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The title of this biography is enough to captivate one’s attention. Already the name Ford easily associates with the Ford Car that has become an attraction the world over. And yes, The truth about Henry Ford by Sarah Terrill Bushnell explores the life of one of the most influential men in America’s history, founder of Ford Motor Company. Published in 1922, the book looks into Ford’s childhood and school days, his marriage, personal life, work, and success in business. The industrialist’s impact on assembly line production of automobiles can never be overemphasized.
Henry Ford is well known in the motor industry for the many revolutionary innovations that he brought about. As a genius automobile manufacturer, he created the Model T and proceeded to introduce the assembly line, which made it possible for mass production. This allowed Ford to sell millions of cars and become a popular business leader across the world. Even though the company would later lose its market share, it continued to impact technological development, United States infrastructure, and labor issues.
To put this biography together, Sarah Terrill Bushnell mainly interviewed Mrs. Henry Ford from whom she got most of the data. The author says that Mrs. Ford personally assisted her in securing accurate and authentic information. They spent months together so that the author could compile the biography and get her facts right. She also acknowledges the financial support she received from Mr. Malcomson.
For a biography whose main subject’s close relations revolve around the author at the time of its writing, one might think that she would be influenced. Luckily, Sarah Bushnell makes an effort to maintain objectivity
Early life and education
The author starts off the book by exploring Henry Ford’s childhood and education days. Unlike most biographies, Sarah opts to dive right away into Ford’s early life. She describes him as being a member of the creative generation of Americans who served their country well.
Henry Ford was born on July 30, in the third year of the Civil War. Throughout his childhood days, most conversations revolved around the iron horse. He was often exposed to the many soldiers who were killed in the Civil War. This war would later affect not only his childhood but also adult days.
Ford, together with his four siblings, attended the Scotch Settlement School. The author notes that Springwells School was more than two and a half miles away. Their attendance wasn’t regular, as they would only go to school when the weather permeated. There, they learned arithmetic, geography, and spelling. No one appeared to care about history, even when one was being written at that very moment. As the author goes ahead with narrations of Ford’s experiences as a child, he refers to one of Ford’s childhood recollections. He often longed to see the iron horse that he could hear miles away in the woods.
To get a better understanding of what Ford’s childhood was like, Sarah presses Mary Ford for more insights. According to Mary, Ford often asked questions that no one could answer in a thousand years. He demonstrated that he was different from other children. Whereas his peers were satisfied with explanations, Henry would investigate everything for himself. He was more ecstatic around machinery, never expressing any kind of fear.
Marriage and courtship
By the time this book was being written, Ford had risen to the level of a celebrity. Just like all famous people, society often wants to know more about their relationship affairs. For most people, how celebrities live their lives take up more space in the brains than even friends do. We are eager to know everything about them, forcing us to watch their latest TV shows, films, and music. In the case of Henry Ford, one would have to read far and wide to exhaust him. The author did not hesitate to exploit this powerful reality.
Sarah Terrill Bushnell appears to have known that the biography would increase in popularity if she mentioned a thing or two about Ford’s love life. And she was right. Her descriptions about how Ford interacts with Clara Bryant, a girl who grew less than 10 miles away, are quite captivating.
The two first met in 1885 when Ford was 21 and Bryant 19. Since their first meeting during New Year’s Ball, they maintained communication. Ford had a strong desire to keep seeing her. To do so, he decides to attend a wide range of dances hoping to meet the lady he’s deeply in love with. His efforts were not successful until almost a year later.
As Clara gets to know more about Ford, she realizes that he is not like any other young adult. After leaving the Greenfield club party, she tells her that Ford is different from the rest of the crowd. “He can invent the most interesting things.”
The two got engaged in 1886. Engagements were brief back then. However, Ford and Clara had to wait a bit longer before getting married. Clara’s mother felt that her 20-year-old daughter was still young for marriage. After their 1888 wedding, Clara gave birth to their son Edsel Ford. This would turn out to be their only child.
Ford’s first car
Through his brilliance, Henry Ford constructed a horseless carriage that amazed both his peers and elders. However, this wasn’t effective as he had hoped it would be. He continued working to refine it, bringing onboard bicycle wheels and many other parts. Most of these never matched and had to be re-made until one evening in 1893 when he had his breakthrough. This was a monumental moment for Mr. Ford, who couldn’t wait to test it.
