Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist and a business magnate, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and the sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production.
Although Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line,he developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford. In doing so, Ford converted the automobile from an expensive curiosity into a practical conveyance that would profoundly impact the landscape of the 20th century. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry. As the owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the richest and best-known people in the world. He is credited with “Fordism”: mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system that put dealerships throughout most of North America and in major cities on six continents. Ford left most of his vast wealth to the Ford Foundation and arranged for his family to control the company permanently.
By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Ford to make a new model. He pursued the project with a great deal of interest in the design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Although Ford fancied himself an engineering genius, he had little formal training in mechanical engineering and could not even read a blueprint. A talented team of engineers performed most of the actual work of designing the Model A (and later the flathead V8) with Ford supervising them closely and giving them overall direction. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father’s initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission.
Ford was adamantly against labor unions. He explained his views on unions in Chapter 18 of My Life and Work. He thought they were too heavily influenced by some leaders who, despite their ostensible good motives, would end up doing more harm than good for workers. Most wanted to restrict productivity as a means to foster employment, but Ford saw this as self-defeating because, in his view, productivity was necessary for economic prosperity to exist.
He believed that productivity gains that obviated certain jobs would nevertheless stimulate the larger economy and thus grow new jobs elsewhere, whether within the same corporation or in others. Ford also believed that union leaders had a perverse incentive to foment perpetual socio-economic crisis as a way to maintain their own power. Meanwhile, he believed that smart managers had an incentive to do right by their workers, because doing so would maximize their own profits. Ford did acknowledge, however, that many managers were basically too bad at managing to understand this fact. But Ford believed that eventually, if good managers such as he could fend off the attacks of misguided people from both left and right (i.e., both socialists and bad-manager reactionaries), the good managers would create a socio-economic system wherein neither bad management nor bad unions could find enough support to continue existing.
In 1929, Ford made an agreement with the Soviets to provide technical aid over nine years in building the first Soviet automobile plant (GAZ) near Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky). An additional contract for construction of the plant was signed with The Austin Company on August 23, 1929. The contract involved the purchase of $30,000,000 worth of knocked-down Ford cars and trucks for assembly during the first four years of the plant’s operation, after which the plant would gradually switch to Soviet-made components. Ford sent his engineers and technicians to the Soviet Union to help install the equipment and train the working force, while over a hundred Soviet engineers and technicians were stationed at Ford’s plants in Detroit and Dearborn “for the purpose of learning the methods and practice of manufacture and assembly in the Company’s plants.”Said Ford: “No matter where industry prospers, whether in India or China, or Russia, the more profit there will be for everyone, including us. All the world is bound to catch some good from it.”
Ford was also widely known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, and for promoting antisemitic content, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, through his newspaper The Dearborn Independent and the book The International Jew, having an alleged influence on the development of Nazism and Adolf Hitler.
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