Henry Ford starts a car company, or three (pictures)
The road to becoming one of America's great innovators isn't always smooth. Henry Ford tried and failed many times before establishing Ford Motor Company 110 years ago this week.
Henry Ford builds his first car
It was 110 years ago this week that Henry Ford shifted toward the fast lane of revolutionizing the making and selling of cars -- not to mention helping upend the way America travels -- with the founding of the Ford Motor Company. But like many revolutions, this one didn't get off to an easy start.
Throughout his life, Henry Ford had been tinkering with machines. Years before founding, on July 16, 1903, the company that bears his name, he developed other engine-powered vehicles like the "Quadricycle" seen above. The photo shows Ford riding in the first car he built in 1896. The "Quadricycle" was a precursor to Ford's first production vehicle, the Model A.
In the slideshow that follows, see Ford's bumpy road to founding a car company that would change American manufacturing forever.
On August 5, 1899, Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company with the help of lumber merchant William Murphy. After taking a 60-mile drive in Henry's second attempt at a car, Murphy agreed to start Detroit Automobile along with nine other investors and Ford as the lead engineer.
By January 1901, the Detroit Automobile Company had failed and the venture was dissolved. This company had survived just two years; Ford cited the low quality and high cost of production as reasons for its failure. The company produced only 10 delivery trucks before closing.
Just months after the collapse of the Detroit Automobile Company, Henry Ford drove his first race car, a 26-horsepower model named "Sweepstakes," to victory over the established race car superstar Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901. Ford began to revitalize his career -- along with is reputation -- through racing.
Following his race car success, on November 30, 1901, the Henry Ford Company was founded. Some of Ford's original backers and investors from the Detroit Motor Company came together to start the Henry Ford Company, with Ford acting as the chief engineer. But with Ford preoccupied with racing, he was forced out of the company after just three months. (That company would soon start doing business as the Cadillac Motor Car Co.)
The focus on racing continued: on October 25, 1902, a car Ford built with friends wins a race. Known as the "999," the race car had an 18.8-liter inline-four engine and 230-pound flywheel. A bicycle racer named Barney Oldfield was hired to be the driver, and in winning the 5-mile Manufacturers' Challenge Cup race in the "999," he set a course speed record.
On June 16, 1903, following Henry Ford's success with race cars, Ford Motor Company was founded, and production began in a rented building on Detroit's Mack Avenue. John Gray was named president, and 39-year-old Henry Ford -- who never invested money in any of his companies -- served as vice president and chief engineer.
Success was far from certain, and just one month later, the company was struggling and Ford's cash reserves were less than $250.
Like Henry's other automobile ventures in the previous years, the company was struggling and needed help. In July, with the company short on cash, Dr. E. Pfennig of Chicago (seen here) stepped in, one of three customers who came to the rescue.
A much-needed cash infusion of $1,320 arrived on July 13, 1903, keeping Ford Motor Company afloat. This amount included Pfennig’s full payment of $850 and deposits from the two other customers. The company had spent $19,000 in 25 days, and before these sales had just $223.65 left in the bank.
Pfennig’s Model A was shipped to him on July 28, 1903, from the plant on Mack Avenue. The 1903 Ford Model A had a two-cylinder engine producing 8 horsepower and displacing 100 cubic inches, and topped out at 30 mph.
2013 is a big anniversary year for the Ford legacy. It's 110 years from the founding of Ford Motor, and 150 years -- a sesquicentennial! -- since Henry Ford's birth, on July 30, 1863. In Michigan, of course.