The Founding of Ford

Ford is, in many ways, the quintessential American automaker. It has often stood as a bellwether for the automotive industry as a whole.  Like the company, its founder, Henry Ford, was also an iconic automaker.  In fact, the Ford Motor Company was Ford's second attempt in the business.  In 1899, he founded the Detroit Automobile company which later reorganized as the Henry Ford Company, but Ford eventually left the company with the rights to his name and a small sum of cash.  Moving on, he partnered with a coal dealer named Alexander Malcomson to found Ford and Malcomson. Malcomson left the company by 1906, leaving it as the Ford Motor Company. 

The Model T, Lincoln, and the Great Depression

Ford's major breakthrough was the esteemed Model T, first built in 1908.  The Model T was very much an all-purpose vehicle.  Paved roads were not the norm at the time, so the car needed to be rugged enough to travel over rocky or muddy terrain and could even (pardon the pun) ford a shallow stream. You could modify the Model T into a tractor, or remove a wheel and use the hub to drive a belt to run a water pump, electrical generator, bucksaw, or other piece of equipment.

Ultimately, the Model T isn't remembered as much for what it could do compared to how it was made.  The Model T was built by hand at first, but eventually came to be built on the world's first moving assembly line at Highland Park in Michigan.  This reduced the time to assemble the car's chassis from more than twelve hours to fewer than three, leading to a huge boost in annual output. 

Prior to the assembly line, Model T's were available in red, green, and gray paints.  Ford could only find one paint that dried fast enough for the assembly line process, which lead to Henry Ford's famous quip that "any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." 

By 1920, half of all the cars in US were Model Ts.  Ford was quick to move into international markets.  In 1925, a factory in Yokohama, Japan began manufacturing Model Ts from knock-down kits.  In the 1930s, Ford established a factory in Russia to build a version of the new Model A for military use. 

In 1922 Ford bought the Lincoln Motor Company. In an interesting twist, Lincoln's founder, Henry Leland, was also a key founder of Cadillac, a company whose remnants derived from the Detroit Automobile Company-Ford's original start-up. The purchase was a move that would propel Ford into the line of luxury, and into the thirties lead to some of Ford's greatest automobiles under the direction of Edsel Ford. Such examples could be found in models like the Continental, which had originally been engineered to be Edsel's personal car.

Ford, like other automakers, suffered during the Great Depression and responded to decreased demand with layoffs.  Ford did offer assistance in the form of loans or parcels of land to a small number of the laid-off employees. Even during these hard times, Ford was producing one of its most iconic models: the Model B.  In the post war era, the Model B - in particular 1932 coupes - became sought-after by hot-rodders.  This trend was immortalized in the classic Beach Boy's song "Deuce Coupe."  The 1932 coupe was so popular with hot-rodders that today it's hard to find unmodified examples. 

WWII and a New Era

In 1942, Ford turned from production of passenger cars to producing B-24 bombers for the US military during World War II.  With the use of the assembly line techniques pioneered on the Model T, Ford was able to turn out a new plane every hour. During the war, in 1943, tragedy struck. Henry Ford's son, Edsel Ford, died from stomach cancer. He was known for being the director of the Lincoln division, founder of the Mercury division, and had been President of Ford Motor Company since 1919. Ford would take the reins of his company back, but sadly, Henry Ford lived only a couple years after the war.  At his funeral at Dearborn, Michigan, it is reported that more than 5,000 mourners passed by his casket each hour, a rate which, perhaps, the pioneer of the assembly line could have appreciated. 

Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, became President of Ford in 1945. He was 28 years old. It dawned a new era, and one which lead Ford to the top where it was known for its innovation and dominant cars. This all started in 1948 when Ford introduced the F-series pickup truck, which would go on to become one of its most popular models, the F-150.  In the prosperous 1950s consumers were looking for more powerful cars.  This was the era when the hot-rodders were making the Deuce Coupe famous and Chevrolet had just introduced the Corvette.  There was also a new demand for luxury cars. 

