting with its four cylinders wholly accessible and then fit the cylinder head on top of it like a hat and bolt that down. And that's how car engines are built to this day. The steering wheel in American cars and all cars was almost always on the right. Ancient tradition on that because the steam locomotive engineer sat head end right hand in his cabin.

Ford thought it belonged on the left, put it there, and there it stays unless you're English. The materials in the body would be cheap as he could make them, but the chassis would be made of vanadium steel, which was a light, tough, very expensive alloy, quite new to the United States. And he'd run through the alphabet from his first Model A and now is currently selling the Model S. So he named the new car the Model T and put it on the market in October of 1908. Very briefly, in 1879, a Rochester patent attorney named George Selden looked at a gasoline engine and thought, hey, this could make a wagon go and drafted a patent, said that it would be attached to the wheels of the car, though he didn't say how that would happen. And then he sent it into the patent office.

But in those days, you could put off a patent for 17 years by making tiny modifications to your wording and stuff. And he kept it alive basically until the automobile was becoming a feasible thing. And then, incredibly, he got a patent on the idea of the automobile, and he got money backing him and started to exact ransom from all the carmakers. Even the young General Motors finally rolled over. And only Ford fought on, fought him alone. Patent litigation was extremely expensive. Ford was spending $2 a car on the, but he stuck it out right till the end and he won. And there he got, you know, he actually got headlines that read things like, God bless Henry Ford. Now, the Model T is no longer any sort of force in our lives, but I think it refuses to look placid or quaint or to acquire that gloss of appeal that time puts on so many ugly things. And that high, young, lovely frame and pugnacious snout still flaunt the boxy antique's power to change the world. The car was tall because the ruts were deep.

Thanks in part to the vanadium steel, it was both tough and light, only 1,100 pounds. And it could scramble over marshy terrain that would immobilize heavier cars. For what became so ubiquitous an American fixture, it had many eccentricities, beginning with what Ford called a planetary transmission.

A collector friend of mine who owns the Model T told me once that he could leave it parked anywhere. Nobody would ever steal it because nobody could figure out how to drive it. Three pedals sprouted from the floor. One on the right was the brake, the one in the middle put the car in the reverse, the one on the left made it go forward in low gear when pressed to the floor and in high gear when released. The driving gears were all engaged by bands that these pedals either tightened or loosened.

But with all those pedals on the floor, not one was an accelerator. That was a lever on the steering wheel which you thumbed downward to feed more gas to the engine. And when you wanted to know how much more gas you had to feed, you left to feed. You stopped, climbed out, lifted off the front seat cushion, unscrewed the gas cap beneath it, and poked in the tank with a wooden stick marked like a ruler but with gallons instead of inches. But for all the fussing the car required, it went. It went and it was as dependable as a cast iron stove. And you're listening to Richard Snow, who's the author of I Invented the Modern Age, The Rise of Henry Ford.

Go and buy this book. You won't put it down. And the importance of Ford's courage can't be underestimated. No one understood the man, that's true.

He probably didn't understand himself. But few would describe Ford as anything but courageous. And he had the courage of his convictions, no doubt, as do entrepreneurs throughout history.

The Wright brothers, we learned from David McCullough, had that same kind of courage. And not that manufacturing excellence, by the way, mass marketing and mass manufacturing airplanes was not in the wheelhouse of the Wright brothers. And by the way, he did what nobody was thinking about back in those early days of automobiles. Generally, everyone was just trying to make expensive cars, and here's Ford trying to make them affordable. And though the Model T had many eccentricities, it worked. And it was as dependable as a cast iron stove.

When we come back, more of the remarkable story of Henry Ford here on Our American Stories. Introducing the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones and QuietComfort Ultra earbuds. With groundbreaking Bose immersive audio. Ever been completely taken by a song when the music really hits you? The beat drops and suddenly you're in it.

Entranced, can't help but surrender to the moment. That's the feeling of Bose immersive audio, the realest sound there is. Breakthrough spatialized sound makes your music bigger, richer, and more spacious than ever. It takes what you're hearing out of your head and places it just in front of you for more richness and spaciousness. You can only get sound like this with QuietComfort Ultra headphones and QuietComfort Ultra earbuds. It's everything music should make you feel, taken to new highs. It's a totally new experience that lets you feel your music like never before. Bose immersive audio, now available in QuietComfort Ultra headphones and earbuds.

