Critical Biography Essay
10 June 2010
Henry Ford: A Product of Fantastic Circumstances in a Lucrative Environment
Throughout an individual’s lifetime, one strives for any modest amount of success that is attainable in a specific time and place. A particular set of circumstances, largely outside of anyone’s control, often determines the triumph or failure of a given subject. In the acclaimed Outliers: The Story of Success, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell thoroughly examines numerous overlooked causes for fame and achievements of legendary figures. Henry Ford, one of the most significant industrialists in world history, undoubtedly realized his level of fortune, at least to an extent, due to such fortuitous means. He capitalized on what his environment had to offer and took advantage of perpetual good luck before he fathered the assembly line, patented hundreds of inventions, and revolutionized modern transportation. In spite of his natural talent, Henry Ford’s personal associations, epitomized during the favorable location and time period, primarily defined his legacy as one of the celebrated innovators in all of human history.
Henry Ford’s family owned a farm, and he invested a majority of its time into operating and maintaining it. As a young boy, Henry lent a helping hand whenever needed, frequently assisting his parents with tedious farm work. However, he quickly grew disillusioned with such labor, much to the dismay of his father. The elder Ford expected him to take control of the estate in the decades to come, and gave his son forty acres of timberland. Nevertheless, Henry simply despised working in this field, and converted the land into a workshop that served his own interests. After he repaired his father’s watch several times, he developed a fascination for mechanical labor and began to devote every spare minute to perfecting the necessary skills. The mere fact that Ford was allowed to deviate from his family’s work was quite remarkable in those days, as the economy was still heavily agricultural. Farmers comprised 49 percent of the labor force, and the youth traditionally followed in their parents’ footsteps when income was based on crop production (“A History”). As the Fords enjoyed relative financial stability, it was not imperative to enlist the support and services of all five children. This increased flexibility and opportunity enabled Henry Ford to pursue his passions in a way that was very restrictive to other young individuals during that time.
Ford was also extremely fortunate to have been born in the mid-1860s, an era of rapid transformation and industrialization. Additionally, his birth occurred close to the Civil War’s end, so the hardships of the conflict had little to no effect on him and his family. This period of time was significant because of the enormous economic growth and demand for bright and skilled young minds. As ways of life were changing to urban settings, new means of commutation were desperately needed. The general public grew dissatisfied of traveling by horseback and sought a replacement. Horses became less and less reliable as territory expanded and injuries continued to rise. After Ford’s revolutionary Model T car became the dominant source by which the population traveled, he eagerly declared, “The horse is DONE” (Watts 19). Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan, who were all born in the mid-to-late 1830s, successfully became business tycoons due to the discovery of resources and the development of railroads. Just as a correlation existed between their births and areas of success, it is important to note the same for individuals who were responsible for the groundbreaking transportation that was established in the early 1900s. Orville and Wilbur Wright, born in 1871 and 1867 respectively, followed Ford by less than a decade. Not coincidentally, the automobile and airplane were introduced during the same period in the...