Excerpts from "My Life and Work"  by Henry Ford and Samuel Crowther  
Project Gutenberg   www.gutenberg.org

The biggest event of those early years was meeting with a road engine
about eight miles out of Detroit one day when we were driving to town. I
was then twelve years old. The second biggest event was getting a
watch--which happened in the same year. I remember that engine as though
I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than
horse-drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended primarily for driving
threshing machines and sawmills and was simply a portable engine and
boiler mounted on wheels with a water tank and coal cart trailing
behind. I had seen plenty of these engines hauled around by horses, but
this one had a chain that made a connection between the engine and the
rear wheels of the wagon-like frame on which the boiler was mounted. The
engine was placed over the boiler and one man standing on the platform
behind the boiler shoveled coal, managed the throttle, and did the
steering. It had been made by Nichols, Shepard & Company of Battle
Creek. I found that out at once. The engine had stopped to let us pass
with our horses and I was off the wagon and talking to the engineer
before my father, who was driving, knew what I was up to. The engineer
was very glad to explain the whole affair. He was proud of it. He showed
me how the chain was disconnected from the propelling wheel and a belt
put on to drive other machinery. He told me that the engine made two
hundred revolutions a minute and that the chain pinion could be shifted
to let the wagon stop while the engine was still running. This last is a
feature which, although in different fashion, is incorporated into
modern automobiles. It was not important with steam engines, which are
easily stopped and started, but it became very important with the
gasoline engine. It was that engine which took me into automotive
transportation. I tried to make models of it, and some years later I did
make one that ran very well, but from the time I saw that road engine as
a boy of twelve right forward to to-day, my great interest has been in
making a machine that would travel the roads. Driving to town I always
had a pocket full of trinkets--nuts, washers, and odds and ends of
machinery. Often I took a broken watch and tried to put it together.
When I was thirteen I managed for the first time to put a watch together
so that it would keep time. By the time I was fifteen I could do almost
anything in watch repairing--although my tools were of the crudest.
There is an immense amount to be learned simply by tinkering with
things. It is not possible to learn from books how everything is
made--and a real mechanic ought to know how nearly everything is made.
Machines are to a mechanic what books are to a writer. He gets ideas
from them, and if he has any brains he will apply those ideas.

I was then on the farm to which I had returned, more because I wanted to
experiment than because I wanted to farm, and, now being an all-around
machinist, I had a first-class workshop to replace the toy shop of
earlier days. My father offered me forty acres of timber land, provided
I gave up being a machinist. I agreed in a provisional way, for cutting
the timber gave me a chance to get married. I fitted out a sawmill and a
portable engine and started to cut out and saw up the timber on the
tract. Some of the first of that lumber went into a cottage on my new
farm and in it we began our married life. It was not a big
house--thirty-one feet square and only a story and a half high--but it
was a comfortable place. I added to it my workshop, and when I was not
cutting timber I was working on the gas engines--learning what they were
and how they acted. I read everything I could find, but the greatest
knowledge came from the work. A gas engine is a mysterious sort of
thing--it will not always go the way it should. You can imagine how
those first engines acted!

There is no reason why a man who is willing to work should not be able
to work and to receive the full value of his work. There is equally no
reason why a man who can but will not work should not receive the full
value of his services to the community. He should most certainly be
permitted to take away from the community an equivalent of what he
contributes to it. If he contributes nothing he should take away
nothing. He should have the freedom of starvation. We are not getting
anywhere when we insist that every man ought to have more than he
deserves to have--just because some do get more than they deserve to

The producer depends for his prosperity upon serving the people. He may
get by for a while serving himself, but if he does, it will be purely
accidental, and when the people wake up to the fact that they are not
being served, the end of that producer is in sight.

Money comes naturally as the result of service. And it is absolutely
necessary to have money. But we do not want to forget that the end of
money is not ease but the opportunity to perform more service. In my
mind nothing is more abhorrent than a life of ease. None of us has any
right to ease. There is no place in civilization for the idler. Any
scheme looking to abolishing money is only making affairs more complex,
for we must have a measure. That our present system of money is a
satisfactory basis for exchange is a matter of grave doubt. That is a
question which I shall talk of in a subsequent chapter. The gist of my
objection to the present monetary system is that it tends to become a
thing of itself and to block instead of facilitate production.


