Featured Innovator Henry Ford
Every other week, we acknowledge an individual throughout history who has brought long lasting innovation to the supply chain and logistics industry.
Our Featured Innovator this week is our most well known yet – an individual responsible for making the automobile into an innovation that completely shaped the 20th century, and all of our lives to this day: Henry Ford.
While Henry Ford did not invent the automobile (or even the assembly line) – he did what a great innovator does: he took an idea, then developed and promoted that idea until it became an accepted part of our daily lives.
“Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it.”
From a young age, Ford demonstrated some of the behaviors that would lead to his incredible success: he organized boys near his father’s farm to build water wheels and steam engines; he became friends with the men who built steam engines so he could learn how they worked; he taught himself to fix watches in order to learn the rudiments of machine design.
In 1896, Ford had become chief engineer of the Illuminating Company- but on the side, was working to build horseless carriages. This paid off later that year when he completed his first self-propelled vehicle, the Quadricycle: a vehicle made up of wires wheels, a tiller to steer like a boat, and only 2 forward speeds with no reverse (see picture above!)
From 1896 to 1903, Ford worked tirelessly- starting and closing companies, learning by trial and error, and inevitably failing many times.
Success came in 1903, when, after building and driving racing cars to attract additional financial backers, he incorporated his third automotive venture, Ford Motor Company.
The early history of the Ford Motor Company illustrates one of Ford’s talents, one that we pride ourselves on at Cedric Millar: his ability to identify, and attract outstanding people to work for him. In the following years, the Ford Motor Company would release their first vehicle – the Model A, followed by the Model N, and eventually in 1908: the Model T.
Henry Ford’s story did not stop here, as we all know. His passion for his craft, his thirst for knowledge, and his ability to attract outstanding talent all fueled his tremendous success.
Some Crazy Facts About Henry Ford
- You remember Bonnie and Clyde, right? Well, in 1934, Clyde Barrow wrote Henry Ford a letter in which Barrow praised the Ford V8 as a getaway car. The infamous letter was dated April 10, 1934, and read: “While I still got breath in my lungs, I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble, the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal, it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.”
- While Ford surrounded himself with great talent, he greatly disliked experts and refused to employ them. In his 1924 book, My Life and Work, he said, “I never employ an expert in full bloom. If I ever wanted to kill opposition by unfair means, I would endow the opposition with experts.” As a consequence, Ford Motor Company did not have any employees with advanced engineering or design engineering skills. In fact, it did not even have a proving ground and instead opted to test cars on public highways.
- Innovator Roadtrips: Between 1914 and 1924, Ford, Thomas Edison, tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone, and nature writer John Burroughs embarked on a series of historic road trips. Edison usually chose the route. Driving in the front car, he navigated the roads (dotted with hand-drawn signs that warned to “DRIVE SLOW–DANGEROUS AS THE DEVIL”) with a compass and a couple of atlases.