Rolling Into The World: Henry Ford Is Born

“I was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm at Dearborn, Michigan, and my earliest recollection is that, considering the results, there was too much work on the place.” Even as a child, Henry Ford had an eye for innovation. It was this ability to recognize shortcomings and set out to solve them that led Ford to create Ford Motor Co. in 1903, not only revolutionizing the transport industry but also making him one of the richest men in the world.

Ford was born the eldest of six children to Irish immigrants, William Ford and Mary Litogot. Originally from western England, the Ford family was evicted from their land and sent to Ireland. Once in America, the Ford family purchased a prosperous farm and managed to generate a decent enough income to live a comfortable life.

It was when Ford was just ten years old that he caught sight of his first self-propelled road machine, a stationary steam engine, typically used for such things as powering a saw mill, that its operator had mounted on wheels. Over the course of the next year, Ford learned how to operate the machine and his fascination for its possibilities grew. Reflecting on that experience, Ford later said, “that showed me that I was by instinct an engineer.”

Ford never took a liking to farm work and, instead, began pursuing his passion for mechanics. Throughout the township, Ford had gained a reputation as a fine watch repairman after having practiced on a pocket watch his father had given him earlier. When his mother died in 1876, Ford found little reason to remain on the farm. “I never had any particular love for the farm,” he recalled. “It was the mother on the farm I loved.”

Soon thereafter, Ford moved to Detroit to follow his engineering dreams and took up apprenticeships with James F. Flower & Bros. and Detroit Dry Dock Co. While these experiences served as great learning opportunities for Ford, after just three years, he decided to return to the family farm and assist his father. He excelled in handling the Westinghouse portable steam engine and was subsequently hired as a serviceman for the company.

In 1888, Ford married Clara Bryant and returned to the family farm to support his new wife. Still unsatisfied with farm life, Ford took up an engineering position with the Edison Illuminating Company back in Detroit. Finally able to utilize his skills and passion for mechanics, Ford excelled in his post and in just two years had been promoted to Chief Engineer. That same year, Clara Ford gave birth to the couple’s only child, Edsel.

While working at EIC, Ford found that he had enough time and money to pursue his own personal experiments with gasoline engines, in which Ford saw the future. In 1896, Ford made history when he created the Quadricycle, a self-propelled vehicle consisting of two bicycles joined together and powered by gasoline. He continued to work on the Quadricycle for another three years, refining its design.

When Ford believed he had perfected his vehicle, he took it to William H. Murphy, a lumber tycoon in Detroit, who took it for a test drive. Murphy agreed with Ford that gasoline-powered vehicles would be fueling the future and the two instantly formed a partnership that would forever change the face of the 20th century.

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