My "gasoline buggy" was the first and for a long time the only
automobile in Detroit. It was considered to be something of a nuisance,
for it made a racket and it scared horses. Also it blocked traffic. For
if I stopped my machine anywhere in town a crowd was around it before I
could start up again. If I left it alone even for a minute some
inquisitive person always tried to run it. Finally, I had to carry a
chain and chain it to a lamp post whenever I left it anywhere. And then
there was trouble with the police. I do not know quite why, for my
impression is that there were no speed-limit laws in those days. Anyway,
I had to get a special permit from the mayor and thus for a time enjoyed
the distinction of being the only licensed chauffeur in America. I ran
that machine about one thousand miles through 1895 and 1896 and then
sold it to Charles Ainsley of Detroit for two hundred dollars. That was
my first sale. I had built the car not to sell but only to experiment
with. I wanted to start another car. Ainsley wanted to buy. I could use
the money and we had no trouble in agreeing upon a price.

In 1903, with Tom Cooper, I built two cars solely for speed. They were quite alike.
One we named the "999" and the other the "Arrow." If an automobile were
going to be known for speed, then I was going to make an automobile that
would be known wherever speed was known. These were. I put in four great
big cylinders giving 80 H.P.--which up to that time had been unheard of.
The roar of those cylinders alone was enough to half kill a man. There
was only one seat. One life to a car was enough. I tried out the cars.
Cooper tried out the cars. We let them out at full speed. I cannot quite
describe the sensation. Going over Niagara Falls would have been but a
pastime after a ride in one of them. I did not want to take the
responsibility of racing the "999" which we put up first, neither did
Cooper. Cooper said he knew a man who lived on speed, that nothing could
go too fast for him. He wired to Salt Lake City and on came a
professional bicycle rider named Barney Oldfield. He had never driven a
motor car, but he liked the idea of trying it. He said he would try
anything once.

It took us only a week to teach him how to drive. The man did not know
what fear was. All that he had to learn was how to control the monster.
Controlling the fastest car of to-day was nothing as compared to
controlling that car. The steering wheel had not yet been thought of.
All the previous cars that I had built simply had tillers. On this one I
put a two-handed tiller, for holding the car in line required all the
strength of a strong man. The race for which we were working was at
three miles on the Grosse Point track. We kept our cars as a dark horse.
We left the predictions to the others. The tracks then were not
scientifically banked. It was not known how much speed a motor car could
develop. No one knew better than Oldfield what the turns meant and as he
took his seat, while I was cranking the car for the start, he remarked
cheerily: "Well, this chariot may kill me, but they will say afterward
that I was going like h*** when she took me over the bank."

And he did go.... He never dared to look around. He did not shut off on
the curves. He simply let that car go--and go it did. He was about half
a mile ahead of the next man at the end of the race!

Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning,
that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model
was going to be "Model T," and that the chassis would be exactly the
same for all cars, and I remarked:

"Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as
it is black."

I cannot say that any one agreed with me. The selling people could not
of course see the advantages that a single model would bring about in
production. More than that, they did not particularly care. They thought
that our production was good enough as it was and there was a very
decided opinion that lowering the sales price would hurt sales, that the
people who wanted quality would be driven away and that there would be
none to replace them. There was very little conception of the motor
industry. A motor car was still regarded as something in the way of a
luxury. The manufacturers did a good deal to spread this idea. Some
clever persons invented the name "pleasure car" and the advertising
emphasized the pleasure features. The sales people had ground for their
objections and particularly when I made the following announcement:

"I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large
enough for the family but small enough for the individual to run and
care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men
to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can
devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary
will be unable to own one--and enjoy with his family the blessing of
hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

This announcement was received not without pleasure. The general comment

"If Ford does that he will be out of business in six months."

In a little dark shop on a side street an old man had laboured for years making axe
handles. Out of seasoned hickory he fashioned them, with the help of a
draw shave, a chisel, and a supply of sandpaper. Carefully was each
handle weighed and balanced. No two of them were alike. The curve must
exactly fit the hand and must conform to the grain of the wood. From
dawn until dark the old man laboured. His average product was eight
handles a week, for which he received a dollar and a half each. And
often some of these were unsaleable--because the balance was not true.