The Birth of the Muscle Car

Ford created a luxury car, which, like the Corvette, was a two-seater with powerful V8 engine: the Thunderbird.  The Thunderbird could reach speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.  Neither strictly a sports car nor a luxury car, it was categorized in a class of its own: the personal luxury car.  It would later be joined in that class by cars like the Cadillac Eldorado and the Buick Riviera.  Over time, the Thunderbird moved more towards being a luxury vehicle.  Ford head Robert MacNamara (later President Kennedy's Secretary of Defense) thought that making the Thunderbird a four-seater would increase the sales market.  In 1971, the Neiman Marcus catalogue listed a pair of "his and hers" Thunderbirds with such amenities as tape recorders and telephones.  Later Thunderbird models did have some racing success, though, being used in NASCAR from 1977 to 1997.  The Thunderbird, like the Deuce Coupe, was also immortalized with a mention in a Beach Boys song, titled "Fun, Fun, Fun." 

Following up on the Thunderbird, Ford released another sporty car that was to be the prototype of a class all its own.  In late 1964 Ford introduced the Mustang.  It was a smash hit and the first of a set of affordable sporty cars with long hoods and short cabins-such as the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Plymouth Barracuda.  In honor of the Mustang, this style of small sporty two-doors is today known as the pony car. Early designs were two-seaters, but in the end, the decision was made that, like with the Thunderbird, it would be better as a four-seater model. 

The Mustang was officially introduced at a Grand Prix race in upstate New York, where a Formula One driver took it around the track in a time only slightly off the pace of the F1 cars that had raced earlier. It was awarded the Tiffany Gold Medal for excellence in American design in 1965.  It was the first car to win the award.  With its performance pedigree and stylish appearance, it's no surprise that the Mustang quickly became an iconic car, appearing in the James Bond film Goldfinger in 1964 and in 1974's Gone in 60 Seconds.  It was also featured in the 2000 remake of the latter film. 

In the eighties, the Mustang shrank to a smaller more economical car, which became the trend for other Fords like the Taurus and Focus.  It was, however, a successful trend.  The Mustang was on the Car and Driver Ten Best list in 1983, 1987, and 1988. 

A New Class: The Taurus, The SUV, and Near Bankruptcy

Ford has been known for spearheading many advancements on the automobile since its inception. The Model T was the first affordable model, the Mustang was the first pony car, and the Taurus was known for its aerodynamic "jelly bean" shape that changed the conventional car. First introduced for the 1986 model year, the front-wheel drive Taurus grabbed everybody's eye, and at first Ford executives were a little worried about how it would fair with the public. Its oval shape and grille-less front end was so radical it stuck out like a sore thumb in a world full of boxy cars. But, as time progressed, more models began to shape themselves after it, which ultimately changed the shape of the modern car. It came with a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine, but many opted for the 3.0-liter V6, which boosted its popularity, and eventually lead to the Taurus becoming the best-selling car in the U.S. from 1992 to 1996.

On the larger end of the vehicle spectrum, the Ford Explorer helped popularize Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV), and the F-series truck continued to win awards left and right—including Motor Trend's Truck of the Year Award in 2009 and an Automotive Excellence Award in the Workhorse Category from Popular Mechanics. 

Ford decided then decided to move ahead with a restructuring plan. The plan to do so was named The Way Forward.  Ford sold off foreign brands it owned, including Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, as well as a 20% share in Mazda.  Although Ford originally intended to maintain the Mercury brand, it closed Mercury in 2010.

 

Ford Today

While the Ford Motor Company is arguably the most recognizable automotive brand in the United States, it stands today as the tenth largest US-owned company in any industry, according to the Fortune 500 list.  It is also the third largest automaker in the world in terms of profit according to Forbes. Ford has also expanded its reach across the world, effectively globalizing the company. Many of their models can be found driving the streets of China, as well as many European countries like the United Kingdom.  Its F-Series models are still strong, as well as models such as the Mustang and Taurus.  It's also broken into the electric motor market with their Ford Focus hybrid which can reach up to 110 MPGe. Henry Ford's family still owns a minority interest of special stock which allows it to run the company.  It is one of the largest family-run corporations in the world.  

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