The Ford Motor Company started with a simple goal to make automobiles affordable and accessible to the average person. Little did Ford’s founder, Henry Ford, know that his company would come to be one of the most successful and recognizable automotive brands in the world.
Over its 118 year history, the Ford Motor Company has led the way in innovative technologies and leading business practices.
Important stats to know about The Ford Motor Company:
The Ford Motor Company has a long history that was inspired by Henry Ford, an Irish immigrant to the United States. Ford realized that the world’s transportation needs were quickly changing at the turn of the 20th century. His first attempt to design and build an automobile was in 1896 when he created his first vehicle — the quadricycle. The vehicle had a simple design with a bench seat for two passengers, a four-horsepower engine, bicycle wheels, and a gearbox with two speeds (but no reverse).
Henry Ford on his “quadricycle”
In November of 1901, Henry Ford joined the Detroit Automobile Company, a car manufacturing company, but his time there was short-lived. He left the company the following year. This company went on to become the Cadillac Motor Company (which was later purchased by General Motors).
The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903 when Henry Ford used $28,000 of investor money (about $800,000 in today’s money) to open a manufacturing facility. One of the early investors was John and Horace Dodge who would go on to create their own car manufacturing company. Because investors feared that Ford would leave the company like he did the Detroit Automobile Company, a local banker, John S. Gray was chosen as the first president.
Henry Ford did eventually become president and controlling owner of the company in 1906. Ford was directly responsible for the early success of the company including the popular Model T and innovative assembly line processes. He held this position until 1919 when his son, Edsel Ford, took over as company president.
Edsel Ford was an artist and led the company to change the design of cars from practicality to visually appealing. The newly designed Ford vehicles were a hit with consumers all over the world. Edsel Ford died in 1943 and Henry Ford took back over as president of the company since Edsel was his only son.
Two years later, Edsel’s son, Henry Ford II took over as president and served from 1945 to 1960. The company had grown exponentially prior to his leadership. Henry Ford II worked diligently to solve many problems that plagued the organization. The bookkeeping was a mess and work processes needed to be heavily refined. Henry Ford II took it upon himself to transform the company into the polished and disciplined brand that it is today.
After a long run as a private (and mostly family-owned company), the Ford Motor Company went public in 1956. Traded under the NYSE stock ticker “F”, the IPO (initial public offering) for Ford was the largest IPO in history at the time ($657 million worth of stock sold - $28.5 billion in today’s dollars).
In the early years, the Ford Motor Company had a lot of competition. In fact, in 1920, there were approximately 200 car manufacturers in the United States. The largest companies that Ford was up against included General Motors and Chrysler. General Motors had many brands that proved formidable competitors including Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac. While the competition remained fierce, many of the early car manufacturers went out of business. By 1940, only 17 car manufactures remained.
The Ford Motor Company owes much of its success to its expansion into international markets. The company was quick to do this shortly after its inception. The first international manufacturing facility was opened in Walkerville (now Windsor), Ontario in 1904. This was built directly across the Detroit River from Ford’s other manufacturing facilities at the time. The Ford Motor Company of Canada was established as a separate company with its own shareholders with the mission to sell Ford vehicles in Canada and other parts of the British Empire.
By 1908, Ford opened its first sales office outside of North America in Paris, France. Shortly after, Ford opened assembly plants across Europe between the years 1917 and 1925 in Ireland, England, France, Denmark, Germany, and Austria. In 1924 and 1925, Ford expanded into South America (Argentina), Asia (Japan), Africa (South Africa), and Australia.
In 1929, the Ford Motor Company was contracted to set up the Gorky Automobile Plant in Russia which produced the Model A and AA. This helped to further industrialize the country.
One of the most impactful reasons for Ford’s early success was the way they manufactured their vehicles. In the early years, the Ford factory produced a handful of cars each day by assigning 2-3 men to work on a car at a time. The car was built from start to finish. This was the normal manufacturing process of other car companies at the time.
By 1913, Henry Ford created a new approach to manufacturing by introducing the first moving automobile assembly line where cars would move down the assembly line. Workers would be assigned one or two steps that they would perform over and over. This helped workers become better at their assigned tasks. Cars were produced at a much faster pace. This reduced the production time from 12.5 hours for a Model T to just 1.5 hours. With decreased production times, this new method drove down the cost making cars even more accessible for the average American.
