Few are familiar with the legacy of Henry Ford. They either incorrectly credit him with inventing the assembly line system or the automobile. While both of these innovations have ties to Ford, his true legacy was revolutionizing American culture. Henry Ford’s influence can been seen throughout the automotive and manufacturing industries, as well as in the American lifestyle.
Henry Ford’s Model T was not the first automobile, nor was it the most revolutionary. What set Ford’s automobile apart from the others was the ability of the average citizen to afford one. Ford wanted to make cars that were accessible to all, and reducing costs was his primary goal.
In order to achieve this goal, Ford established a vertical integration program that was revolutionary for its time. The River Rouge plant had the ability to manufacture every part of the car, ranging from glass and rubber to steel. With control over the costs of production, Ford was able to push prices down even further.
Once the parts were manufactured in the company’s production plants, Ford shipped them across the country to be assembled. Not only was it cheaper to ship crates of parts, but it created jobs in other parts of the world, which bolstered the company’s image.
Ford dealerships were established in local communities, where the cars were sold to consumers. Ford’s system became a model for franchises that are still adopted by industries. At the same time, he began building automobile plants in countries around the world that were friendly with the United States. Without anyone to guide him, he pioneered one of the first global corporations.
The assembly line is often incorrectly credited to Henry Ford. In reality, Ford simply adapted the existing system in a new way that jump-started the car industry and that has been applied to everything from fast food to furniture. The assembly line was further used during World War II in order to develop war materials and supplies. Ford’s adaptation of a moving parts assembly line offered him an advantage over his competitors, allowing him to quickly make cars that were affordable to the masses.
The assembly line system also created a demand for new employees. With a moving assembly system, employees did not have to be skilled, which opened the door for farm workers and immigrants to make a livable wage. Manufacturing plants were springing up at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, putting the systems adapted by Ford to work in other industries. His corporation changed the American view of factories, demonstrating that treating workers fairly was not only possible, but advantageous.
Prior to the 1920s, much of American life was centered on a rural lifestyle, with the majority of people working and living on farms. The introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T suddenly opened the country up to a new era of travel and work.
The assembly line system created both a demand for workers and an opportunity for low skilled workers to find good jobs. A dramatic shift from farm to city life began as workers moved in search of employment. The need for workers also helped to accelerate immigration from other countries.
Additionally, Ford began several practices that shaped the way that American culture developed and that are still put into practice today. His cost-saving efforts helped to reduce prices, making the car more affordable for everyone. As the price of the Model dropped (from $825 in 1904 to $290 by 1924), Ford embarked on an advertising campaign that set the standard for car culture today. His efforts paid off, and in 1924, more than half the cars being sold in the United States were Fords.
The increased dependence on cars created a demand for better roads and service stations, necessities that Ford aggressively sought out. He offered financial backing to car clubs that included drives into the countryside.
Furthermore, Ford believed in rewarding his employees, paying his workers much more than the industry standard of that time. In 1924, he doubled salaries and shortened the length of the workday. As a result, he managed to attract some the best and brightest mechanics and technicians around.
The legacy of Henry Ford is a fascinating study of American history and culture. His legacy includes a warning for entrepreneurs who fail to listen to the changing needs of their customers. Ford’s famous remark, “Any color … so long as it is black” was indicative of his inability to change with the times, despite the innovation and vision that originally brought him success. The concepts that Ford began are still widely used and accepted today, and the Ford Motor Company bears witness to his enduring impact on history.