Henry Ford left behind quite the legacy with Ford Motor Company, his direct contribution to the boom of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s and the assembly line, which revolutionized production speed and efficiency.
Ford was a unique mind when it came to engineering, but his life could have gone a variety of ways and altered history completely. He could have been a farmer, a politician or possibly the creator and leader of a city in the middle of the Amazon. You read that last one correctly — automobile mogul Henry Ford could have ended up in his own city in the Amazon. But we’ll get to that a little later.
1. Ford and the Farm Life
Starting with his grassroots, Henry Ford’s family owned farmland just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, Michigan. As a teenager, Ford helped his family make ends meet by working on the family farm but that all changed in 1876 when his mother, Mary Ford, passed away. Her death took a toll on Ford, and while his father, William Ford, wanted Henry to take over the family farm, he told his father that he had no interest in doing so. He tolerated farming because he loved his mother while she was on the farm but he hated the inefficiencies of farming.
That would not be the last song and dance between Ford and a life of farming. When Ford was 25, he came back to work on the family farm to support his new wife and family. By this time, Ford had already built a steam engine, and within the next two years, he became the Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant. Ford was on-call all day, every day, tasked with keeping the electricity running in the city of Detroit. Ford officially closed the book on his life as a farmer, moving on to bigger and better things.
2. Senator Ford? President Ford?
Once the Ford Motor Company and his Model T got up and going, the local support for Ford was through the roof. In 1916, Ford won the Michigan Republican Primary without even campaigning. Imagine having that kind of support from the people around you? Zero campaigning and no real intention of running for President, yet he still won the Michigan Primary. In 1924, people were starting Ford-for-President clubs across the country, rallying behind Ford again to run for the Oval Office. Just like the farm work though, Ford had no interest in being President.
The people loved him, and he was getting high praise from the top of the government hierarchy. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson convinced Ford to run for a Democratic seat in the Senate. Ford felt that spending money on a campaign was a complete waste of money, so he ran but just like the Michigan Republican Primary two years prior, Ford didn’t spend a penny on his campaign. Ford ended up losing by only 4500 votes, which is an extremely slim margin. If we’re being honest, Ford probably preferred to lose this election anyway. His interested laid elsewhere and eventually took him into the Amazon.
3. You Are Building Your Own City? In the Amazon Rainforest?
Ah yes, Fordlandia! Ford was a brilliant mind, and many of his ideas and inventions have revolutionized our lives. But Fordlandia, Ford’s city in the Amazon Forest was one of Ford’s off-the-wall ideas driven purely out of capitalism. In 1927, with plenty of money at his disposal and his idealistic views, Ford bought a chunk of land in the Amazon about the size of Connecticut. This land was to serve a specific purpose though; the people who lived there would harvest rubber to make tires for his automobiles.
Fordlandia, an 18-hour boat trip from the nearest city, was meant to be a utopian paradise while supplying the Ford Motor Company with rubber to make tires. Sounds like a great idea but like many things that look good on paper, this one didn’t work out. Some early revolts and riots required assistance from the Brazilian Army to subdue the violence, many rubber trees were not growing, and insects ravaged the ones that did develop.
Fordlandia never became the rubber resource that Ford had intended it to be. The city had been around for about a decade, but once World War II began, Ford’s focus turned to aid war efforts and Fordlandia started to fall by the wayside. When WWII ended, Ford’s health was diminishing, so the control of Fordlandia was given to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Ford II saw Fordlandia as an underperforming asset and quickly sold the land back to the Brazilian government for a fraction of what his grandfather originally paid for it. And just like that, Fordlandia was no more.
4. Interesting Ford One-Liners:
- Built his first steam engine in 1878 when he was 15
years old. Fif-teen.
- Built his first gasoline engine in 1893.
- Started in airline company during WWI but it failed
due to poor sales.
- Ford Motor Company was his third attempt at an
- Henry Ford Company and Detroit Automobile Company were
his first two ventures and both failed.
- Holds 161 unique patents in his name.
5. Wrapping Up Ford
We all know about Henry Ford and his impact on the automobile industry, but his mind was something that we don’t see today. In a 1928 interview with the Detroit Times, Ford revealed that the source of his inspiration and his work was a mysterious force. He dedicated his brilliance to a ‘Master Mind.’ He said: “Somewhere is a Master Mind sending brainwave messages to us. There is a Great Spirit. I never did anything by my own volition. I was pushed by invisible forces within and without me.”
Master Mind or not, Henry Ford was a badass. Family pressure could have forced him into being a farmer for the rest of his life, but he decided he knew better. Society tried to pressure him into running for political office, and while he gave it a brief shot, he only put his name on the ballot. Even though Fordlandia was one of his failures, it showed Ford was an off-the-wall thinker whose capitalistic views pushed him to do anything to help his company. This was the type of guy, even with his shortcomings, who could do anything he wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought.