The History of the Ford Motor Company

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Like most great enterprises, Ford's beginnings were modest. The company had anxious moments in its infancy, balancing precariously on the brink of bankruptcy until cash inflows from sales began. The earliest record of a shipment is July 20, 1903, approximately one month after incorporation, to a Detroit physician. With the company's first sales, came a ray of hope. A worried group of stockholders, skeptically eyeing a bank balance that had dwindled to $223.65, breathed easier, and a young Ford Motor Company had taken its first step. During the next five years, young Henry Ford, as chief engineer and later as president, directed a development and production program which started in a converted wagon shop on Mack Avenue in Detroit and later moved to a larger building at Piquette and Beaubien Streets In the Ford Motor Company's first 15 months, 1,700 Model A cars chugged out of the old wagon shop. Between 1903 and 1908, Henry Ford and his engineers used the first 19 letters of the alphabet to designate their creations, beginning in 1903 with the first Model A. Several of the car models were experimental only and never reached the public. Of the eight early models produced, the most successful was the Model N -- a small, light, four-cylinder machine which went on the market at $500. A $2,500 six-cylinder luxury car, the Model K, sold poorly. The Model K's failure, along with Mr. Ford's insistence that the company's future lay in the production of inexpensive cars for a mass market, caused increasing friction between Mr. Ford and Alexander Malcomson, a Detroit coal dealer who had been instrumental in purchasing equipment and raising the original $28,000 of cash for working capital. As a result, Mr. Malcomson left the company and Mr. Ford acquired enough of Malcomson's stock to increase his own holdings to 58-1/2 percent. Mr. Ford became president in 1906, replacing John S. Gray, a Detroit banker who had served as the company's first president. Squabbles among the stockholders did not threaten the young company's future as seriously as did a man named George Selden. Mr. Selden had a patent on "road locomotives" powered by internal combustion engines. T o protect his patent, he formed a powerful syndicate to license selected manufacturers and collect royalties for every "horseless carriage" built or sold in America, attempting to monopolize the industry. Hardly had the doors been opened at the Mack Avenue factory when Selden's syndicate filed suit against the Ford company which bravely had gone into business without a Selden license. Forced to choose between closing the doors or fighting a battery of attorneys who already had whipped bigger companies into line, Henry Ford and his partners decided to fight. Eight years later, in 1911, after incredibly complicated court proceedings, Ford Motor Company won the battle which freed it and the entire auto industry from Selden's strait jacket. Despite harassment from Selden's syndicate, the little company kept improving its machines, making its way through the alphabet from its first model, the original Model A, until it reached the Model T in 1908. A considerable improvement over all previous models, this car was an immediate success. Nineteen years and more than 15 million Model Ts later (1927), Ford Motor Company was a giant industrial complex that spanned the globe. Its cars had started an urban revolution. And the Ford assembly line ignited an industrial revolution. Pre-World War II Expansion During those years of hectic expansion, Ford Motor Company: Began producing trucks and tractors (1917); Became wholly owned by Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, who succeeded his father as president in 1919 after a conflict with stockholders over the millions to be spent to build the giant Rouge manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Mich.; Bought the Lincoln Motor Company (1922); and, Built the first of 199 Ford Tri-Motor airplanes used by America's first commercial airlines (1925). By 1927, time had...
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