Dive in deeper at Bose.com forward slash iHeart. Insurance can be confusing sometimes. That's why State Farm is there for your what ifs because they know the rest of your life is full thinking about other things. Like what if your life was a playlist?

Imagine how crazy it would be. Your first song might be a noisy track called Kids. The second one a spooky track called Home Ownership. Then a hundred more songs called Work, Health, Pets, Cars, Yard Work, the playlist goes on. And once you put it on repeat and add shuffle mode, things might not sound all that jazzy. That's why the last track you'd want to add to your life's playlist is called Insurance Uncertainties. With lyrics like, what if I'd like to add coverage to my policy? What if I have a question?

Well there are some positive notes that can help keep your life in harmony. You can file a claim on the State Farm mobile app. Talk to a real person, including your agent, about insurance coverage and policy questions. Because that's just what they do. So no matter how noisy your life may get, insurance can still be music to your ears.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. best selling products, including the amazing Youth Activating Melon Serum. This next generation serum has the power of melon leaf stem cell technology.

It's melon leaf stem cells encapsulated for freshness and released onto the skin to support a visible reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. With thousands of glowing five star reviews, why not give it a try? Subscribe today and you can get the amazing, meaningful beauty system for just $49.95. That includes our introductory five piece system, free gifts, free shipping, and a 60 day money back guarantee.

All that available at MeaningfulBeauty.com. And we continue with our American stories and the story of Henry Ford. Let's pick up where we last left off with author Richard Snow. Ford liked to tell everybody a joke. He told it to President Wilson when he met him about the farmer making out a will, instructing his lawyer to have him buried in his Model T. And the lawyer wanted to know the reason for this.

And the man said, because I ain't been a hole yet that it couldn't get me out of. And when it was time to stay put and do some farm work, you could take off a rear wheel and hook it up to a thresher or a sawmill. The owner was expected to know how to do that and indeed to maintain the car generally.

A Midwestern man named Alfred Stevenson, who owned the succession of Model Ts in the 20s, wrote about this. He said, the whole car was simple, accessible. In the evening you could tighten the bands, look at the timer, clean the plugs. A weekend would do nicely to re-line the bands or grind the valves, clean the carbon or maybe tighten the rods. A four-day vacation was plenty to overhaul the engine or the rear end.

If any of these jobs was a bit beyond your experience, you had merely to ask your neighbor, who not only knew but would come over and help. The ramifications of this were far-reaching and frequently unexpected. In the Second World War, for example, German tanks were often superior to their American counterparts.

But that advantage was canceled by how quickly a disabled Sherman could get itself prepared and back into action. And the Germans were baffled and dismayed to find that among his many other accomplishments, Henry Ford had created a whole generation of mechanics. But perhaps the Model T's most profound impact, what made it the single most significant automobile ever built, was social. In 1918, a Georgia farm wife wrote Henry Ford, your car lifted us out of the mud. It brought joy into our lives. The Model T broke the age-old isolation of the farm in less than a decade.

And wherever it went, it spun out behind a new civilization of highways and roadside fixtures like motels and, of course, gas stations and a new way of thinking about space and time. And in the 1930s, John Steinbeck looked back with a sort of sardonic awe on what it had done in just half of his lifetime. Now, of course, the Model T could never have had such an effect had it not been deployed in enormous numbers. And this, even more than the car itself, is the measure of Ford's genius. A number of car companies were turning out 100 cars a day during the Model T's early years, and that demonstrates very impressive capacities of manufacture. But there is a fundamental difference between quantity production and mass production, and it was by inventing the latter that Ford invented the modern age. The Model T was a success.

Ford could sell as many as he could make. The way to make them, he believed, lay in precision and speed. Precision meant parts so scrupulously manufactured that one would always fit where it belonged without any time-consuming shaping or filing. Speed lay in breaking down the manufacturing process into ever-smaller segments.

