Ford Model T Blog

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Henry Ford and Labor Unions

Ford was adamantly against labor unions. He explained his views on unions in Chapter 18 of My Life and Work. He thought they were too heavily influenced by some leaders who, despite their ostensible good motives, would end up doing more harm than good for workers. Most wanted to restrict productivity as a means to foster employment, but Ford saw this as self-defeating because, in his view, productivity was necessary for any economic prosperity to exist.

He believed that productivity gains that obviated certain jobs would nevertheless stimulate the larger economy and thus grow new jobs elsewhere, whether within the same corporation or in others. Ford also believed that union leaders (particularly Leninist-leaning ones) had a perverse incentive to foment perpetual socio-economic crisis as a way to maintain their own power. Meanwhile, he believed that smart managers had an incentive to do right by their workers, because doing so would maximize their own profits. (Ford did acknowledge, however, that many managers were basically too bad at managing to understand this fact.) But Ford believed that eventually, if good managers such as he could fend off the attacks of misguided people from both left and right (i.e., both socialists and bad-manager reactionaries), the good managers would create a socio-economic system wherein neither bad management nor bad unions could find enough support to continue existing.

To forestall union activity, Ford promoted Harry Bennett, a former Navy boxer, to head the Service Department. Bennett employed various intimidation tactics to squash union organizing. The most famous incident, in 1937, was a bloody brawl between company security men and organizers that became known as The Battle of the Overpass.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Edsel (who was president of the company) thought Ford had to come to some sort of collective bargaining agreement with the unions, because the violence, work disruptions, and bitter stalemates could not go on forever. But Henry (who still had the final veto in the company on a de facto basis even if not an official one) refused to cooperate. For several years, he kept Bennett in charge of talking to the unions that were trying to organize the Ford company. Sorensen’s memoir makes clear that Henry’s purpose in putting Bennett in charge was to make sure no agreements were ever reached.

The Ford company was the last Detroit automaker to recognize the United Auto Workers union (UAW). A sit-down strike by the UAW union in April 1941 closed the River Rouge Plant. Sorensen recounted that a distraught Henry Ford was very close to following through with a threat to break up the company rather than cooperate but that his wife Clara told him she would leave him if he destroyed the family business. She wanted to see their son and grandsons lead it into the future. Henry complied with his wife’s ultimatum. Overnight, the Ford Motor Co. went from the most stubborn holdout among automakers to the one with the most favorable UAW contract terms. The contract was signed in June 1941.

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Henry Ford and the Five Dollar Work Day

Ford was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism”, designed to improve the lot of his workers and especially to reduce the heavy turnover that had many departments hiring 300 men per year to fill 100 slots. Efficiency meant hiring and keeping the best workers.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($120 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. A Cleveland, Ohio newspaper editorialized that the announcement “shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.” The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs. Ford announced his $5-per-day program on January 5, 1914, raising the minimum daily pay from $2.34 to $5 for qualifying workers. It also set a new, reduced workweek, although the details vary in different accounts. Ford and Crowther in 1922 described it as six 8-hour days, giving a 48-hour week, while in 1926 they described it as five 8-hour days, giving a 40-hour week. (Apparently the program started with Saturdays as workdays and sometime later it was changed to a day off.)

Detroit was already a high-wage city, but competitors were forced to raise wages or lose their best workers. Ford’s policy proved, however, that paying people more would enable Ford workers to afford the cars they were producing and be good for the economy. Ford explained the policy as profit-sharing rather than wages. It may have been Couzens who convinced Ford to adopt the $5 day.

The profit-sharing was offered to employees who had worked at the company for six months or more, and, importantly, conducted their lives in a manner of which Ford’s “Social Department” approved. They frowned on heavy drinking, gambling, and what might today be called “deadbeat dads”. The Social Department used 50 investigators, plus support staff, to maintain employee standards; a large percentage of workers were able to qualify for this “profit-sharing.”

Ford’s incursion into his employees’ private lives was highly controversial, and he soon backed off from the most intrusive aspects. By the time he wrote his 1922 memoir, he spoke of the Social Department and of the private conditions for profit-sharing in the past tense, and admitted that “paternalism has no place in industry. Welfare work that consists in prying into employees’ private concerns is out of date. Men need counsel and men need help, oftentimes special help; and all this ought to be rendered for decency’s sake. But the broad workable plan of investment and participation will do more to solidify industry and strengthen organization than will any social work on the outside. Without changing the principle we have changed the method of payment.”

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Model A and Henry Ford’s Later Career

By 1926, flagging sales of the Model T finally convinced Henry to make a new model. He pursued the project with a great deal of technical expertise in design of the engine, chassis, and other mechanical necessities, while leaving the body design to his son. Edsel also managed to prevail over his father’s initial objections in the inclusion of a sliding-shift transmission.