Despite the darkness and heavy rains outside, he cannot wait to see what the machine can do. The preciseness with which the author describes this moment is captivating. Clara picks an umbrella and follows her husband to the street. As Ford clanked the machine, his wife was filled with all manner of fears. If this thing doesn’t kill him, he will probably die from pneumonia, she thought to herself.
According to the author, the vehicle made so much noise that the whole neighborhood woke up. This is a time when Clara feels she should have encouraged him more in his work. Her mind went back to the sleepless days of the study that her husband endured. The moment defined how she would later on support Ford in the running of his car company.
On returning from the successful drive, Ford drank a glass of hot milk before going to bed to have the best rest he had never had since returning to the city. The next day, and weeks to follow, the family welcomed hundreds of friends and neighbors as they came to see the new vehicle. The excitement around the vehicle’s invention, the many adventures that Ford and his wife go through are all captivating moments that add glamour to this biography.
His career life
The biography does not dedicate a specific chapter that talks about Henry Ford’s career. Rather, you have to read it to the end, connecting the dots to get the flow of his career life. Long before he opened his own company, Ford was an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit in 1891. Two years later, he was promoted to Chief Engineer. This gave him the time and money he needed to work on his gasoline engines project. With an innovative mind, he eventually created a self-propelled vehicle which he dabbed the Ford Quadricycle. He took it on a test drive as he aimed at figuring out various ways to improve it.
When Ford met Thomas Edison, Edison did not hesitate to approve Ford’s experiments. This kept him motivated, and he eventually completed another vehicle in 1898. Feeling confident in his ability to start a business of his own, Ford quit from the Edison Company and started his own Detroit Automobile Company. Unfortunately, this company did not perform as it was hoped. The vehicles produced were of low quality and sold at a high price. This was dissolved in 1901.
Ford turned his attention to making faster vehicles. Combining efforts with C. Harold Wills, the two built a 26-horsepower vehicle. This paved the way for the formation of Henry Ford Company. Ford became the chief engineer. However, he left the company despite it bearing his name when Henry M. Leland was brought in as a consultant. The company’s name was changed to the Cadillac Automobile Company.
One has to read the biography with keen attention to detail to understand this flow of events. The fact that the author mainly focuses on the narrations of Mrs. Henry Ford as the source of information means some instances could be deliberately left out. That is common in all interviews.
The magical success – Ford Motor Company
The Ford Company was incorporated on June 16, 1903, having sold the first commercial car in January the same year. It did not take long before orders started coming in for Ford cars. Demand was so high that they had to secure a factory in Piquette Street to keep up with the orders. By 1905, the company started paying investors 6% dividends.
In the midst of all this success, Ford remained adamant that his cars had to be made of the highest quality but still affordable to the middle class. This was a period when the automotive industry experienced sharp moments of highs and lows. For a man who believed in upholding his integrity, such changes were not strong enough to ruin his character and belief in the direction that his company should take.
Henry Ford’s success was not a case of luck. Rather, it was out of hard work and genuine desire to understand how every inch of his company was run. One university graduate even remarked that if he had the amount of money that Ford had, he would never prowl around the factory-like he does. But it is this ‘prowling around’ that made Mr. Ford a success.
The industrialist was not just all about making money. He believed that he stood to gain more if he raised the industrial standards as opposed to exploiting workers. His employees had bank accounts, personal securities, and lived in their own homes. By treating everyone with respect and humanity, Ford became known as a friend of the common people.
His morality remains unquestioned. He strongly opposed U.S. entry into World War II, stating that wars were a product of greedy financiers looking for ways to make money from human destruction. His approach here was completely different from World War I, where he promoted anti-semitic content. Through his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, he published content that critics feel influenced the development of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.
The truth about Henry Ford lets us into the life of the industrialist, an innovative young boy who becomes the renowned owner of Ford Motor Company. He may be idolized as a success story, but Henry Ford faced similar highs and lows that modern businesses encounter. His ability to triumph over these hurdles is what makes him an incredible point of reference for anyone seeking inspiration. Three important takeaways from this biography: (1) seek advice from others, (2) invest in what works, and (3) find remedy rather than a fault.