To-day you can buy a better axe handle, made by machinery, for a few
cents. And you need not worry about the balance. They are all alike--and
every one is perfect. Modern methods applied in a big way have not only
brought the cost of axe handles down to a fraction of their former
cost--but they have immensely improved the product.

It was the application of these same methods to the making of the Ford
car that at the very start lowered the price and heightened the quality.

It would be quite outside the spirit of what we are trying to do, to
take on men because they were crippled, pay them a lower wage, and be
content with a lower output. That might be directly helping the men but
it would not be helping them in the best way. The best way is always the
way by which they can be put on a productive par with able-bodied men. I
believe that there is very little occasion for charity in this
world--that is, charity in the sense of making gifts. Most certainly
business and charity cannot be combined; the purpose of a factory is to
produce, and it ill serves the community in general unless it does
produce to the utmost of its capacity. We are too ready to assume
without investigation that the full possession of faculties is a
condition requisite to the best performance of all jobs. To discover
just what was the real situation, I had all of the different jobs in the
factory classified to the kind of machine and work--whether the physical
labour involved was light, medium, or heavy; whether it were a wet or a
dry job, and if not, with what kind of fluid; whether it were clean or
dirty; near an oven or a furnace; the condition of the air; whether one
or both hands had to be used; whether the employee stood or sat down at
his work; whether it was noisy or quiet; whether it required accuracy;
whether the light was natural or artificial; the number of pieces that
had to be handled per hour; the weight of the material handled; and the
description of the strain upon the worker. It turned out at the time of
the inquiry that there were then 7,882 different jobs in the factory. Of
these, 949 were classified as heavy work requiring strong, able-bodied,
and practically physically perfect men; 3,338 required men of ordinary
physical development and strength. The remaining 3,595 jobs were
disclosed as requiring no physical exertion and could be performed by
the slightest, weakest sort of men. In fact, most of them could be
satisfactorily filled by women or older children. The lightest jobs were
again classified to discover how many of them required the use of full
faculties, and we found that 670 could be filled by legless men, 2,637
by one-legged men, 2 by armless men, 715 by one-armed men, and 10 by
blind men. Therefore, out of 7,882 kinds of jobs, 4,034--although some
of them required strength--did not require full physical capacity. That
is, developed industry can provide wage work for a higher average of
standard men than are ordinarily included in any normal community. If
the jobs in any one industry or, say, any one factory, were analyzed as
ours have been analyzed, the proportion might be very different, yet I
am quite sure that if work is sufficiently subdivided--subdivided to
the point of highest economy--there will be no dearth of places in which
the physically incapacitated can do a man's job and get a man's wage. It
is economically most wasteful to accept crippled men as charges and then
to teach them trivial tasks like the weaving of baskets or some other
form of unremunerative hand labour, in the hope, not of aiding them to
make a living, but of preventing despondency.

When a man is taken on by the Employment Department, the theory is to
put him into a job suited to his condition. If he is already at work and
he does not seem able to perform the work, or if he does not like his
work, he is given a transfer card, which he takes up to the transfer
department, and after an examination he is tried out in some other work
more suited to his condition or disposition. Those who are below the
ordinary physical standards are just as good workers, rightly placed, as
those who are above. For instance, a blind man was assigned to the stock
department to count bolts and nuts for shipment to branch
establishments. Two other able-bodied men were already employed on this
work. In two days the foreman sent a note to the transfer department
releasing the able-bodied men because the blind man was able to do not
only his own work but also the work that had formerly been done by the
sound men.

We have experimented with bedridden men--men who were able to sit up. We
put black oilcloth covers or aprons over the beds and set the men to
work screwing nuts on small bolts. This is a job that has to be done by
hand and on which fifteen or twenty men are kept busy in the Magneto
Department. The men in the hospital could do it just as well as the men
in the shop and they were able to receive their regular wages. In fact,
their production was about 20 per cent., I believe, above the usual shop
production. No man had to do the work unless he wanted to. But they all
wanted to. It kept time from hanging on their hands. They slept and ate
better and recovered more rapidly.

