Henry Ford: A Look Back at His Remarkable Early Life and Career

Herbie J Pilato

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According to Mary Bellis and ThoughtCo.com, "Henry Ford (July 30, 1863–April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist and business magnate best known for founding the Ford Motor Company and promoting the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. A prolific innovator and shrewd businessman, Ford was responsible for the Model T and Model A automobiles, as well as the popular Fordson farm tractor, the V8 engine, a submarine chaser, and the Ford Tri-Motor "Tin Goose" passenger airplane. No stranger to controversy, the often outspoken Ford was also known for promoting anti-Semitism."

As Bellis continues to report, "Ford was born on July 30, 1863, to William Ford and Mary Litogot Ahern on the family’s farm near Dearborn, Michigan. He was the eldest of six children in a family of four boys and two girls. His father William was a native of County Cork, Ireland, who fled the Irish potato famine with two borrowed IR£ pounds and a set of carpentry tools to come to the United States in 1847. His mother Mary, the youngest child of Belgian immigrants, was born in Michigan. When Henry Ford was born, the United States was in the midst of the Civil War."

"Ford completed first through eighth grades in two one-room schoolhouses," notes Bellis, "...the Scottish Settlement School and the Miller School. The Scottish Settlement School building was eventually moved to Ford's Greenfield Village and opened to tourists. Ford was particularly devoted to his mother, and when she died in 1876, his father expected Henry to run the family farm. However, he hated farm work, later recalling, 'I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved.'”

"After the 1878 harvest," Bellis chronicles, "...Ford abruptly left the farm, walking off without permission to Detroit, where he stayed with his father's sister Rebecca. He took a job at the streetcar manufacturer Michigan Car Company Works but was fired after six days and had to return home. In 1879, William got Henry an apprenticeship at the James Flower and Brothers Machine shop in Detroit, where he lasted nine months. He left that job for a position at the Detroit Dry Dock Company, which was a pioneer in iron ships and Bessemer steel. Neither job paid him enough to cover his rent, so he took a night job with a jeweler, cleaning and repairing watches."

"Henry Ford returned to the farm in 1882," Bellis documents, "...where he operated a small portable steam threshing machine—the Westinghouse Agricultural Engine—for a neighbor. He was very good at it, and over the summers of 1883 and 1884, he was hired by the company to operate and repair engines made and sold in Michigan and northern Ohio. In December 1885, Ford met Clara Jane Bryant (1866–1950) at a New Year's Eve party and they married on April 11, 1888. The couple would have one son, Edsel Bryant Ford (1893–1943)."

As Bellis concludes, "Ford continued to work the farm—his father gave him an acreage—but his heart was in tinkering. He clearly had a business in mind. Over the winters of 1888 through 1890, Henry Ford enrolled in Goldsmith, Bryant & Stratton Business University in Detroit, where he likely took penmanship, bookkeeping, mechanical drawing, and general business practices."

To read more about Henry Ford, click here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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