The result was the successful Ford Model A, introduced in December 1927 and produced through 1931, with a total output of more than 4 million. Subsequently, the Ford company adopted an annual model change system similar to that recently pioneered by its competitor General Motors (and still in use by automakers today). Not until the 1930s did Ford overcome his objection to finance companies, and the Ford-owned Universal Credit Corporation became a major car-financing operation.

Ford did not believe in accountants; he amassed one of the world’s largest fortunes without ever having his company audited under his administration.

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Henry Ford and the Model T

The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908. It had the steering wheel on the left, which every other company soon copied. The entire engine and transmission were enclosed; the four cylinders were cast in a solid block; the suspension used two semi-elliptic springs. The car was very simple to drive, and easy and cheap to repair. It was so cheap at $825 in 1908 ($21,340 today) (the price fell every year) that by the 1920s, a majority of American drivers had learned to drive on the Model T.

Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford’s network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to encourage exploring the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production. Although Ford is often credited with the idea, contemporary sources indicate that the concept and its development came from employees Clarence Avery, Peter E. Martin, Charles E. Sorensen, and C. Harold Wills.

Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000. (Using the consumer price index, this price was equivalent to $7,020 in 2008 dollars.)

By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T’s. However, it was a monolithic black; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model T’s were available in other colors, including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued as late as 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record stood for the next 45 years. This record was achieved in just 19 years from the introduction of the first Model T (1908).

President Woodrow Wilson asked Ford to run as a Democrat for the United States Senate from Michigan in 1918. Although the nation was at war, Ford ran as a peace candidate and a strong supporter of the proposed League of Nations.

Henry Ford turned the presidency of Ford Motor Company over to his son Edsel Ford in December 1918. Henry, however, retained final decision authority and sometimes reversed his son. Henry started another company, Henry Ford and Son, and made a show of taking himself and his best employees to the new company; the goal was to scare the remaining holdout stockholders of the Ford Motor Company to sell their stakes to him before they lost most of their value. (He was determined to have full control over strategic decisions.) The ruse worked, and Henry and Edsel purchased all remaining stock from the other investors, thus giving the family sole ownership of the company.

By the mid-1920s, sales of the Model T began to decline due to rising competition. Other auto makers offered payment plans through which consumers could buy their cars, which usually included more modern mechanical features and styling not available with the Model T. Despite urgings from Edsel, Henry steadfastly refused to incorporate new features into the Model T or to form a customer credit plan.

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

My 1925 Ford Model T at MotorFest, Tuncurry, NSW

So today I took my 1925 Ford Model T along to Midcoast Ford Motorfest in Tuncurry, NSW.

Just over 100 cars attended the event, as well as some motorbikes and trucks.

I was fortunate to be parked next to a rare and beautiful 1908 Fiat 12HP, complete with brass lamps and radiator cowl.

Enjoy the video…

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Henry Ford: Racing

Ford maintained an interest in auto racing from 1901 to 1913 and began his involvement in the sport as both a builder and a driver, later turning the wheel over to hired drivers. He entered stripped-down Model Ts in races, finishing first (although later disqualified) in an “ocean-to-ocean” (across the United States) race in 1909, and setting a one-mile (1.6 km) oval speed record at Detroit Fairgrounds in 1911 with driver Frank Kulick. In 1913, Ford attempted to enter a reworked Model T in the Indianapolis 500 but was told rules required the addition of another 1,000 pounds (450 kg) to the car before it could qualify. Ford dropped out of the race and soon thereafter dropped out of racing permanently, citing dissatisfaction with the sport’s rules, demands on his time by the booming production of the Model Ts, and his low opinion of racing as a worthwhile activity.

Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield (June 3, 1878 – October 4, 1946) was an American automobile racer and pioneer. He was the first man to drive a car at 60 miles per hour (96 km/h) on an oval. His accomplishments led to the expression “Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?”. Oldfield was lent a gasoline-powered bicycle to race at Salt Lake City, which led to a meeting with Henry Ford. Ford had readied two automobiles for racing, and he asked Oldfield if he would like to test one at Ford’s Grosse Pointe track. Oldfield agreed and traveled to Michigan for the trial, but neither car would start. In spite of the fact that Oldfield had still never driven an automobile, he and fellow racing cyclist Tom Cooper purchased both test vehicles when Ford offered to sell them for $800. One of those first vehicles was the famous “No. 999” which debuted in October, 1902 at the Manufacturer’s Challenge Cup. The car can be found today at the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village.

