This Day In History: Ford Motor Company Founded

Some of the biggest influences within the automotive realm have some of the most humble beginnings. Such is the case with the Ford Motor Company. It was 117 years ago today, on June 16, 1903, Henry Ford incorporated the company that would carry his name.

There is no denying the influence Ford’s automobiles would have on society over the past 100-plus years, but that wasn’t the story at the beginning. Like almost all upstarts, Henry had to work to not only create an automobile, but he had to work his magic to make the public want it. Of course, we’ve all heard the quote, “What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday!” And of course, in an age where the world was transitioning from hooves to internal combustion horsepower, that saying still holds true.

Ford and his Quadricycle in New York City. (Photo: TheHenryFord.org)

Ford’s first “auto” was a little bit more than a somewhat stable bicycle, called the Quadricycle, in 1896. It rolled on four bicycle wheels and was powered by a four-horsepower engine. Instead of the typical steering wheel that we are accustomed to today, the Quadricycle used a tiller to steer. Not bad when your maximum speed is only 20 miles per hour out of its two-speed transmission.

The Quadricycle’s frame was made out of angle iron and a drive belt and chain constituted the transmission. Henry sold the Quadricycle for $200, using the funds to finance his second car,

Going Into Production

Ford pressed on to continue building more cars and secured the financial help of investors over the next few years and together, in 1899, they formed the Detroit Automobile Company, which would later be called the Henry Ford Company. As investors sought a return on their investments and Henry sought to build the best car, disputes over the expediency of bringing a car to market soon drove a wedge between the two ideologies. Henry left the company, which was then renamed the Cadillac Motor Car Company.

The very next year, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated. In an interesting twist, the car that would begin production and fill the gap between the Quadricycle and the pivotal moment of the Model T would be called the Model A. The car was powered by a twin-cylinder, four horsepower engine and only a few cars were hand-assembled per day, using parts acquired by other companies.

The Model T is what put Ford Motor Company on the globe, so to speak, thanks to the car's design, and Henry's use of numerous time-saving assembly techniques throughout the car's assembly. (Photos: Ford)

While the Model T was a ground-shifting moment for the automobile and the people who would own them, the techniques to build them were equally pivotal. The use of interchangeable parts and an assembly line meant that Ford could now better fulfill the nation’s insatiable appetite for motorcars. That also included the help of various suppliers to keep the assembly lines running.

Horace and John Dodge had been doing just that for Ford for over ten years. The two had been supplying engines for Ford and invested heavily in Henry’s company, with John Dodge eventually working his way up to Vice-President of Ford Motor Company. The brothers separated from Ford after a legal battle and began building cars under their own name – known as The Dodge Brothers Motor Company. Reportedly, Henry Ford bought out the investors for $25 million.

Ford’s River Rouge Plant was a massive endeavor where raw materials were carried in one end and completed cars were driven out the other side. To give an idea of the scale of the facility, reportedly, the foundry could cast over 10,000 Model T blocks a day! (Photo: Ford)

By 1918, one-half of all cars in America were Model Ts and by May 26, 1927, Ford had produced 15 million Model Ts! Ford closed its plants in preparation to build the next iteration of Ford, dubbed the Model A, to commemorate the T’s predecessor’s role in building the company.

Performance Leads The Way!

It goes without saying those with the most performance will lead the way. Much to the joy of hot-rodders and traditional hot rod enthusiasts, Ford put the company into that position with the introduction of the flathead V-8.

The performance of the flathead Ford V-8 engine is well written throughout history. So much so, that Chevrolet’s own Zora Arkus-Duntov used the flathead’s performance and endearment among the youth of the day to encourage the Bowtie crowd, especially Chevrolet Motors Director of R&D, Maurice Olley, to infuse V8 performance into the Corvette. His letter resides within the National Corvette Museum as a testament to the responsibility the letter bears to Corvette’s performance and even, its existence.

This corporate letter, penned by Chevrolet’s Zora Arkus-Duntov, extols the necessity for Corvette to implement the V8 engine design to improve the car’s performance. Zora notes the availability of hop-up parts for Ford’s V8 and the extant youth’s endearment to the Ford engine because of it. (Photo: Corvette Forum)

The milestones we enjoy thanks to the Ford Motor Company’s efforts were space very widely-apart when the company was first incorporated on this day back in 1903, and its history has shown the benefits of not giving up, the value of using your resources wisely (both natural and personal), and the unmistakable benefit of being at the right place, at the right time.

Who knows what the automotive landscape might have looked like had Henry not formed a company that would bear his name? As noted, the creation of the company has influenced various other entities within the automotive realm, some in their creation, and others by encouraging them to build a better car. Either way – we – their customers, are the benefactors. And it all took place this day more than a century ago.

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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