No particular consideration has to be given to deaf-and-dumb employees.
They do their work one hundred per cent. The tubercular employees--and
there are usually about a thousand of them--mostly work in the material
salvage department. Those cases which are considered contagious work
together in an especially constructed shed. The work of all of them is
largely out of doors.

At the time of the last analysis of employed, there were 9,563
sub-standard men. Of these, 123 had crippled or amputated arms,
forearms, or hands. One had both hands off. There were 4 totally blind
men, 207 blind in one eye, 253 with one eye nearly blind, 37 deaf and
dumb, 60 epileptics, 4 with both legs or feet missing, 234 with one foot
or leg missing. The others had minor impediments.

There is something sacred about wages--they represent homes and families
and domestic destinies. People ought to tread very carefully when
approaching wages. On the cost sheet, wages are mere figures; out in the
world, wages are bread boxes and coal bins, babies' cradles and
children's education--family comforts and contentment. On the other
hand, there is something just as sacred about capital which is used to
provide the means by which work can be made productive. Nobody is helped
if our industries are sucked dry of their life-blood. There is something
just as sacred about a shop that employs thousands of men as there is
about a home. The shop is the mainstay of all the finer things which the
home represents. If we want the home to be happy, we must contrive to
keep the shop busy. The whole justification of the profits made by the
shop is that they are used to make doubly secure the homes dependent on
that shop, and to create more jobs for other men. If profits go to swell
a personal fortune, that is one thing; if they go to provide a sounder
basis for business, better working conditions, better wages, more
extended employment--that is quite another thing. Capital thus employed
should not be carelessly tampered with. It is for the service of all,
though it may be under the direction of one.

Profits belong in three places: they belong to the business--to keep it
steady, progressive, and sound. They belong to the men who helped
produce them. And they belong also, in part, to the public. A successful
business is profitable to all three of these interests--planner,
producer, and purchaser.

My effort is in the direction of simplicity. People in general have so
little and it costs so much to buy even the barest necessities (let
alone that share of the luxuries to which I think everyone is entitled)
because nearly everything that we make is much more complex than it
needs to be. Our clothing, our food, our household furnishings--all
could be much simpler than they now are and at the same time be better
looking. Things in past ages were made in certain ways and makers since
then have just followed.

I do not mean that we should adopt freak styles. There is no necessity
for that Clothing need not be a bag with a hole cut in it. That might be
easy to make but it would be inconvenient to wear. A blanket does not
require much tailoring, but none of us could get much work done if we
went around Indian-fashion in blankets. Real simplicity means that which
gives the very best service and is the most convenient in use. The
trouble with drastic reforms is they always insist that a man be made
over in order to use certain designed articles. I think that dress
reform for women--which seems to mean ugly clothes--must always
originate with plain women who want to make everyone else look plain.
That is not the right process. Start with an article that suits and then
study to find some way of eliminating the entirely useless parts. This
applies to everything--a shoe, a dress, a house, a piece of machinery, a
railroad, a steamship, an airplane. As we cut out useless parts and
simplify necessary ones we also cut down the cost of making. This is
simple logic, but oddly enough the ordinary process starts with a
cheapening of the manufacturing instead of with a simplifying of the
article. The start ought to be with the article. First we ought to find
whether it is as well made as it should be--does it give the best
possible service? Then--are the materials the best or merely the most
expensive? Then--can its complexity and weight be cut down? And so on.


I spent twelve years before I had a Model T--which is what
is known to-day as the Ford car--that suited me. We did not attempt to
go into real production until we had a real product. That product has
not been essentially changed.

Our big changes have been in methods of manufacturing. They never stand
still. I believe that there is hardly a single operation in the making
of our car that is the same as when we made our first car of the present
model. That is why we make them so cheaply. The few changes that have
been made in the car have been in the direction of convenience in use or
where we found that a change in design might give added strength. The
materials in the car change as we learn more and more about materials.

And we should not so easily be led into war if we considered what it is
that makes a nation really great. It is not the amount of trade that
makes a nation great. The creation of private fortunes, like the
creation of an autocracy, does not make any country great. Nor does the
mere change of an agricultural population into a factory population. A
country becomes great when, by the wise development of its resources and
the skill of its people, property is widely and fairly distributed.

Back to Henry Ford biography