In My Life and Work Ford speaks (briefly) of racing in a rather dismissive tone, as something that is not at all a good measure of automobiles in general. He describes himself as someone who raced only because in the 1890s through 1910s, one had to race because prevailing ignorance held that racing was the way to prove the worth of an automobile. Ford did not agree. But he was determined that as long as this was the definition of success (flawed though the definition was), then his cars would be the best that there were at racing. Throughout the book, he continually returns to ideals such as transportation, production efficiency, affordability, reliability, fuel efficiency, economic prosperity, and the automation of drudgery in farming and industry, but rarely mentions, and rather belittles, the idea of merely going fast from point A to point B.

Nevertheless, Ford did make quite an impact on auto racing during his racing years, and he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996.

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Henry Ford: A Tinkerer In An Emerging Industry

By rights, Henry Ford probably should have been a farmer. He was born in 1863 in Dearborn, Michigan, on the farm operated by his father, an Irishman, and his mother, who was from Dutch stock. Even as a boy, young Henry had an aptitude for inventing and used it to make machines that reduced the drudgery of farm chores. At the age of thirteen, he saw a coal-fired steam engine lumbering along a long rural road, a sight that galvanized his fascination with machines. At sixteen, against the wishes of his father, he left the farm for Detroit, where he found work as a mechanic’s apprentice. Over the next dozen years he advanced steadily, and became chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company.

At twenty-four, Ford married Clara Bryant, a friend of his sister’s; he called her “The Believer,” because she encouraged his plans to build a horseless carriage from their earliest days together. For as Henry Ford oversaw the steam engines and turbines that produced electricity for Detroit Edison, inventors in the U.S. and Europe were adapting such engines to small passenger vehicles. On January 29, 1886, Karl Benz received a patent for a crude gas-fueled car, which he demonstrated later that year on the streets of Mannhelm, Germany. And in 1893, Charles and Frank Duryea, of Springfield, Massachusetts, built the first gas-operated vehicle in the U.S.

In the 1890s, any mechanic with tools, a workbench, and a healthy imagination was a potential titan in the infant industry. Even while continuing his career at Edison, Ford devoted himself to making a working automobile. In 1891, he presented Clara with a design for an internal combustion engine, drawn on the back of a piece of sheet music. Bringing the design to reality was another matter, but on Christmas Eve 1893 he made a successful test of one of his engines, in the kitchen sink.

The engine was merely the heart of the new machine that Ford hoped to build. On weekends and most nights, he could be found in a shed in the back of the family home, building the rest of the car. So great was his obsession that the neighbors called him Crazy Henry. However, at 2:00 A.M. on June 4, 1896, Crazy Henry punched a large hole in the wall of his shed, and emerged at the wheel of an automobile — his automobile. In the weeks that followed, Ford was often seen driving around the streets of Detroit.

Later that year, Ford attended a national meeting of Edison employees. Thomas A. Edison had been Ford’s idol for years. But at the meeting, it was Edison who asked to meet the young inventor, after word got around that the obscure engineer from Detroit had actually built an automobile. “Young man, you have the right idea,” Edison said. “Keep right at it”. Ironically, he was adamant that Ford not waste his time trying to make a car run viably on electricity.

Back in Detroit, Ford showed that he was no mere hobbyist: he sold his prototype for $200. For three years, he watched the new field of automaking develop, and he progressed along with it. In 1899, thirty American manufacturers — most of them based in New England — produced about 2,500 cars. Still, most Americans in the market for automobiles became accustomed to buying imported ones. In 1898, though, the domestic bicycle industry faced an unusual slump and many manufacturers decided to turn to automaking to keep the factories busy.

Offered a senior position and part ownership of a new company, the Detroit Automobile Co., Ford, thirty-six years old, quit the Edison Illuminating Company. Across town, the firm that would become Oldsmobile was launched at the same time. The Detroit Automobile Co. failed, without producing any cars, and Henry Ford was ousted by angry investors. (The firm survived, emerging from reorganization as the Cadillac Motor Car Company.)

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

Ford Model T’s & Car Clubs

Cars built before 1919 are classed as veteran cars and later models as vintage cars. Today, four main clubs exist to support the preservation and restoration of these cars: The Model T Ford Club International, the Model T Ford Club of America and the combined clubs of Australia.

With many chapters of clubs around the world, the Model T Ford Club of Victoria has a membership with a considerable number of uniquely Australian cars. (Australia produced its own car bodies and therefore many differences occurred between the Australian bodied tourers and the US/Canadian cars). In the UK, the Model T Ford Register of Great Britain celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.

Many steel Model T parts are still manufactured today, and even fiberglass replicas of their distinctive bodies are produced, which are popular for T-bucket style hot rods (as immortalized in the Jan and Dean surf music song “Bucket T,” which was later recorded by The Who).

