A Brief History of Henry Ford and the Model T Automobile

Written by Carly Hallman

1863: Henry Ford is born to parents William and Mary Ford. Years later, Ford would work to restore the family farm near modern-day Dearborn, Michigan.

1879: Henry Ford starts an apprenticeship with a machinist in Detroit.

1888: Ford marries Clara Bryant. An active campaigner for women’s voting rights, Bryant would remain married to Ford until his death in 1947.

1891: Ford takes his first job as an engineer, working for Thomas Edison at the Edison Illuminating Company.

1893: Ford advances at Edison, moving up to the position of chief engineer. Clara and Henry’s only child, Edsel, is born.

1896: Henry Ford‘s first original vehicle, the Quadricycle, is completed. At just 500 pounds and resembling little more than a box on wheels, the Quadricycle has a top speed of 20 mph.

1899: Ford leaves his position at the Edison Illumination Company to start the Detroit Automobile Company.

1900: Unable to produce vehicles of the necessary quality and economy, the Detroit Automobile Company closes its doors.

1901: Henry Ford’s next original car wins a 10-mile race against a top race-car driver. Ford turns the publicity into positive investor sentiment, raising the money to found the Henry Ford Company as owner and chief engineer.

1902: Henry leaves his chief engineer position at the Henry Ford Company to build a pure race car, the Ford 999.

1903: Henry starts the Ford Motor Company (FMC) and produces its first vehicle, the Model A.

1908: The Ford Motor Company’s second vehicle, the Model T, is offered for sale. The Model T is the culmination of Ford’s desire to build simple, affordable transportation. Demand is so great that the relatively young company struggles to produce enough vehicles.

1913: The Ford Motor Company revolutionizes manufacturing by converting to an assembly line process. Instead of multiple teams building complete Model T vehicles, each team now concentrates on a single part or system. The result is more consistency of output and faster production.

1914: The Ford Motor Company institutes an 8-hour work day, which was a reduction from the previous standard of nine hours. Ford also begins paying its workers $5 per day, a significant pay increase. The reduction in hours slows staff turnover, thereby minimizing the time FMC spends training new workers. The pay raise enables many of Ford’s workers to purchase automobiles of their own.

1914: The Ford Motor Company open its photographic department, dedicated to producing industrial films. Its first release is How Henry Ford Makes One Thousand Cars a Day.

1917: FMC produces its first pickup truck, the Ford Model TT. The vehicle is credited with birthing the American automobile buyer’s love affair with trucks.

1918: FMC’s River Rouge Complex begins producing Eagle-class antisubmarine patrol boats.

1925: FMC begins production of the “Tin Goose,” an all-metal airplane model. Commercial airlines adopt the planes into their fleets.

1927: Seeking to reduce supplier costs, FMC opens rubber plantations in Brazil. Later known as Fordlandia, this industrial village would seek to supply the rubber needed for Ford automobile tires. But FMC management struggles to adapt to the unfamiliar area, and the eventual development of synthetic rubber makes the plants obsolete.

1927: The River Rouge Complex begins producing cars made entirely from FMC-owned raw materials.

December 1927: FMC offers the redesigned Model A for sale. Despite the name, the 1927 Model A does not share parts or its design with the 1903 model.

1928: One of the best-selling automobiles of all time, the Ford Model T, is discontinued. Total sales exceed 15 million vehicles.

1933: Henry Ford launches the Edison Institute, an educational organization designed to inspire people to learn more about history and engineering. The Institute’s most famous creation is the Henry Ford Museum.

1937: FMC security guards attack United Auto Workers members who are distributing pro-union leaflets. Photographs of the event show Ford personnel surrounding and beating women from the UAW auxiliary. Later known as the Battle of the Overpass, the event is a publicity nightmare for Ford.

1941: After fiercely resisting union pressure for higher wages, Ford relents and raises pay rates to some of the highest in the automotive industry. FMC begins producing military vehicles based on the Willys-Overland design.

1943: Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only son, dies of stomach cancer.

1945: Henry Ford suffers multiple cardiovascular events, leaving his health in serious decline. Henry Ford II (Henry’s grandson and Edsel’s son) sells Fordlandia.

1947: Henry Ford dies of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 83. At his public viewing, an estimated 5,000 people per hour file past the casket.

More Information on the Model T Automobile