Factory worker assembling a Model T on Ford’s moving assembly line
The moving assembly line isn’t the only manufacturing innovation that the Ford Motor Company has developed. In 1986, the Ford Motor Company introduced automated assembly for some subassembly tasks using robots. This process was initially tested in Ford’s St Louis facility and was a major success. This type of manufacturing is now used at most Ford plants today.
The Ford Motor Company has a long history of embracing industry-leading policies in relation to its workforce. Henry Ford understood that in order to remain competitive and producing cutting-edge technology, the company needed to employ the best and the brightest. The monotonous and strenuous work of the moving assembly line created new problems for Ford with an increase in high turnover.
In 1914, Ford responded by making a move that shocked the public and landed him on the front page of newspapers all over the country. The Ford Motor Company instituted a $5 workday doubling the existing rate of pay of assembly line workers. In addition, Ford reduced the workday from nine to eight hours allowing for the plant to run three equal length shifts (prior to that, the facility only ran two shifts).
The most significant impact of this change was that the average assembly line worker at Ford could afford to purchase an automobile for their own families. The increased mobility, wages, and leisure time inspired a movement across the country. Many other companies began to follow suit giving the Ford Motor Company credit for the creation of the American middle class.
After the World Wars, the Ford Motor Company made significant efforts to employ many of the veterans who had returned home with disabilities. This move made the Ford Motor Company one of the first to hire workers with physical disabilities. At the time, most companies only hired able-bodied workers. Instead, Ford took a different approach. They not only hired these workers but created work environments that were modified to accommodate those with special needs.
In 1941, Ford signed a contract with the UAW-CIO (United Auto Workers-Congress of Industrial Organizations) labor union. This contract helped drive better pay, benefits, and working conditions for Ford employees.
Henry Ford understood that the transportation industry wouldn’t just expand on the ground. He recognized that air travel would become commonplace in the modern world. In 1925, the Ford Motor Company created its own airplane design. Between 1925 and 1933, the company manufactured and sold nearly 200 Ford Tri-Motor airplanes (nicknamed the Tin Goose). This model of plane was used by early commercial airlines in the United States.
To help encourage further development of the industry, the Ford Motor Company provided 35 of the plane’s patents royalty-free including its navigation system (the navigational radio beam). This allowed other companies in the space to further develop aviation technology.
Automobile manufacturing plants were easy to convert into facilities to produce other types of vehicles. In 1918, Ford’s River Rouge Complex began producing anti-submarine patrol boats, cars, ambulances, trucks, tractors, tanks, and airplane engines that would be supplied to Allied troops. As the war came to an end, Ford moved production back to civilian vehicles.
Unfortunately, peace only lasted a couple of decades. As tensions began to churn again in the early 1940s, the US government began ordering jeeps from the Ford Motor Company. The word “jeep” came from the acronym “GP” which stood for “General Purpose”.
By 1942, Ford once again halted civilian production of automobiles to support the war effort of World War II. The Ford Motor Company worked with Charles Lindberg, the infamous trans-Atlantic pilot, on the construction of more than 8,000 B-24 Liberator bombers.
In 1944, Rose Will Monroe was working as a rivet gun operator at Ford’s Willow Run facility. She was chosen to serve as the icon to promote the sale of bonds to support the war effort. Her fictional character “Rosie the Riveter” was featured on the iconic “We Can Do It!” posters all across the country. The campaign was a success and is noted as one of the most iconic images from the era.
The Ford Motor Company has had many major successes in its development of popular, cutting-edge vehicles over its nearly 120-year history. Some of these models have consistently held records for their high sales numbers and groundbreaking innovations.
Lincoln Motor Company was created in 1917 as a luxury car manufacturer. The Ford Motor Company began feeling the pressure of competition from luxury brands like Cadillac and Packard. In September of 1922, Ford purchased the Lincoln Motor Company for $8 million (over $123 million today). Today, Lincoln focuses on a small number of models of luxury full-size sedans and SUVs.
The flagship automobile of Lincoln, the Continental was extremely popular throughout the history of the company. It has been reintroduced and discontinued several times, most recently from 2017 to 2020.