In 2008, there was an around Australia trip organised by various members of the NSW portion of the Combined model T clubs of Australia. Along the trip the members of the club met the likes of Malcolm Douglas and others. The trip lasted just over 6 months, all of this time the members ate, drank and slept in their cars that they had modified for the trip. They left Sydney on 20th, April and made it all the way to Echuca in Victoria for the 100 year anniversary of the Model T Ford. People come from all over Australia, New Zealand and America for the trip to one major city in Australia that is held every 3 years, they stayed for a week in Echuca and participated in various activities organised by the Victoria club and eventually moved on to go home and see their families back in Sydney on the 9th, October 2008.

In The Music Man by Meredith Wilson Model T’s are blamed for changes in society and the life of travelling salesmen. “Why it’s the Model T Ford made the trouble, made the people/ Want to go, want to git, want to git, want to git up and go/ Seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, fourteen, twenty-two, twenty-three miles to the county seat/ Yes Sir Yes Sir/ Who’s gonna patronize a little bitty two-by-four kind of store any more?”

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net

The End of the Ford Model T’s Reign…

On June 4, 1924, the ten millionth Model T Ford left the Highland Park factory, which would remain the main facility for T production. While the flivver outsold its nearest competitor by a six-to-one margin that year, its unbridled run was nearing an unforeseen conclusion. After years of conceding the low end of the market to Ford, another automaker was setting its sights on that very sector.

At the beginning of the decade, General Motors was an awkward conglomerate of car companies and parts suppliers, managed more for the sake of its whipsaw stock-price than for efficiencies in auto making. In the middle of the decade, though, a revitalized GM, under the brilliant leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., began to offer inexpensive Chevrolets with amenities that the Model T lacked. Instead of the sturdy but antiquated planetary transmission, it had a smooth three-speed. The market began to shift; price and value ceased to be paramount factors. Styling and excitement suddenly counted to the customer. Even though the Model T cost a mere $290 in the mid-twenties, dealers clamored for a new Ford that would strike the fancy of the more demanding and sophisticated consumers.

But Henry Ford refused even to consider replacing his beloved Model T. Once, while he was away on vacation, employees built an updated Model T and surprised him with it on his return. Ford responded by kicking in the windshield and stomping on the roof. “We got the message,” one of the employees said later, “As far as he was concerned, the Model T was god and we were to put away false images.” Only one person persisted in warning him of the impending crisis: his son, Edsel, who had been installed as president of the Ford Motor Company during the dividend trial and its aftermath in 1919. It was the first of many arguments that Edsel would lose, as the once adoring relationship between the two deteriorated into distrust and disrespect on Henry’s part and woeful disillusionment on Edsel’s.

The Chevrolet continued to take sales from the dour Model T. By 1926, T sales had plummeted, and the realities of the marketplace finally convinced Henry Ford that the end was at hand.

 On May 25, 1927, Ford abruptly announced the end of production for the Model T, and soon after closed the Highland Park factory for six months. The shutdown was not for retooling: there was no new model in the works. In history’s worst case of product planning, Henry sent the workers home so that he could start to design his next model.

Fortunately, Edsel had been quietly marshalling sketches from the company’s designers, and he was ready and able to work with his father on producing plans for the new car, called the Model A. It was a success from its launch in December 1927, and placed the company on sound footing again. By the time it went into production, the River Rouge had become the main Ford manufacturing facility.

When the last Model T rolled off the assembly line, it was not the end of an era, it was still the very dawn of the one that the little car had inaugurated. Cars — more than half of them Model Ts — pervaded American culture. They jammed the streets of the great eastern cities and roamed newly laid roads in southern California. Adapted to haul everything from mail to machine guns to coffins to schoolchildren, automobiles represented an opportunity for change in practically everything. They also became a crucial factor in recasting a growing economy. Henry Ford had created a car for the multitudes and that car had created the basis of the car culture embraced by every subsequent generation.

The Ford Motor Company, having survived its own crisis in the twenties, was one of only forty-four U.S. automakers left in 1929, out of the hundreds that had entered the fray since the beginning of the century. That year, Ford, General Motors, and the newly formed Chrysler Corporation — known then and now as the Big Three — accounted for 80 percent of the market.

Henry Ford died on April 7, 1947, at the age of eighty-three, having outlived the Model T by nearly twenty years. A century has passed since he took the first car he built for a ride. The world remains in large part the one set into motion by Henry Ford: a world in which cars are for everyone. As Will Rogers said, “It will take a hundred years to tell whether he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn’t leave us where he found us.”

Mitch Taylor

New South Wales, Australia

www.FordModelT.net