Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and the sponsor of the development of the moving assembly line technique of mass production, which has become the foundation to TPS and Lean.
Although Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, but he developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle-class Americans could afford by reducing the production time and labor through his assembly line approach. In 1913, he built the Highland Park Ford Plant, which became the first automobile production facility in the world to implement the moving assembly line.
He is credited with “Fordism,” which is the mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with high wages for workers.
By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. All new cars were black. The development of the assembly line mandated black because of its quicker drying time, which allowed him to produce a Model T in just 93 minutes. Prior to that, Model Ts were available in other colors, including red, but took much longer to produce.
Ford was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism”, designed to help his workers and to reduce the turnover rates. Ford felt that efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers. By offering an astonishing $5 a day wage, he achieved very profitable success, as the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to apply, which raised productivity, and lowered training costs. Paying people more enabled Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing, and he felt it would be good for the local economy. He viewed the increased wages as profit-sharing linked with rewarding those who were most productive and of good character.
In addition to raising the wages of his workers, Ford also introduced a new, reduced workweek in 1926, eventually moving down to six 8-hours days (48 hours), then down to five 8-hour days (the current 40 hours a week schedule). Workers were expected to put more effort into their work in exchange for more leisure time. He believed that leisure time was good for business, since workers would actually have more time to purchase and consume more goods.
Despite the gains for work life balance and good pay, Ford was not a supporter of unions. He refused to go into any agreements with the United Automobile Workers (UAW), and there were numerous incidents of intimidation and violence against union organizers. Eventually he agreed to recognize the UAW in 1941.
Ford, like other automobile companies, entered the aviation business during World War I, building Liberty engines. This was despite the fact that Ford had opposed America’s entry into both World War I and World War II, calling it a “terrible waste.”
Ford was also widely known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, and for promoting antisemitic content, which was used as inspiration for the rise of Nazi Germany. None of the work was apparently written by Ford, but he allowed his name to be used as author in the byline. News reports at the time quoted him as saying he was shocked by the content and unaware of its nature. However, Ford never privately recanted his other antisemitic views. The Wikipedia page has much more detail on this topic.
Once the U.S. entered World War II, Ford directed the Ford Motor Company to construct a vast new purpose-built factory at Willow Run near Detroit, Michigan, which manufactured the first B-24 that came off the line in October 1942.
It was the largest assembly line in the world at the time. At its peak in 1944, the Willow Run plant produced 650 B-24s per month, and by 1945 Ford was completing each B-24 in eighteen hours, with one rolling off the assembly line every 58 minutes. Ford produced 9,000 B-24s at Willow Run, half of the 18,000 total B-24s produced during the war.
The River Rouge plant became the world’s largest industrial complex, pursuing the idea of vertical integration, so it could produce its own steel in order to be able to produce a vehicle from scratch.
He also minimized physical waste with his efficiency methods, more because of the loss of income than love of nature, but he was able to connect improvement to reduced scrap, fuel and timber.
- Thomas Edison
- Benjamin Franklin
- Frederick Taylor
- Biography: Henry Ford TV episode
- How Henry Ford Made the Automobile Affordable for Every American
- My Life and Work
- Today and Tomorrow (Book)
- Today and Tomorrow (Audiobook/MP3 and PDF from Generosity Press)
The Ford Assembly Line of 1919