This began in the spring of 1913 with the magneto, which generated the electricity to fire the plugs. It took a worker 20 minutes to assemble one. One worker put it together, put another together. Ford separated the process into 29 steps, and rather than one worker doing 29 things, 29 workers would do one thing as the parts moved past their stations on what was the first modern assembly line. Before it had taken 20 minutes. Now it took 13 minutes. So would the engine, then the transmission, then the upholstery, the axles and the radiators, finally the whole car itself. All was, Ford said, bring the work to the man, not the man to the work. When Ford first unveiled his Model T, it took 12 and a half hours to make one.

A little more than a decade later, it took exactly a minute. Before the Model T was done, a car was coming off the line every 10 seconds. Ford made his millionth Model T in 1915, his two millionth in 1917, and so on for a while. A million cars a year, and then in the early 20s, two million. And he always lowered the price. He flew directly in the face of all principles of monopoly capitalism, which of course hold that if you have a desirable item that you alone own and other people want, you raise the price.

Not Ford. He said, every time I shave a dollar off the price, I gain a thousand new customers. So the car had begun at $850 and ended two decades later at $295. In 1909, the company made a profit of $220.11 on each car.

With the moving assembly line up and running, the profit fell to $99.34, and that was fine with Ford. And then in 1914, he announced that he was raising the base pay in his shop to $5 a day. This was twice the going rate for industrial work, and it caused a sensation. He understood that it would be big news.

I don't think he'd quite prepared for the astonishing response it got. People came in from all over the country, and in fact he finally had to discourage them by saying he would only hire people who had lived in or around Detroit for two years or more. Ford's workers became his customers.

No man who bolted together a Packard Gray Wolf could ever own one. Every Ford worker who wanted to could own a Ford. So Ford also created a modern cycle of consumerism in which we still live. During the great black diaspora after the First World War up north to Detroit, the African Americans knew there were two shops. Only two shops that were worth applying to. Packard might give you a job, and Ford probably would give you a job. And he actually had blacks running gangs of whites with the power to fire them, which I think was not, I can't think of another American industry in 1924 where that would have applied at all.

And in the end he had to give it up. The last Model T came off the line probably six or seven years later than it should have in 1927. Ford had made fifteen and a half million of them, and when production ceased there were more than eleven million still on the road. And of course there was tremendous interest in what Ford would do to follow the Model T. In fact, next to Lindbergh's flight it was the biggest story of 1927. Car sales dropped everywhere in a boom time as people waited to see what was coming. It took the factory of course several months to retool. And when the new car, Ford had started over fresh by calling it the Model A, was announced that December, the New York World said, The excitement could hardly have been greater had Powah, the sacred white elephant of Burma, elected to sit for seven days on the flagpole of the Woolworth Building. It sold well, 800,000 in its first year, but Chevrolet sold a million that same year, and the Ford Motor Company would never again be making one out of every two cars on the American road. In any event, that was Henry Ford.

How really to assess the true impact of this man, it may still be too early. We're certainly still immersed in the modern world he created. I think Will Rogers, many years ago, came pretty close when he said to Henry Ford, with none of his usual folksiness, It may take a hundred years to tell whether you hurt us more than you helped us, but you certainly didn't leave us where you found us. And a terrific job on the storytelling, editing, and production by our own Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Richard Snow. What a storyteller and what a story to tell. He's the author of I Invented the Modern Age, The Rise of Henry Ford.

And there's so much to unpack here. My goodness, the stories about World War II that we'd always heard, that Americans could just get under the hood of anything and fix it. Well, this happened because of Henry Ford. He turned America into a nation of auto mechanics and tinkerers.

I mean, to this day, that's why there are auto zones. And my goodness, the story of what he did, bringing precision and speed to the manufacturing process. The first modern assembly line and bringing the work to the man. And of course, bringing the speed with which he could produce one of his cars from 12 hours to one minute 10 years later. And millions and millions rolled off the assembly line, all totaled 15.5 million Model Ts. And the thing I think most important contribution of Henry Ford's as it relates to capitalism and monopoly is that he did that thing no one expected someone with such market dominance to do, which would generally be rip off the American public and raise prices. Ford always working to lower the price. And at the same time, he raised the wages of ordinary workers and factory workers, doubling their wages and turning his workers into customers. That Will Rogers line was the best of all. It may take 100 years to tell whether you helped us or hurt us, but you sure didn't leave us where you found us.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-23 04:26:45 / 2023-10-23 04:45:19 / 19

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