A Brief History
On March 16, 1958, the 50 millionth Ford automobile rolled off the assembly line, a shiny new Thunderbird!
Henry Ford, who did not actually invent the automobile, certainly is the man most responsible for making it what it is today. Ford’s first attempt at a car company, The Henry Ford Company, became the Cadillac Motor Company after Ford left that business in 1902. In 1903, Ford formed the Ford Motor Company with the help of investors impressed by his success racing cars (which included the Dodge brothers that ended up starting their own namesake car company). At that time in history, car racing was the most persuasive method to convince customers of a car’s reliability and value.
Developing the moving assembly line and designing his cars to be as cheap and easily assembled as possible allowed Ford to mass produce his Model T at an affordable price ($250 at its lowest) which resulted in massive sales. It has been estimated that half of all cars that had been built in the world before 1920 were built by Ford (per Spartacus Educational), and through the 1920’s Ford made about half of all the cars sold in the US.
Ford’s personality had its drawbacks which ultimately hurt sales and market share, such as his insistence that all his cars would be painted black. Obviously, plenty of potential customers thought otherwise. Ford was also a virulent anti-Jewish hate monger that blamed Jews (international bankers supposedly) for fomenting World War I and World War II! Ford even refused to manufacture airplane engines for Britain early in World War II although he was happy to build trucks for Hitler’s Germany!
Hitler kept a photo of Henry Ford on his desk! (See here for more facts about Adolf Hitler) Ford’s manufacturing plant making trucks for Germany used French POW’s as slave labor! Ford had suffered minor strokes in the 1930’s and during World War II it became obvious his mental faculties were declining. His grandson, Henry Ford II took over Ford Motor Company, and Ford died in 1947, a broken man.
Ford Motor Company did produce massive numbers of airplanes, jeeps and other products in support of the war effort once the US entered the war, although Ford believed the proper course would be for the US to ally itself with Germany and Britain against the Soviets and Japanese.
Ford Motor Company today is the 5th largest selling car brand in the world, and second in the US. The Ford Focus is the biggest selling car, and the Ford F-150 pick up truck is the largest selling vehicle in the world. Certainly notable, but a far cry from the heady days of 1913-1930 when Ford ruled the automobile world. In 2013 Ford sold about two and a half million cars in the US alone, and when you consider some of the car companies that have gone out of business just since 1950, that is not that bad! (Some defunct car nameplates since 1950 include: Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, Plymouth, Mercury, Studebaker, Nash, Packard, Checker, American Motors, Kaiser, Sterling, Bricklin, DeLorean Triumph, Saab, International Harvester, DeSoto, Hummer, and Hudson.)
Question for students (and subscribers): What bygone cars do you miss? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please read…
Wallace, Max. The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004.
Woeste, Victoria Saker. Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech. Stanford University Press, 2012.