Why Did It Take Henry Ford 40 Years To Sell His First Car

Henry’s father William Ford crossed the Atlantic from Ireland, his destination Dearborn, Michigan, where two uncles had settled in 15 years ago. He worked as a carpenter for the Michigan Central Railroad. After working for 11 years he bought half his father’s land for $600. He then met Mary and on July 30, 1863, Mary gave birth to Henry, their second child sadly their first child died during delivery.

Henry’s always loved birds his love was genuine and lasted a lifetime. One day Henry was caught lying to his mother, and she ignored him for a day. Henry was ashamed as he puts it shame cuts more deeply than a whip. Henry’s first day at school was when he was 7, sharing his desk with Edsel Ruddiman. In 1876 Mary Ford passed away at the age of 37, Henry was 12 at the time. For a person who used to spend time under a shade, became even quieter, keeping everything to himself. One day as Henry was walking back home, he saw a self-propelled steam engine. When he finally did get home he immediately set about replicating what he saw, this would be Henry’s first experiment in designing a practical machine running on its own.

In 1879 Henry left school and got his first job paying him $1.10 a day. Unfortunately, he was after only a week, because he was “too good at his job”, his manager was embarrassed and fired him. He said that he learned a valuable lesson “I learned then not to tell all you know”. His second job was shaping hexagons on brass valves, making $2.00 a week. He worked there for about 9 months and then moved onto Detrio Dry Dock Engine Works for $2/week. Then in 1882, Henry would move back to Dearborn for nine months. On Henry’s 21st birthday he got a gift from his father, 40 acres of land. Later that year, Henry decided to take courses at a college on bookkeeping, mechanical drawings, and business practices. In Henry’s free time he would read technical magazines and do experiments of steam and gas engines.

Now, Henry had met Clara, two months after meeting they were engaged and on April 11 1887 they were married. They lived at the farm before they moved out to a house Henry had built. In 1891 Henry spoke with Clara about getting a job at Edison Illuminating Company to help him understand the science of electricity. He told Clara that he wanted to build a road vehicle and it was important that he joined the company and learned about electrical components. They decided to move to Detroit and had their first child, Edsel Bryand Ford. Within days of his birth, Henry was given a raise of $40 per week. Henry was 30 now and still had the dream of building his own road vehicle. Henry bought a bike in 1893, as he never did like horses. Bikes were getting popular, and the bylaws decided to redesign roads to make them safer. The redesigning gave investors a chance to think of ways to develop a self-propelled vehicle. Designing a motor car was not an easy task, a lot of factors were to be considered, such as a mechanic, Machinist, Blacksmith, engineer scientist.

In 1893 the first gasoline-powered buggy was build in the United States. Two years later there were 300 vehicles were on the road. It was this time when Detroit free press had an article titled “The first horseless carriage seen in this city was out on the street last night” It weight 1300 pounds and had a speed of 6 miles per hour. The newspaper reported every detail about the test run, they did, however, miss one little detail, one man who was following these cars around on his Bicycle; Henry Ford.

Henry wanted to design something that was lightweight, had less fuel consumption, was reliable, and something that was simple to operate. While working at the Edison Company Henry would visit a friend’s shop that was behind Edison’s company, and work on designing an engine. After working for about 6 weeks’ time, he had built a little engine, and on Christmas Eve of 1893, Henry and his wife Clara successfully tested out the engine in their kitchen. With the engine success, a man named Charles King also joined Henry and brought along with his assistant, Oliver. The end product was a 500 pounds quadricycle that had no reverse, and there were no brakes. Their first run as Henry recalls it was on a rainy day, his wife was holding a clock and Jim was riding a bicycle in front of the quadricycle to warn other drivers of Henry test run. On the way, they discovered that one of the ignitions has failed and after repairing it they came back home and slept for a while.

Now that Henry had something to show for, he met Edison during a banquet and drew his vehicle on a menu showing Edison how it operates. Edison thought Henry had the right idea and that Henry should pursue it. His words of encouragement were all Henry needed, he came back home and sold his quadricycle for $200 and went to build an improved version.

Among many of his followers, one of whom was Mayor William Maybury, and old family friend. The mayor’s social connection helped Henry raise $15,000. After spending 9 years with Edison Henry Ford walked away from his $140 per month job to concentrate on automaking. With the 15,000, Henry started the Detroit Automobile Company, but instead of manufacturing the prototype that Henry had designed, they introduced a slab-sided delivery truck. The orders started to come in by the were unfulfilled, after 15 months of operating they had nothing to show except for some assembled truck and an operating loss of $86,000. Henry would disappear for hours, he told one of the shop employees that if investors were to ask for him tell them that “I had to go out of town”. The company was going nowhere and had to shut down.

Henry started to share expenses with his father who moved into the house in Detriot. It was during this time when Henry got himself into building a race car, on Oct 10, 1901. Henry took part in a 10-mile race. The winner of the race would receive $1000. As it turned out only 3 cars made it to the track, one of which had to be disqualified due to a leaking cylinder. The track was set for 2 cars, a favorite Alexander Winton and a local farm boy Henry Ford. Henry gets to the starting line with his $5000 racers, despite having much of the crowd behind him, Henry was nervous, this was his first race. Alexander had a powerful start that left Henry trailing behind for the first few laps, Henry managed to close the gap on straight ways. Then came the 7th lap where Alexander’s car started to overheat and Henry crossed him and stayed ahead proving that his car was not only reliable but also faster. That race brought him more investors, which helped Henry build another company-Henry Ford Company.

After the race, Henry was in the mood of building a racer. On March 10, 1902, less than four months into the new company, Henry left with $900 and his drawings. Henry went to his friend’s workshop and started to work on his plans, that race that he took part in was also seen by a world champion bicycle racer Tom Cooper, who decided to finance his venture. The end result was a car 10 feet long, 5 feet wide with a 36-inch tires car. Their plan was to go around the country and participate in races But neither of the men wanted to drive in an actual race. For this, they brought in Barney Oldfield. After a week of lessons, they entered their first race with the 999 which also included Winton’s with a machine called “bullet”. Oldfield finishes the race in 5min and 28 seconds.

After winning Henry started to work on a passenger car, under the company Ford and Malcolmson Ltd, later the firm was changed into-Ford Motor company. Alexandar Malcolmson was a leading coal merchant who agreed to provide $7000 to build a car on Ford design. Soon more money was needed Malcolmson was already in debt and he couldn’t give any more, banks were avoiding automakers. The only option was to approach stockholders but that was not easy as pretty much ever wealthy stockholder had tried Ford. After much looking Malcolmson was able to get 12 investors on board.

Ford started to work on the new design, in 1903 Ford motor company was down to its last $223.65 and hadn’t sold a car. But then a dentist paid $850 for a model A, and this was their first sale. At the time Henry was 40 and celebrated his historic transaction, the first of many. In nine-month, they sold 658 Model A’s, which was a sparkling return of 350%. For marketing purposes, they kept on racing. One of Henry’s investors was a school teacher, who lend Henry $100, in 16 years she sold her share back to Ford for $355,000. Ford motor company was considered the greatest industrial empire in the world.

On Henry’s last day, he had breakfast, visited Engineering Laboratory, the administration building, the catholic cemetery where he visited his friends and family's burial grounds; maybe he knew that he will be joining them soon. That day he came back and during his sleep left the world. He was 83, the man who had changed the automobile industry once said “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. Two days later 1000 people lined up to pay respect to the most influential industrials in his time. With all the help Henry’s had, there is one person who was by his side all the time, Clara. He passed away in her arms.

The article was written with help from a book called- Henry and Edsel By Richard Bak. Do check it out..

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