In 1939, under the direction of Edsel Ford, the Ford Motor Company created the Mercury brand. This was intended to compete with General Motors who produced several mid-priced vehicles including Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick. Mercury was the perfect solution to bridge the gap between the affordable Ford brand and high-end Lincoln cars.
In 2011, after 82 years of operation, Ford announced the decision to end the production of Mercury vehicles. The company decided to put more focus on the Ford and Lincoln brands.
The Ford Motor Company has been very successful in many of its ventures. However, the Edsel brand turned out to be a costly disaster. Created in 1956 to help the company gain market share from Chrysler and General Motors, Edsel was hyped as the “car of the future”. Despite millions of dollars poured into fancy marketing campaigns, the final product left much to be desired for the consumer.
There were numerous complaints about the cars being unattractive and having poor quality craftsmanship. One example was the Teletouch transmission selector, which was a series of buttons placed at the center of the steering wheel to change gears. This odd placement confused drivers and was difficult to operate. In order to move the transmission from park to drive, the operator had to shift from park, to reverse, to neutral, and then drive. The transmission motor also didn’t work well on hills requiring drivers to use the parking brake instead of putting the vehicle in park.
A scathing article published in a 1958 edition of Popular Mechanics highlighted many of the issues that drivers were reporting including poor welding, power steering failure, a leaking trunk, and a faulty odometer.
After taking a loss of $250 million ($2.2 billion today), the Ford Motor Company chose to discontinue the brand after only three years in 1959.
Rivian is an American electric vehicle manufacturer founded in 2009. With the rise of electric vehicles, the Ford Motor Company made a brief investment of $500 million into the brand in 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company decided to terminate the contract. They have decided to maintain their relationship with Rivian for future potential partnerships, but in the meantime, have shifted those resources to the Lincoln Motors brand.
The Ford Motor Company had a hand in creating many new products and innovations throughout its history. In addition to new technologies, Ford also played a part in the creation of new industries and historic events such as the moon landing. The Ford Motor Company created its own scientific laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan in 1951 to perform experiments and research for technology and scientific breakthroughs that could be used both inside and outside the automobile industry.
In 1932, Ford created the first commercially successful V8 engine. This was a hit as American’s became more interested in automobiles with powerful engines. This engine is still popular today with hot rod enthusiasts.
Early automobiles had a reputation for being unsafe. Ford recognized this and decided to put a focus on reducing automobile accidents and injuries to help change consumer perception. In 1954, the company began performing crash tests to measure the effectiveness of designs and safety features. Since then, Ford has performed more than 31,000 crash tests around the world. In recent years, Ford has begun using computer-simulated tests in tandem with physical crash tests. This has significantly improved the company’s data and insight on safety testing.
From 1961 to 1974, Ford owned Philco, a consumer electronics company. Philco was responsible for designing, building, and equipping NASA’s mission control during the Apollo and Gemini space programs. The company also launched a series of communications satellites, many of which still provide data and telecommunications access today.
In 1970, Ford introduced the three-point, self-adjusting lap, and shoulder seat belts into its vehicles as a standard safety feature.
The 21st Century has posed many challenges for the Ford Motor Company including the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, to name a few. The Ford Motor Company unveiled a new strategic plan at the end of 2020 (called “The Plan”) that will revitalize the company by modernizing how it operates, simplify processes, and explore new opportunities for growth.
The Ford Motor Company intends to focus on the development of electric vehicles to become the only automobile manufacturer to reduce CO2 emissions according to the Paris Climate Agreement. Their goal is to become entirely carbon neutral by the year 2050. To accomplish this, major investments in sustainable technology will need to be made. Between now and 2025, Ford plans to invest $22 billion in designing electric-powered vehicles and a network of charging stations around the country.
In some cases, the company will simply electrify its existing popular models. For example, the all-electric Mustang Mach-E is capable of the power and speed of a traditional Mustang. In late, 2021 Ford will begin selling the E-Transit van for commercial use. By 2022, an electric truck, the F-150 Lightning will go to market.
