Ford Motor Company - Business in United States of America
Identification: Major U.S. automobile manufacturer
Date: Founded on June 17, 1903
Significance: The first successful mass-production automaker, Ford Motor Company introduced a number of manufacturing and sales techniques that revolutionized production and sales of automobiles worldwide.
When Henry Ford and a group of investors incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, they began a transportation revolution. An automobile enthusiast who began building prototypes in 1896, Ford had grandiose plans for the company. His vision was to build cars that would be inexpensive but reliable and easy to maintain, allowing him to build a large and loyal customer base. To promote sales, Ford created a system for franchising dealerships. The introduction of the inexpensive Model T in 1908 launched Ford into the top position among car manufacturers, a ranking it held for more than two decades. By the time production of the Model T ended in 1927, Ford had sold 15 million of the cars. Ford began producing trucks in 1908 and quickly became a national leader in that market as well. In 1919, Ford bought out the other investors, making the company a truly family-owned business.
Perhaps Ford’s most important innovation was the establishment of the moving assembly line in 1913, improving efficiency and increasing worker productivity. Ford was also the first international automobile company, establishing a plant in Canada in 1904 and in various European cities within a decade. The company revolutionized labor practices by increasing wages, introducing the eight-hour workday and five day workweek. During the Great Depression, however, Ford instituted harsh business practices, and the company resisted unionization of its workforce until 1941. During World War II, the company transferred much of its production capacity to manufacturing Jeeps and aircraft, but after hostilities ceased, it returned to full-scale automating.
In the three decades following the war, Ford was comfortably situated among America’s Big Three automakers, ranking second to General Motors and ahead of Chrysler. Over the years, Ford diversified its offerings by creating the Mercury line of midpriced vehicles and purchasing or gaining controlling interest in other companies, including Lincoln, Opel, Mazda, Volvo, Land Rover, and Jaguar. Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, Ford has had mixed success in attracting buyers to new brands, scoring a hit with its Thunderbird in 1954 and Mustang in 1964 but failing with the Edsel in 1958. As the price of gasoline began to rise steadily during the 1970’s and more Americans began purchasing Japanese and European cars, largely because they obtained better gas mileage, Ford began to lose market share. Ford introduced the very popular Taurus in 1985, but during the 1990’s, it decided to capitalize on popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) among American consumers. This, however, led to financial difficulties when customers began turning away from these vehicles after 2001. Consequently, Ford was forced to undergo a radical restructuring that included sell-offs of some brands and drastic reductions in the workforce. Although Ford joined Chrysler and General Motors in appealing to the federal government for financial help in October, 2008, its efforts at restructuring meant that it was in better financial shape than the other two automakers and was not expected to use any of the $17.4 billion in emergency loans that President George W. Bush made available to the Big Three in return for major concessions on December 19.
Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003. New York: Viking, 2003.
Magee, David. Ford Tough: Bill Ford and the Battle to Rebuild America’s Automaker. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
Marquis, Samuel S. Henry Ford: An Interpretation. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2007.
See also: automotive industry; Chrysler bailout of 1979; labor history.
Chrysler bailout of 1979