From a sustainability standpoint, the company wants to tackle an impressive list of environmentally friendly milestones. Its mission is to contribute to 11 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). These goals include moving all manufacturing to renewable energy by the year 2035, replacing all plastic vehicle parts with 100% recycled materials, and eliminating all single-use plastics from its manufacturing process.
The Ford Motor Company is dedicated to making its automobiles safer than ever before. With the development of new safety features and self-driving technology, the company wants to create a world that is free from vehicle accidents and workplace injuries.
The Ford Motor Company has a long history of being a part of racing culture since its beginnings. Even before the company was founded, Henry Ford successfully reached a top speed of 20 miles per hour in his quadricycle. In the years following, Ford also won several races and set speed records with his personally designed Ford 999.
In 1966, Ford captured the world’s attention when three Ford GT40 MK II’s crossed the finish line at the 24-hour Le Man’s race taking first, second, and third place. Not only did this make Ford the first American car manufacturer to win the title, but they also broke Ferrari’s six-year winning streak. Ford went on to take first place in 1967, 1968, and 1969.
Three Ford GT40 MK II’s crossing the finish line to sweep the 1966 Le Mans race
For over 80 years, Ford has been represented in NASCAR races. The first win came in 1949 when Jim Roper won a race in Charlotte in a Lincoln. The following year Jimmy Florian won the first race in a Ford vehicle at Dayton Speedway in Ohio. Since then, Ford-built cars have won more than 800 NASCAR races, second only to Chevrolet.
In addition to Le Mans and NASCAR, Ford has drivers participating in many other events and races including Formula 1 and the World Rally races.
Chart showing Ford Performance wins in popular racing series
For a car manufacturer, being able to demonstrate your vehicle’s performance on a racetrack helps to signify the brand as a well-engineered machine. The more races won in a Ford brand vehicle, the more notoriety the company receives. Key races like the 1966 win at Le Mans are a great way to capture the attention of car enthusiasts everywhere.
Despite having over 100 years of success, the Ford Motor Company hit a rough patch in 2006 and was in a dismal state. The company was on track to take a loss of $17 billion due to falling sales. This forced plant closures and massive layoffs which resulted in Ford buying out 38,000 unionized workers. The Ford Motor Company needed cash but couldn’t get additional financing due to receiving a “junk” bond status. To remain solvent, the company had to mortgage its assets to raise cash. Share prices had plummeted from an all-time high of about $35 in 1999 to $8 in 2006.
The CEO at the time was Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He recognized that the company needed a new leader. In a bold move that shocked the industry, Bill Ford convinced the company board to appoint Alan Mulally as President and CEO of Ford Motor Company. Alan Mulally knew very little about the automotive industry. He began his career as an aerospace engineer at Boeing in 1969. Over his 37 years at Boeing, he rose to the position of president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (a subsidiary of The Boeing Company). He was known for helping to save Boeing from bankruptcy after financial trouble in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bill Ford felt confident that Alan Mulally could do the same for Ford.
Mulally quickly identified that there were some underlying issues that were resulting in Ford’s stunted performance including a lack of transparency, bad leadership, and a stagnant product line. He openly admitted to the organization that he didn’t have the automotive expertise. This helped to drive a culture of more transparency within the Ford Motor Company. Rather than hiding behind inexperience, challenges, or failures, the team began speaking up when they needed help or additional support.
Mulally also introduced a new approach to meetings. When arriving at Ford, he quickly realized that there were lots of pointless meetings where many topics and issues were discussed but resulted in no action. The normal Ford meetings were replaced with BPR (Business Plan Review) meetings in which leaders would present their 4-5 top priorities with a green, yellow, red status. This helped the team quickly identify what areas needed the most attention.
When Mulally announced his plan to the board of directors, he committed to focusing on four major objectives:
The strategy was extremely successful. Not only was Mulally able to turn the company around, but they also avoided needing the taxpayer bailouts that General Motors and Chrysler needed during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. This was a huge feat and boosted public confidence in the company.
The Ford Motor Company is a true innovator in the automotive space. Aside from General Motors, no other car manufacturer has seen the levels of growth that Ford has achieved. Much of the success comes from the brilliant leadership from the Ford family that ran the company for over 50 years. Even through tough times, the company has found ways to grow and adapt. Their dedication to being the best helped make Ford the iconic American brand it is today.